Recessed lighting

siobhanny5April 5, 2005

Any defenders out there?

Considering it for a dark, small front room that serves as our family room/TV/playroom. Ceilings are about 9 feet high.

I love my old house and am restoring stained glass windows, taking good care of my chestnut trim, etc. But I can no longer stand my current lighting options for this dark little room. Will old house lovers hate me forever, or is this not a huge deal?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well, FWIT, here's my .02. The thing most of us love about old houses is the charm, cozyness ,and quirkiness of the rooms. Hi hats are OK in a kitchen or bath in an old house, but I don't think it would enhanse all that beautiful work you did. Maybe think about adding an overhead fixture, wall sconces,floor lamp or more table lamps.So the answer is yes, we will hate you forever ;)).

    Bookmark   April 5, 2005 at 5:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I won't put cans in my kitchen or bath but with careful planning we are well-lit. It's hard to imagine canned light in a room with original woodwork and floors, stained glass, and history. Surely there's a way to put light where you need it and retain the charm of an old house.

Maybe the darkness isn't all about lights. Have you assessed wall colors, furnishings, and window treatments? It's possible to combine antique/reproduction fixtures with floor/table lamps to provide enough light to read and enjoy your loved ones.

Old house lovers will walk right into your house and stare at your ceiling cans. Cans will stand out like vinyl siding, plastic sofa covers, and artificial turf. You heard it here first because we love you! But we love your house more, we're just that shallow... And we won't just hate you, we'll talk about you right here on this forum!

I'm linking a favorite resource for our home:

Here is a link that might be useful: Rejuvenation

    Bookmark   April 5, 2005 at 8:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

LOL. Thanks for your frankness, and the ideas. Is there really NO ONE out there who's willing to come out of hiding and say they've done this? :)

    Bookmark   April 5, 2005 at 10:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The previous owners here put can lights in the kitchen. And (old house gasp) a cable light.

Because it's not a museum and fits fine in the space (reminds me of houses of friends in Denmark and Sweden, in much older houses than we're likely talking about), I like the blend of old and new. We've put modern lights in elsewhere -- it fits because of some modern furniture.

If someone later wants to wonder about who did this, that's their business. It's easy enough to change out.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2005 at 11:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi All,
This is my first post on this forum, but have been reading it alot the past year or so since we bought our house and have been renovating it. This is a great group and I am grateful to all that have shared.

I will admit to putting cans in our kitchen and living/family room. I need the light and convenience especially for reading. I have to say, we have not moved in yet, but hope they work well. We have a 2 year old and have put away all our floor and table lamps for a while.
We have undone 50 plus years of bad makeovers and neglect and have put alot of love into our house, it needs to work and function for us. Can lighting is a easily reversible sort of thing to fix if the next owners don't like it.
Our house is 1916 plain victorian, all our furniture is plain, in other words we don't have a need to decorate in a period fashion.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 12:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'll confess. DH is an electrician and when we renovated the 2nd floor he put in cans in the bedrooms and hallway. Our old farmhouse ceilings are only 7' tall upstairs, 8' downstairs! It's like having heat lamps up there! Nice in the winter, but hot in the summer.

I hate them!!!! It looks odd. Not right. Inappropriate. Does that make sense?

Last year we started a DIY kitchen/dining room/laundry room/porch remodel and the first thing DH said was... "I've still got a box of Halo's in the garage." I immediately said to him no way were we putting cans in again!

He was shocked! He said that all houses use them; they are the best lighting; yadda, yadda, yadda. I said I don't care. I hate them and refuse to have another one anywhere in this house!

I found nice fixtures at Lowes of all places for $15. They hold 2 bulbs and are actually too bright! I'vd had to remove a bulb from each fixture!

If our ceilings were higher I'm sure I could use the 2 bulbs.

Never again will I put a single recessed light in my old house!

Here is a link that might be useful: Cheap lights I chose to use

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 8:45AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I really need to ask you this...why did you buy an old house? I personally think it is OK to update some things in the kitchen and bath because, lets face it, my house didn't origionally have a bathroom. I still have the outhouse to prove it. And we certainly didn't have microwaves or dishwshers.I think it is a question of what is tasteful and appropriate, and there are just other/better solutions, IMHO. Besides, you don't want the next homeowner starting a thread on a forum, saying "the old homeowner did what?" I'm having to pay big bucks to put back what the previous owner took out. They really thought the faux paneling and formica cabinets would make the kitchen look nicer than the original wainscotting and wood cabinets!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 11:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In the grand scheme of things, a couple of recessed lights aren't a big deal if that's what you really want. I personally wouldn't use the track lighting with cans - I have it and it looks horribly dated. Have you looked flush mounted ceiling fixtures? They have some decent ones out there. What about wall sconces?

