The Best Recessed Lighting For a Kitchen

Recessed lighting is such a popular method of providing light as it’s versatile, powerful and unobtrusive so suits most kitchen styles. Recessed lighting is much more than downlighting from spots and cans from the ceiling though, with recessed lighting solutions for the walls, toe kick & plinth’s, uplighters in the floor and even trimless fixtures where the light source is completely hidden with only the light being revealed.

So to discover what types of recessed lights will work best in a kitchen, this useful guide quickly explains each type and where to include them in your kitchen.

Recessed Ceiling Lighting

The ceiling is the most obvious place to install lighting as the light is delivered straight down into the room, so it makes a lot of sense to keep the ceiling as uncluttered and hide as much of these ceiling lights as possible. As soon as powerful light sources were packaged in small lamps, the low voltage downlight was invented and the modern LED version takes on much the same design.

However there is more to consider than just a round spotlight…

Recessed Downlighters

The most commonly used recessed ceiling lighting is downlighting. The light source and it’s housing is hidden behind the ceiling with simply the trim revealed mounted against the ceiling, hiding the unsightly elements that create the light.

Downlighting is an essential tool in any lighting design and is offered in a variety of styles, designs and light outputs.

Trimless or plaster in downlighting goes a step further and completely integrates into the surface it is mounted into, usually being plastered into place. Trimless downlighters are totally flush to the ceiling simply revealing an aperture of light.

The downlight is the type of recessed light to work best in a kitchen for these reasons:

Task Lighting

The recessed downlight (otherwise known as a spotlight or can light or even high hat) is built for task lighting as it delivers a concentrated amount of light within specific beam widths in a variety of color temperatures and strengths of light. The perfect tool to ensure the task orientated activities have enough light on them. 

Ambient or General Lighting

Recessed ceiling lighting is useful for increasing the amount of light delivered into a kitchen, supplementing alongside the other chosen types of lighting to brighten the kitchen with a more general lighting level. Often used mistakenly in a grid, the downlight should only provide light where areas need to be lit. If an area of the kitchen looks like it could need more lighting, use the downlight to reflect light off of surfaces such as doors of cupboards rather than light the floor.

See How to Light a Kitchen for our online kitchen lighting design advise.

Spotlight Artwork

Recessed downlighting also works best in a kitchen to contribute towards the accent lighting. The delivery of exact beams of light are perfect for spotlighting artwork and creating focal points of more intensely lit objects. The best type of artwork spotlight to consider is a medium beam 3000K adjustable LED downlighter that uses a black baffle to inset the light source to minimise glare.

Wall Washing

Recessed ceiling downlighters are one of the best methods to wash walls with light. Using a wall to reflect light back into a space is a great lighting design tip worth noting as the light it produces is softer and easier on the eye than direct lighting, contributing towards the ambient lighting levels. 

Recessed Trimless LED Lighting

Trimless or plaster in linear LED lighting is an alternative to downlights, creating an ambient general light and looking visually very strong. The LED light source is housed within a linear extrusion which has been skimmed into the ceiling with the last layer of plaster. At 2nd fix a frosted or opaque diffuser covers the constant voltage LED strip, forming a flush homogeneous line of LED light into the kitchen ceiling or walls. 

Recessed LED Strip

The advantages of flexible LED strip lighting is it’s ability to fit into small spaces and create continuous lines of light. A kitchen sometimes will need to hide extraction ducting or embed an extractor hood over a kitchen island for instance, which creates an opportunity to make a feature out of what could be seen as a disruption to the ceiling and draw attention to it instead. A subtle but effective perimeter of light around the dropped step in the ceiling can emanate from a hidden recessed LED strip mounted in an aluminium extrusion.

To really create professional looking lighting for your kitchen you must know this: How to Layer with Light

Recessed Wall Lighting

Recessing lighting into the walls of a kitchen or within kitchen cabinetry is good choice for delivering an accent light in a subtle way. Typically a small LED source is hidden within the fixture and aimed down towards the ground to create small lit floor washing affects. Best used in small groups to introduce visual repetition and a lit contrast between the shafts of light and the unlit floor at night.

A marker light is another name for an LED recessed wall light, as the small lit beams often define a route through a space or create a subtle level of accent light enough to mark out the appearance of a space when little else lighting wise is turned on. 

Recessed Toe Kick or Plinth Lighting in a Kitchen

The bottom perimeter of kitchen units and islands has been the chosen home of smaller recessed marker lights or recessed LED strip ever since LED has miniaturised lighting. Grouped together on a single circuit they create an accent light that brings a relaxed mood to the kitchen whilst help maintain similar lower lighting levels in surrounding spaces – like adjacent lounges or dining areas. 

The recessed plinth or toe kick light is the best type of kitchen light to introduce a floor wash of light and this physically low height of light source onto the ground creates more interest for the user to see a variety of heights of lighting within the kitchen.

Kitchen Floor Uplighting

The in ground floor uplighter is the best type of recessed light to work best in a kitchen to highlight architectural details like columns or feature walls.

The depth of the recessed light needs to be shallow and not deeper than the usual depth of a screed or poured concrete floor. The light needs to be as deep set within the fixture to hide the LED light source as much as possible to minimise potential glare, as the light is sent upwards. The aim of this type of lighting is to graze the adjacent surface with light to emphasise the existence of the object, like a timber post.

Light will continue past the vertical object it is positioned next to and end up on the ceiling, so be sure not to create too much light unless that is what you want.

Best Type of Colour Temperature for Recessed Kitchen Lighting

A kitchen’s lighting should change to suit how it is being used and the colour temperature of the white light created should adapt too. A 3000K warm white is the best task and ambient kitchen lighting colour temperature for general use, with 2700K extra warm white for accent lighting.

Recessed Kitchen Lighting on Dimmers

As in all lighting, the more control you can build into the kitchen’s lighting the more choice you will have to adapt it to suit the mood or activity. Recessed LED Lighting can be easily dimmed as long as compatibility between the light source and the method of dimming has been chosen well.

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.