Design and Decor

Kitchen Recessed Lighting Layout And Planning

This is your guide to kitchen recessed lighting layout and planning. It will teach you how to come up with a good kitchen lighting plan.

Lighting plays an important role in order to make your kitchen functional as well as giving comfort while you are busy doing food preparation or just simply reading family recipes. Therefore, it is important to optimize your kitchen lighting and a proper placement of different lighting sources and types are the key to achieve this.

When you are planning to place new light fixtures in your kitchen there are two things that you need to consider namely, task lighting and the ambient lighting. For task lighting, place lights along the edge of the countertop, 24 inches from the wall or place them in the center over the kitchen work area such as the kitchen sink or stove. While for the ambient lighting, place one recessed light for every 25 square feet of room size.The use of ceiling recessed lights will make your kitchen a well-lit space because recessed lighting can function as ambient lighting and as task lighting in your kitchen.

What Is Recessed Lighting?

Recessed light fixtures are also commonly known as downlights, pot lights or can lights. By definition, it is lighting fixtures that are directly built into the ceiling and wall. It contains three main parts namely; housing, trim and light.  The hidden part of the recessed fixture is called housing that contains the electrical connections while the exposed and decorative part of the fixture is called trim. Trim comes in various types and colors that affect the color of the light being produced. The last part is the light bulb which is the part that produces light.

Since they’re flush with the ceiling, recessed fixtures offer a clean look and make a room feel and look more open. They are actually an ideal lighting choice for small spaces like hallways, bathrooms, laundry rooms and a good choice for small kitchens. This is because they give more than adequate lighting. They can also work well with other types of light fixtures or you can use them alone to produce a spotlight impact. Recessed fixtures are also a type of lighting that can function as accent lighting, general lighting or ambient lighting, task lighting and even as decorative lighting. However, the use of recessed fixtures in concrete ceilings or ceilings with detailed molding or plasterwork is highly discouraged.

How To Come Up With The Right Kitchen Recessed Lighting Layout?

The right kitchen lighting layout or spacing for recessed lighting is dependent on how you would want the recessed fixtures to function. If your ceiling is insulated, use recessed fixtures with IC housings. This means that they are designed and approved for use near insulation. You can also utilize recessed lights to highlight focal points or any parts of your kitchen that you want to highlight like island bars, copper sink and so on.

Recessed Light Optimal Spacing As General or Ambient Lighting

For ambient lighting, a good rule of thumb is to divide the height of the ceiling by two feet to determine the optimal spacing. Pick a starting area to begin, typically an area that you want to have enough light and then arrange all lights with equal distance beginning from the starting area or beginning from the center of the room and move outwards. For example, if you have a kitchen with a 9 foot ceiling, the optimal spacing between each light is 4.5 feet (9 feet divided by 2 feet)

Recessed Light Placement As Task Lighting

For recessed fixtures to function as task lighting, install recessed fixtures directly overhead or install them in the center over the stove. A light close to the wall will waste much light causing glare on wall cabinets. The illumination of the light installed farther away will most likely be blocked by the person standing at the counter which will result in shadows being cast on the work surface. Shadows in the workplace can result in safety problems because you need to be able to see clearly what you are doing especially when slicing vegetables or meat with your sharp knife.

Recessed Light As Task Lighting Over The Kitchen Sink

Recessed Lighting Layout Kitchen

Your kitchen sink is one of the places in your entire area that needs light. If your kitchen sink does not have upper cabinets, you can install the light fixtures 12 inches from the wall which will place them in the center over the sink.

Recessed Light As The Focus Light On The Counter

Install recessed lights as undercabinet lights if you want to have a focused light on your counters.

Distance Between The Recessed Lights And The Walls

Place recessed lights 3 feet from the wall to avoid creating shadows. Shadows make your kitchen ceiling look lower.

Things To Consider When Making Your Kitchen Recessed Lighting Layout Plan

Most of the lighting designers would suggest that you need to come up with a plan before installing recessed lighting in your kitchen.

What Type Or Kind Of Recessed Light To Buy?


As mentioned earlier, a recessed light is composed of three main components which are the housing, trim and the bulb. Housing components have two types, one is for a new construction and the second one is for remodels. Therefore you need to buy recessed lights appropriate for the job.

  • New Construction: If you are currently building a new home, you need to buy a new construction type of recessed housing. It is designed for newly built homes because it can be used for unfinished ceilings.  This type can only be utilized if the ceiling has not been finished yet.
  • Remodel: If you are currently remodeling your home, you need to buy a remodel recessed lighting. These remodel recessed lights are designed for already existing ceilings. This type can be inserted into the opening hole that you made in your ceiling to add recessed lights and secured with metal clips.