I think there *are* other options out there that would work for you. But really, I wouldn't worry about being the subject of a future thread on what a horrible old house owner you were. Surely your restoration of the stained glass and woodwork makes you old house "worthy". ;-)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 12:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If this is something another owner * can easily fix,* then I'm leaning towards the cans. This particular room doesn't have stained glass and significant architectural detail beyond hardwood floors. Like another poster's situation, I have an active toddler and all floor lamps had to go. Wall sconces would be tricky in this room. And I kept coming back to the idea of purchasing some kind of tall cabinet or table just to hold another lamp, when I really don't want such a piece of furniture. But mainly I got the idea after visiting a friend's 1930 house, after she told me she put recessed in their family room. When she first told me I thought, yikes. But after sitting there for an evening, and not turning to stone under the lights, I have to say I loved the lighting effect. It was very comfortable.

I respect the house and so that's why I'm seeking opinions here. This is one room where I think I'll go for this. Thanks everyone for posting, especially previously closeted can owners!

If you'll excuse me I have to go finish painting my natural chestnut trim purple.... Ha ha.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 4:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

one thing to consider IF your house is like do you put recessed lighting into a plaster ceiling without having the whole thing come down on you?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 8:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


This is something I have been mulling over too. The previous owner of my home put hideous cheap can lights everywhere. I've been hedging toward removing them and not replacing them with anything when I happened upon this photo spread of a West Village townhouse in the New York Times. Check out the multimedia presentation in the link below. You'll see that they used small, discrete can lights in the living room and study. I think the place looks amazing and the vintage appeal of the home is not diminished.

Here is a link that might be useful: Vintage townhouse

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 3:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I like reading this forum as i have a slightly old interesting house, and find some of the content interesting...

Honestly, though, I disagree with most of the peeps on this thread.

As someone with 20-200 vision i find it hard to see without light. Its something that a lot of people don't care about, but i like light. I think all rooms should be well lit. Those of you who think a few table lamps fix this, are wrong. There is no substitute for 8 high hats in a living room lighting every nook and craney.

I'm not exactly sure, but does light somehow ruin nice woodwork? stained glass? if enough light is coming in, methinks the lights are turned off.

Also, why would you care if the next owners if the house said that "why would he put cans in our nice dark old house?" Its your house, you and the bank own it, and I don't think the bank objects. Do what you want.

PS. I have put 23 highhats in my 1930s cape and am very happy with it. But then, I pulled out the badly cracked plaster and put in sheetrock, what do i know?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 3:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I confess to adding recessed cans in my old home and I also LOVE them. I think they look fine and you don't immediately look at them. If you do then I haven't done a good job with the rest of the room (decor, etc.) I think they more or less just "go away" but provide good light when needed. I'm wanting to add a few more in the master bath b/c it is still too dark to put on my makeup properly.

If you like them I'd say use them. I certainly did. And Lord Willing, there won't be any "next owners" to worry and fuss over it for a LONG LONG time.

And by the way....I'm a purist re: vinyl siding or windows. None of that stuff for my old house. I had to defend my old single-paned, drafty, wavy windows over and over. I do not even compare recessed can lighting to those horrible things!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 10:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sully6, thank you for that link. Those lights actually look very much like those I saw in my friend's home. I met with the electrician today but I'm going to show him this before he puts anything in. I agree with you that these lights are very well-done and don't comprmise a thing about the home. Thank you so very much for this!

