How to arrange recessed lights in a kitchen

Updated February 21, 2017

Kitchens are more than just a place to cook. Families congregate in kitchens to chat during meal preparation; adults often deal with family finances in the kitchen. Some even watch television in the kitchen. The lighting for your kitchen must be functional and practical, to accommodate all your kitchen's uses. Recessed lights are widely used because they illuminate evenly. Poor placement of recessed lighting can negatively impact how you and your family enjoy using the space.

Plan, thinking realistically about how you will use your kitchen. If you are designing the kitchen from scratch, this may take some imagination. Even if you are only redesigning the lighting of an existing kitchen, take care to avoid leaving out any of your kitchen's typical functions. You will certainly remember cooking and cleaning, but don't forget the way friends sometimes enjoy your company while you are working in the kitchen.

Identify your areas of greatest activity. The sink needs to be well-lighted, along with the range/oven and countertop areas. Perhaps you want to be sure your dishwasher area is well-lighted. If your kitchen includes a bar or table space, you will want to ensure it will not be in a dark spot.

Engage a lighting designer or contractor. One or the other will be able to help with both technical and design details. They will need to know the distance from the ceiling to the surfaces to be lighted. This will allow them to discover at what intervals to place the lights and to understand how powerful each downlight needs to be to create an evenly lighted effect.

Consider any other types of lighting to be used. For example, it may not be possible to position recessed lights to adequately illuminate your kitchen desk area. Other types of lighting, such as lamps or fluorescents, may be better suited to this purpose. It is advisable to employ a lighting designer to help in this process. The designer will be familiar with every type of lighting available. Even if you and your contractor arrange the recessed lighting, a designer can help you incorporate other types of lighting into the plan for your kitchen.

Arrange the lights to maximise illumination in high-activity areas. Be sure the sink, stove and countertop areas will have plenty of light, whether this means placing more lights in those areas, or just positioning them strategically. Any areas used to socialise, such as the kitchen table or bar area, should also be bathed in light, so guests and family members will feel welcome in the space. Dark spots in high-use areas can become a thorn in your side for years to come. Plan carefully to avoid disappointment.


You may want to consider using dimmers for your recessed lighting. They will allow you and your family greater control over how much light emanates from the ceiling. Creating separate circuits for the varied areas, or zones of lighting, is a good idea. For example, if you visit the kitchen only to use the sink, you will be able to illuminate that area alone.


Beware of dark spots, or dead areas, when you arrange your lighting. If a certain corner cannot be properly illuminated with recessed lights, be sure to place a lamp or other type of light in the area.

Things You'll Need

  • Lighting designer (optional)
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About the Author

D. Laverne O'Neal, an Ivy League graduate, published her first article in 1997. A former theater, dance and music critic for such publications as the "Oakland Tribune" and Gannett Newspapers, she started her Web-writing career during the dot-com heyday. O'Neal also translates and edits French and Spanish. Her strongest interests are the performing arts, design, food, health, personal finance and personal growth.