After this, you need to consider what type of lights that you would like to use. You have an option between LED lamps that are embedded into the trim and flood-style light bulbs that produce a bright light. If you want light that is energy efficient and will stay cooler, choose an LED bulb. However, not all recessed light fixtures are compatible with LED bulbs. Therefore, it is necessary to verify if the kind of recessed fixture that you are planning to buy can house LED bulbs.  If you have an existing recessed fixture, you can utilize an LED retrofit kit so you can use LED bulbs in your existing fixture.

Furthermore, LED lights come in a variety of color temperatures and in different hues of white. Color temperature is a term to describe how warm (yellow) or cool (blue) the color of the light appears that is released from an LED fixture. It is measured using the Kelvin (K) unit of measurement on a scale from 1000 to 10000 K. Generally, anything 3000K or below is considered to be a “warm light”, 4000 K and above is considered a “cool light”, while 3500K are considered under “neutral”.

If you want your kitchen lights to produce a bright white light, choose LED lights that are 4000 to 4500K. The bright light in the kitchen is an ideal light for meal prep and reading recipes however, if you do not prefer your recessed fixture to emit such bright light, the best way is to choose your LED color temperature based on your decor.

For example, if your kitchen walls, ceiling, floor and furnishing consist of cool colors like black, blues, greens, greys and crisp white, a cool LED color temperature with 3000 to 3500K will look great! To makes things easier for you, consider using tunable lighting or dimmer switches so you can completely control the amount of light in any space.


Once you decide on what type of bulbs you are going to use, you are now ready to choose what type of trim you would like to have. Trim is the visible component of the recessed fixture that can influence the appearance and function of your recessed lighting. It comes in a wide variety of designs from simple to more decorative options and among these options, the reflector trim is recommended by many as ideal for kitchens and rooms with high ceilings. Reflector trim has a mirror interior which will amplify the light beam which makes the room brighter and more vibrant.


The final step in selecting the type of recessed light to buy is to determine the size. The right size of recessed light for your kitchen will depend on the size of your room and the size or the diameter of the cut-opening in inches, not including the trim. Select a recessed fixture size that works well with the your kitchen ceiling height or the size of your wall.

Lighting designers would recommend to use 4 inch and 50 inch fixtures if the recessed lights will be used as an overheard countertop lighting in the kitchen. This size of fixtures offers good lighting for meal prep and clean up. Use 6 inch fixtures if the recessed light will be used for general lighting purposes.

Make A Kitchen Recessed Lighting Layout Plan

Now you know that basic information that you need to come up with with a good lighting plan. You are now ready to put all of this information that you have learned into action.

First things first and that is to make a rough sketch of your kitchen space. You need to take into account all of the light fixtures that are already installed in the kitchen such as ceiling fixtures or range lights when making your recessed lighting plan. This is done because you will need to choose recessed lighting that matches with your existing fixtures.

Recessed Lighting Layout Kitchen

Next, measure your room dimensions to know the number of lights needed. A general rule is to install one recessed light for every 25 square feet of room space if there are no other light sources and you are completely relying exclusively on recessed ceiling heights to light up your kitchen. However, there is also a common practice that you can follow which is to place the recessed fixtures around the perimeter of the room with 12 inches apart from each other and 12 to 18 inches away from the kitchen cabinets. This will illuminate counter areas or the sink and will prevent shadows from people standing at the counters. Below is our remodeled kitchen with recessed lighting around the perimeter.

The picture above is our 101 square foot remodeled kitchen and has 5 recessed lights. Our contractor followed the basic rule when calculating the number of recessed lights needed, 101 square foot divide by 25 square feet equals to 4 recessed lights plus one because I wanted to have a recessed light over the kitchen sink.  Since we have a small kitchen, the 4 recessed lights (except the recessed light above the sink) are arranged in an equal distance where the center of the room is the starting point to achieve symmetrical aesthetics.  This means that our contractor did not follow the recommended 3 feet distance between the recessed light and the wall. Also, recessed lighting is ideal lighting especially for a small kitchen that is open to the dining area because it does not compete with your dining table lighting.

It is also advisable to use wide-angle lights for ambient lighting and narrow-beam lights for under cabinet lighting and for the stove and sink. You may also want to consider the use of a dimmer as dimmer will help you adjust the mood and atmosphere of your kitchen space aside from helping to save energy. Use different dimmer switches for different lighting zones. For example, a separate dimmer for counter lights, the kitchen island, pantries, or other architectural details gives you more lighting options and will definitely help you to prolong the average lifespan of your light fixtures. It is a good idea to have a dedicated dimmer for all the non-recessed lighting.

But please be reminded that all of these items are only the basic kitchen lighting guides. You may need to make some adjustments to come up with right light placement suited to your kitchen layout and unique space features.

I hope that my guide on kitchen recessed lighting layout helps you to come with a plan to have a well-lit kitchen. Remember that you can make necessary adjustment if needed!

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