Chrisk, know you're right--it's our house and do as we wish. I did want feedback b/c I know I'm departing from old-house ways with recessed lighting, and some of the things the POs of my house did make me sigh, so I was feeling a little sheepish about making a "bad" move. But it's not like all the overhead lights in my house are on pullcords anymore either! I guess we all have to find a thoughtful balance. I 100% agree with you about there being no comparison between table lamps and high hats. Glad to hear you're happy with yours.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 10:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Athomein1914: We are building a new house with the look and feel of an old house. We do not want to use can lights in our t&g ceiling. We are looking at Rejuvenation for lighting. How did you place lighting especially in the kitchen to get enough light?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2005 at 6:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think you have to do what works for you and the way you use your home. I took the cans out of our kitchen ceiling when we raised the ceiling to expose the beams. I ran track lighting, which is the same color as the ceiling, along the sides of the beams. All of my track lights are on dimmers. It is very functional and isn't pretending to be a decorative element. Future owners can take it down easily and replace it with their fixtures of choice. We just completed the bedroom above the kitchen and raised the ceiling in there removing an old schoolhouse type fixture that provided little useable light. I put beadboard on the new pitched ceiling and exposed the brick on an interior wall the bed is against. I again chose a track of lights attached to and blending with the 14 ft high painted brick wall. Several of the cans are directed at a 10 ft wardrobe and the rest are in the perfect position to read by. Again, this is functional light used to highlight other elements of the room while giving us the amount of illumination we need in that space.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2005 at 9:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't much like cans in any context because of glare. Consider cove lighting, uplights, directable fixtures. A good book on lighting is Residential Lighting by Randall Whitehead.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2005 at 10:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think every case is different. In the event of the house being a historic property, then my feelings are different. I have done it both ways depending on what the homeowner was looking to accomplish. Recently we finished a 100 year old home where there is a mix of recessed cans and very traditional lighting, in fact some pendants that are as old as the house, cove lighting and wall sconces. The living room and kitchen have 24 cans. The key I think in this case that makes it look good is they are 4" low voltage cans. The house really does look terrific and has retained it's old house charm. It is your house and you should do what you feel is right so you can live comfortably in it. I think you need to find a balance that suits your wants and needs. I mean you can take the "I have to keep the house just as it was 125 years ago" too far. Makes me chuckle because I would best most people that say that are not heating their house with wood, using no fridge, using an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing and I am pretty sure that in 1890 there was no cable TV wiring in the house!
Now don't think I have no sense of history, I adore old houses. I am working on one now where the original section of the house was built in 1757 and the new section in 1824. I can promise you that there will be no recessed lighting in this house if I can help it. In fact I feel so strongly about it I would probably walk away in the hopes that they changed their minds. Like I said, each case on it's own accord.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2005 at 7:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you're going to consider something from rejuvenation, I highly urge you to consider actual antique lighting. I have been dealing with this guy in Indianna who has absolutely beautiful things and is a joy to talk to, he really knows his stuff. His prices also beat the pants off of Rejuvenation. Instead of so-so reproductions (which I didn't realize is what they were until I compared pictures of true antiques side by side with the rejuvenation equivalent) spend less money and get yourself some actual antique pieces that have been restored and rewired by a true craftsman, JF PeGan. They also sell on ebay. If you don't see what you are looking for, ask. I asked for something that would go with my living room chandelier and he came up with

(in a comparison shot with the rejuvenation version, you can see what I mean). Just gorgeous and 30% less than repros. BTW I have no relation to this company, I have just been extremely happy with their prices and level of service (not to mention that John was an absolute delight to talk to on the phone and a total wealth of knowledge about antique lighting).

Anyway I guess what I am saying is that why not use the need for lighting as an opportunity to enhance your room rather than looking for something that will ONLY provide light and that you hope will blend into the ceiling and not be noticible but really won't blend and will really be noticible? Sconces are a good solution and we had to run the wiring for both sconces and an overhead light... due to structure in the ceiling the sconces were WAY easier.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2005 at 3:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Actual major historic building, like museums and government buidlings often have recesssed lights. These designs are done by top notch professionals, and often look quite nice.

An historical house is not actually a house as it originally was. It is an idea, a romance. The original builders and pretty much all the previous owners did not own a "historical" house. They tried to make it work for them. A well-designed historical house may, if all goes well, contain a beautiful idea that has gained depth through the passage of time. My 1820 townhouse seems to have gained only endless structural damage.

We have made it a minimalist contemporary, but my neighbor, who has done a beautiful historical renovation, and my wife, who used to be a an art historian, could not believe what a lucky find it was when we exposed a stairs and found "original moldings" on the side. Original moldings --ugly and badly beaten up. Finally, even my neighbor came around when he found the same moldings still available at HD for $1 a foot.

Sorry, I have to go now and examine how the horrible "original" foundation of loose fitting stones under my rear wall can be made structurally sound for the first time and how the "original" terra cotta drain line that has apparently been spewing our sewage under our basement for years can finally be replaced with a waste line with both a top and a bottom.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 1:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I was torn on the idea of cans, we remodeled our kitchen and the first place I visited was an Antique Lighting Company in Seattle. I expressed that I might want some cans in the kitchen and the lady scoffed at me, like it would ruin the integrity of the kitchen - come on. Obviously, she has a bias since she wants to sell me 4 or more $200 buck repro fixtures - so I don't know whether her advice is truely founded.

I think remodeled kitchens in Old houses can accept a few small apature cans for task lighting. I mean 3" 4" and 5" holes are acceptable.

