Saturday, October 29, 2011

Q & A About Lighting a Living Room


Hi Peggy,

Saw your website and wanted to ask a question if you don't mind. I want to install LED can lights in the ceiling of my living room. Right now there is only lighting from table lamps. Can you direct me to a website that might provide can light spacing/quantity calculations for LED lights? Appreciate the help.



Hi Neil,

I would like you to examine your reasons for putting LED (or any other) recessed can lights in your living room ceiling. Think first about the purposes of your living room.

Most people use their living rooms for:

1. Entertaining guests

2. As a family room if they have no family room

3. Reading

4. Watching TV and/or listening to music if they have no other entertainment room.

Absolutely none of these tasks is made better by having recessed can lights overhead.

1. Entertaining guests: Everyone looks horrible with dark shadows under their brows, noses and chins. Imagine looking like this to your guests:

BwaHaHAH (Really apropos since it's almost Halloween)

Well ACTUALLY, you would look like this if you put the recessed cans in the floor, but you get my idea.

Much better to create a diffuse light with lamps and wall sconces. If you want to spend money on this, then add cove around the room (Google "indirect lighting") and hide the lights and bounce the light off a light colored ceiling (Use warm-white T8 or T5 fluorescent tubes in two rows on separate switches to get a "high" a "low" setting).

2. As a family room if they have no family room: Same issues as above. If you need some task lighting over a table for game-playing/crafts, add a pendant there.

3. Reading; The best light for reading comes from a table lamp on a side table or a sconce on the wall behind you, or a floor lamp positioned behind you and to one side.

4 . Watching TV and/or listening to music if they have no other entertainment room. Recessed can lights often reflect in the TV screen, making watching more difficult. You have to be very careful how you place can lights in such a room.

Almost all of the suggestions above cost quite a bit less than having a bunch of can lights put in your living room ceiling Neil.

This is why you hire a designer Neil. To help you make choices that are not only more beautiful and functional, but cost-effective as well. I'd appreciate a check for half the difference if you decide to follow my advice


We kitchen designers often are forced to use recessed can lights in kitchen ceilings because so many are 8' high, or even less, and surface-mount lights with diffusers are out of fashion these days.

Any time I have a ceiling even 8-1/2' high I always try my best to convince my clients to use a different lighting scheme than recessed cans for the ambient (or general) lighting in the room. If not, then I am looking to see if there is attic space above the kitchen to raise the ceiling and put in cove lighting around the perimeter. Recessed can lights are almost always my very last solution to a lighting conundrum because they make the people in the spaces look so horrible. Functionally, they only work as task lighting in an area where we can't use undercabinet lights or pendants.


Spacing of recessed ceiling can fixtures depends on a number of variables: Once you decide the fixture and lamp (lightbulb) going into the fixture, then you can contact the fixture manufacturer and tell them your ceiling height and they will give you some spacing suggestions based on the amount of lumens you want to reach the floor. There is no pat formula that works with every fixture and lamp. They are all different.

Happy Halloween!