January 26, 2024

Light the Way to a Conducive and Cozy Kitchen – The Where, What and How of Recessed Lighting

Light the Way to a Conducive and Cozy Kitchen –  The Where, What and How of Recessed Lighting

Whether you’re looking for a simple, understated glow in your bay window or a ceiling as speckled with light as the night sky, recessed lights offer a wide variety of character for your kitchen. While many view recessed lighting as stark, when done properly, they can add a certain charm to the room that conventional lights would struggle to do, says San Diego Kitchen Renovation, a company that handles kitchen renovation in San Diego.

Recessed lighting can be useful in three main forms:

  • Task
  • Ambient
  • Accent

Take it to Task

 Task lighting refers to using recessed lights to form a sort of spotlight on an area in which tasks are performed. Think stove, sink, food prep counter-tops. In this use, Professional Remodeler recommends placing kitchen ceiling lights just above the edge of the workspace. This allows for light to shine directly on the task at hand without suffering from body shadows and also spreads the light outward enough to shine right into any open drawers. Placement is typically about two feet from the ceiling-wall joint. Check out the details of an at-home test that the Professional Remodeler team conducted. It offers more specific information regarding illumination factors in regards to where the lights are placed in the ceiling. 

Acquiring Amiable Ambiance 

Ambient lighting refers to using recessed light fixtures in order to light the room more generally. In kitchens, you will typically find these speckled on the ceiling. DoItYourself.com points out that placing ceiling lights in a linear fashion creates a more harsh atmosphere, such as in an airport or hospital. Try to prevent this in order to keep the cozier feel you want in your home. Also, to create what is called “wall-washing,” you can angle lights slightly toward the walls. This causes the light to bounce off the wall and reflect back into the room, making the space feel larger.

Lighting Tutor offers helpful information and graphics to assist with your recessed lighting plans. In general, it is recommended that you have one light for every 25 square feet of space. For instance, you would want four lights in a 10 x 10 foot room. Of course, in a highly-used part of your kitchen where many cooking tasks occur you will want to consider placing additional (task) lights to shine directly over said area. 

Lighting Tutor suggests that industry standard dictates you to space lights to half the height of the ceiling. That is, if your ceiling is 10 feet tall, place lights five feet apart from each other for optimal lighting. Other recommendations include determining spacing based on the size bulb you have. DoItYourself.com suggests spacing four-inch bulbs four feet apart, five-inch bulbs five feet apart, and so on.

Accentuating the Area 

Accent lighting is neither to provide a well-lit workspace nor to light a broader area. You would use accent lighting to highlight a specific area, often a framed picture, or perhaps to dimly light a bay window in the kitchen. One could consider using recessed lighting on top of cupboards that do not extend to the ceiling. This offers a dim glow shining toward the ceiling, which can produce the illusion that the ceiling is higher, and therefore the room more spacious. 

DIY or Professional, Consider This 

Regardless of the purpose of your recessed lighting, there are certain things to keep in mind. For one, if you like to remodel often, recessed lighting may not be for you. Keep in mind that is a more permanent fixture than pendants or lamps. Also, when adding recessed lights, installing light dimmers are beneficial for all purposes, and allow some leeway with how each type is used (e.g. brighten your task lights to create more ambient light, or dim your task lights significantly to create an accent feel over the sink). 

Most importantly, as suggested by the architecture and design website, Hunker.com (among others), is that it is wise to select “IC-rated” lights. IC stands for “insulated contact,” and means that you can install the lights in a ceiling and cover them with insulation. This helps to prevent condensation, mold, and drafts. More importantly, it prevents fires from occurring when the non-IC-rated bulb heats up the paper-lined insulation. 

If you feel comfortable installing recessed lights in your home by yourself, check out Spruce.com, where you can find helpful step-by-step instructions on how to convert your existing ceiling lights into recessed lights. Look on Amazon.com to find different options, and note that some come in full kits to assist with installation. Be sure to check local building codes, as some areas require a professional electrician to do such rewiring. The National Fire Protection Association has further information about the National (U.S.) Electrical Code, among other recommended or required electrical standards.

What’s the Damage?

Homeadvisor.com suggests that the cost for recessed ceiling lights typically costs between $100-200 per light fixture. Cost varies depending on whether the fixtures are intended for inside or outside use, with the more costly models being exterior due to the need to withstand the elements. Recessed Lights Pro suggests that the typical installation cost is almost $800, with each bulb costing $150. 

Whatever purpose you see fit for recessed lighting – task, ambiance, or to accent something – keep in mind that while there are many recommendations for spacing, each kitchen is a bit different so consider what variations may suit yours best. Lighting is an art and can make space come alive – be creative and have fun!


  1. Hazel Avery

    April 26, 2022

    Nothing makes me happier than a LIGHT kitchen. I’ve realized that the color of my cabinets has so much to do with how my kitchen feels and how light it is. I am wanting to get my cabinet painting for my kitchen remodel done soon. I really appreciated what you wrote. Thank you!

  2. certified career counselor

    October 2, 2023

    After implementing some of the recessed lighting tips from this blog, my once dimly lit kitchen now has a warm, inviting ambiance. I especially appreciated the “wall-washing” technique, which truly made my space feel larger. Who knew lighting could transform a room so dramatically?


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