How to Layout Recessed Lights


02 Nov How to Layout Recessed Lights

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that builders and professional designers have different opinions when it comes to laying out recessed lighting. While builders are prioritizing cost and general lighting, designers tend to go beyond the basics of simply providing visibility to a room. There is nothing wrong with the standard dice pattern or symmetrical layout; it is just over simplifying the installation method. We wanted to bring a designers touch to your recessed lighting layout so you can enrich the appeal of your living spaces. This is our designer-centric guide to how you should layout your recessed lighting.

General vs Task Lighting

Designers tend to want to be purposeful with their lighting placement. They look beyond the general lighting in order to enhance the look of the furniture and improve the functionality of the room. The astounding transformation task lighting can achieve is brilliant, while it still provides the general lighting desired. So back to basics, general lighting is just the amount of light you need to properly see in a room. You need less in a space that receives a lot of natural light and more for a room that doesn’t. Task lighting is specific to the need or use of the light fixture such as a reading light, artistic spotlight, or highlighting decorative pieces in the room. Our guide will help you layout your recessed lamps for task lighting, while still providing the space general illumination – two birds, one stone.

Designer Tips

Now that we’ve broken away from the symmetrical placement of recessed fixtures, let’s dive into a proper layout.


  • Highlights – It is important to illuminate what people look at, meaning the sofa, arm chairs, side and end tables, and wall art. Use 3-4” trims for a discrete fixture and make sure you place them on a dimmer. For the furniture spotlights go with a bulb that provides a wider beam spread like an LED MR16 with a 60 degree spread. Place three fixtures along the length of your sofa and one above each arm chair. (Adjust the amount of fixtures you need based on the length of your sofa.) Be sure to use these fixtures to brighten up the furniture not the floor. These highlights will enrich the tone and texture of your furniture, while the intentional shadows created will draw your guests’ eyes away from the floor or ceiling. The room will feel more inviting and attractive, but your guests won’t be able to pinpoint the reason why – that is how great lighting design should function!
  • Art & Foliage –  Gimbal or Slot Aperture trims are the way to go for focusing the beam spread of your recessed fixtures on the decorative wall art and house plants in the room. If the room has a mantel piece that is adorned with the seasonal decor, install a small recessed lamp with a gimbal trim to showcase your mantel. Again, make sure these fixtures are installed with a dimmer. Accenting sculptures, paintings, and family photos is not a new concept, but it does get lost in the shuffle when builders obsess over symmetrical installation. A 3” pin spot mounted about 18-24 inches away from a piece of wall art (given a 9 foot ceiling) is the perfect way to draw attention to the unique features that make your house a home.
  • Dimmers, Trims, and Bulbs – The point is you have options! You aren’t tied down to the same incandescent warm white hue paired with a white baffle trim. Make your lighting blend with the decor of your room so your guests’ attention is focused on how attractive it looks.
  • Dimmers are key when it comes to task lighting working for general application. With a recessed lamp above your two arm chairs you have the perfect lighting to dig into a phenomenal novel or to browse through the latest trends in House Beautiful, but when you are looking to turn a bright reading room into a soft conversational setting, dim it down.
  • Trims come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. If you have a modern look, think about a square or diamond trim. If your room is more traditional, go with a reflector or air tight gimbal trim. Right now, trimless is the fresh new look. If you’re design is taking on the grey tones that are so rich right now, think about going trimless.
  • Bulbs do not have to have the same warm white hue of the ages, LED has opened up the market to color options. If your room has warm tones like creams and ambers go with a 2700 kelvin rating to compliment the autumn warmth, but if your room captures the jewel tones of blues, purples, and greys go with a 6000 kelvin bulb. The cool white will accentuate the cool tones, making the whole room feel more complete.


Lighting is so customizable, don’t stay with the same stoggy look. Make sure to explore your layout, trim, and dimmer options before you finalize your recessed install.

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