How Far Should Recessed Lights Be From Cabinets

Easily one of the most asked questions about how to setup lighting is how far recessed kitchen lights are from the cabinet. How far do you space light fixtures in a kitchen or any room for that matter? This article explores how to setup your recessed lighting according to the recommended standards with a quick guide and full planning tips.


The Importance of How Far Should Recessed Lights Be From Cabinets

Recessed lighting is one of the best and easiest types of lighting to deliver a large amount of light to almost any room. But, this type of lighting needs spacing correctly to look its best and particularly when you want to purposefully illuminate a vertical surface such as a wall cabinet. Here’s why:

Understanding How Recessed Lighting Spreads

Before you choose the location you need to understand how recessed light behaves. Recessed lighting spreads out from its source in a way that often is not obvious how it will create light on vertical surfaces such as cabinets. Light travels out from a recessed light source in a cone shape, expanding wider and weakening in intensity the further it travels.

The spread of light from recessed lights depends upon how far away the light is spaced from the wall or other vertical surface. Since it can be difficult to judge the results, we recommend using the guidelines below for how far should recessed lights be from cabinets.

How Far Recessed Lighting Needs to Be Away From Cabinets

The following tips will help you determine the optimum spacings for your cabinets.

Trial Positions With a Sample

The very best way to know how exactly far your recessed lights should be from your cabinets is to trial the recessed light you have chosen and see how things look. In most rooms, one needs to adjust the spacing of ceiling mounted light fixtures until they are satisfied how the vertical surfaces are being illuminated with a consistent wash of light.

However, that is not always practical or possible so a recessed light spacing calculator is a wonderful guide to assist you in your first fix decision making for locations.


Recessed Lighting for Kitchen Cabinet Example

In a kitchen the ideal position to create task lighting down onto the counter top without casting a shadow over the working area and throw light evenly on the upper wall cabinets, is to position the lights along the edge of your countertops. This will be approximately 25 inches from the wall and 12 inches from the wall cabinets.

The closer the positioning is to the wall cabinet, the higher the light will be seen on the door and the brighter it will feel.

Estimate According to Size

A good rule of thumb is that the distance recessed lighting needs to be spaced from each other is approximately three times the distance the fixture is from the cabinet. For example, 12″ from a cabinet will require a 3′ distance between each one.

A lot of this is common sense, but keep in mind that larger sized can lighting say 6″ diameter will need more space between each one than smaller 4″ ones. Larger cans need more space than smaller ones in order to avoid giving your home a cramped, crowded look.

Plan Positions With Recessed Kitchen Lighting Fixture Spacing Guidelines

For a more detailed approach, the 3 main considerations are:

  1. What is the beam angle?
  2. How bright are the recessed lights?
  3. How wide are the cabinets?

Beam Angle

The angle at which the light is leaving the recessed light will dictate how high it’s illumination will be seen on the adjacent wall or cabinet.

The recommended standard how far should recessed lights be from cabinets is 24 inches apart horizontally and then lighting fixtures are spaced 18-24 inches away vertically from the same center line as the horizontal row. This means that at a minimum, there can be two rows of recessed ceiling lights or four such lights per 2 feet section of wall.

However, how far should recessed lights in a kitchen or any room be away from the cabinets is more of an art than science. I don’t think I have ever seen how to space recessed ceiling lights in a kitchen (or most other rooms) where each fixture was not spaced differently.


A GU10 lamp is generally a lower output than an integrated LED can light and less bright. A bright output of 600 lumens or more can become too bright when positioned near a surface.

In general how far should recessed lights be from cabinets is that one should space the lighting as far away from the wall as possible without creating a line of glare but how far you go depends upon how strong the vertical surface is in reflecting light.

A mirror like finish will reflect back more light than glossy paint or satin paint so spacing how far apart recessed ceiling lights are from cabinets is more critical in some cases than others.

How Should Recessed Lights Be Spaced From Cabinets According to Width

The length of run of the cabinets does help determine how many light fixtures to use.

From the center of the run of cabinets estimate how many approx 3′ apart fixtures will fit in allowing for a padding space of approx 12″ at each end which allows for the light to spread but not too widely into the room. Then calculate a group number and then tweak the distance each one is apart to keep each the same, including an extra light if you think it can squeeze in but not bringing them any closer than 32″.

How Far From Cabinet To Hang Recessed Light Fixtures

When determining how far recessed lighting should be from cabinets, keep in mind that since recessed lights primarily cast down light, how far away from the surface that you want the primary light to be cast will determine how far recessed lights should be hung. Here are some examples:

Relatively Close Spacing Over Countertops

If you have a small kitchen with countertops in place and how far recessed lighting should be from cabinets is 16 inches above your work surface how far recessed lights are from the cabinets is 12 inches, how many fixtures how far should recessed lighting be from cabinets can you install?

How Far Recessed Lights Should Be From Walls

Depends on the Size of Your Room

If a room has how how far how to install recessed lighting is 12 inches how far how to install recessed lighting should be from cabinets how many can you put in that area? How large is your room so how many fixtures how far should recessed lights be from cabinets do you need for it?

However, with a wide open layout of a kitchen with large how how far how to install recessed lighting is 24 how how far should recessed lights be from cabinets how many can you install in the ceiling, how large an area do they light on walls and how much power will it use?

Consider the Overall Lighting Layout

These guides should always be used in conjunction with the overall lighting of the room. A downlight spacing calculator is a helpful guide on where to position recessed lights in a ceiling.

Andrew Orange , the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.