I went with a hybrid approach. I purchased one old school house semi-flush mount and a pendant over the sink that was vintage 1920's. Then I installed 5" cans around the room, washing the cabinets and countertops with light. I consider the old lighting to be my primary everyday lighting, it's on one dimmer.... then, when I need it, I crank up the cans on the other dimmer.

Works greats, old look - new look - hybrid!

I would never put cans throughout the rest of the house, though, it's orginal and timeless with the old vintage stuff - Sconces and ceiling mounts only.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 4:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am wrestling with this myself. We are doing a bad kitchen-ectomy and have solved lighting for everyplace other than the kitchen sink. Because of cabinetry, I cannot use pendants or sconces. I have looked for something long, narrow and shallow to mount over the windows. Everything I've seen looks like vanity lighting. The room, 12 x 21 will have 4 pendants that are an elongated schoolhouse type in the corners. There is an island with 2 edison bulb metal shade pendants. Both ends of the room have cabinets with the top part lit glass. The sink will be fine during the day with windows. But at night all the light will be behind the person at the sink. It's ambient lighting, but there is nothing that lights the sink area specifically. Cans keep coming to mind, but this is an historic house, and I just can't go there. My experience with pots is that they have a lovely effect when used throughout a contemporary home, but make historic homes look like museums, Marriott boutique hotels or high end gift shops. But I'm up in an hisoric port town on the coast of MA, and don't see many successful renos with this type of lighting. Please help.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2014 at 1:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The intention of recessed lighting has always been to hide the source of task and wall lighting. Putting large 5" or 6" diameter recessed fixtures in ceiling for general lighting is what has given recessed lighting a bad name. Today there is no reason to fall into that trap.

I have remodeled many houses 50 to 150 years in age and have always used recessed lighting. The alternative is table lamps, wall sconces and picture mounted lights which are fine but leave most houses too dark.

The fixtures I use are no more than 3 3/4" in diameter and I use PAR, Low-Voltage MR16 or LED lamps instead of R lamps. I like LED or MR16 pin spots over kitchen islands and dining tables because It is difficult to tell where the light is coming from.

If you find small diameter recessed lighting inappropriate use 2 LED pin spots at the sink (to avoid casting shadows) or recessed units hidden behind a valence.

I have attached a photo of a historic house where I used small MR16 halogen lights on a 4 ft grid with multiple switching patterns. The alternative would have been standing lamps but the owners wanted a more modern design with a wide range of lighting control. They were delighted with the result.

My advice is to stop thinking of these fixtures as "cans" or "pots" as if they were inherently bad. Think of the kind of light they can provide and how they can be used to reinforce and enhance the design concept of a space. Start looking up in spaces you like and see how many of them have well designed recessed lighting.

This post was edited by Renovator8 on Sun, Aug 31, 14 at 9:41

    Bookmark   August 30, 2014 at 8:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow, a lot of judgmental people here. I'm fairly judgmental myself on occasion, but I have no problem with recessed lighting. If a purist buys the house this is much easier to undo then some other changes people make...Its not like you are ripping out ornate detail work that is hard to find, chopping down ancient trees, or knocking down walls to put in an over sized kitchen. That's my test for these hard is it to unboil the egg.

Every house needs a room or too that are usable work space. If you don't have a room like that, then you run the risk of your formal living room being used to build models or finger paint. One of my personal pet peeves is when people make houses ornate museums without enough light to read a book

Be aware it can be hard to find modern energy efficient bulbs for these things. They are phasing out incandescent bulbs and many versions of CFL can't handle being hung from the ceiling or enclosed in a way that prevents ventilation. Also, if you don't do the insulation right you can lose a lot of heat.

Another, more complicated solution would be solatubes/light tubes.

This post was edited by edlincoln on Tue, Sep 2, 14 at 13:04

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 1:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We have LED can lights in living room, dining room and kitchen. Our small house is 80 years old with eclectic remodeling and furnishings so we definitely aren't purists but still love the "soul" that comes with an old house.

We are in our 60's and appreciate as much light as is feasable.

I think that is the first question for you, "Are you a purist?". If not, then consider using them , IMO.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2014 at 11:19AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Sanity check: Huge window & shutter repair/replace bill?
Hey folks! I am the proud new-ish owner of 1740s brick...
Stripper for stripper-resistant paint?
I'm having a tough time removing multiple layers of...
stone house
Do any of you out there own a real stone house? Not...
White Cedar Shingles: Best price?
Hi all, My wife and I are gearing up to restore the...
Strip flooring with unusual cross section
(Cross posted from Flooring forum) I'm renovating a...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™