03 November 2009

kick the can!

m21 would like to take a moment to discuss one of his pet peeves: can lights (also known as recessed lights).

we hate them. a lot.
can lights provide harsh and unflattering down lighting wherever they are used- lighting that would be much prettier if replaced with the ambient lighting of a chandelier, pendant, wall sconce, floor lamp or table lamp (or preferably combinations of all the above). in fact, combinations of the above will provide more then enough lighting in almost any room, so why use recessed lights? the only place can lighting is ever even necessary (in m21's opinion) is the kitchen where bright, direct light (not ambient) is sometimes needed- even then, other light sources should be included: pendants, sconces, under counter, etc. m21 thinks a can light is occasionally ok in a bathroom; and if you own a picasso, maison21 will generously permit you the discreet use of a directional recessed light to highlight your masterpiece- but other then those exceptions, m21 says kick the can!

now please don't take this post personally if you already have recessed lighting in your home- most of us do- and don't call out a plasterer because your favorite style dictator m21 said so! we are mainly addressing this issue to remodels and new construction, where we find ceilings are often so riddled with recessed fixtures that they end up looking like swiss cheese. yuck.

the swiss cheese of which we speak. we ran across this picture somewhere on the internets, and decor issues aside, we we're shocked by 22 visible ceiling lights in the photo, yet nary a table or floor lamp, nor chandelier or pendent in sight. just two lonely sconces to provide ambient lighting. m21 imagines that being in this home at night would be oppressive, not to mention the impossibility of simply sitting in chair and browsing through a magazine. no good.

we aren't sure why architects include so many recessed lights in new construction plans, perhaps they just think their clients expect them. we DO know why contractors include them in home remodels- they are inexpensive to purchase and install, so a generous mark-up can be passed on to the homeowner. multiply that mark-up by as many as a dozen in a single room, and the profit is pretty nice (and every contractor reading this blog, is making a m21 voodoo doll right now). in fact, when maison21 is involved in the planning stages of a construction project, the first thing he'll do is x out all the unnecessary can lights on the blueprints- hopefully justifying the added expense of bringing in a designer at the early stages of the project! of course, m21 will probably immediately use up the savings by adding j-boxes for extra ceiling fixtures and wall sconces, as well as floor outlets for table and floor lamps (nothing worse then lighting the edges of a room but not the central seating areas)- but hey, those kinds of pretty and appropriate additions, are why you bring in a designer in the first place!

now if you don't believe m21 about recessed ceiling lights being verboten, try this simple test: open up the latest issue of elle decor or house beautiful magazines, and count the number of recessed lights shown in rooms that aren't kitchens. you won't get very high in your count- try it!

so what are your thoughts on the usefulness of recessed lighting? kick the can? or should m21 have more of a 'can do' attitude?

16 comments:

Carol Ann said...

maybe just wall washers...but the rest "can get out" of here...lol
Can't believe the picture, wow great room but with out lamps it is so wrong... I do not get it, how can you get the decor right and forget the lighting?
PS Love the statue!!!!!!!!!!

Mrs. Blandings said...

Have them (thanks to a previous owner.) Hate them. It's always on the list to have them taken out but it never seems to happen. Yuck.

sketch42 said...

Hun, I usually agree with everything you say and do... BUT, you are wrong on this one!!! I have lived in homes with no recessed lights and despite pendants, lamps galore and sconces, the rooms were ALWAYS DARK!!! Seriously, there was nothing I could do to make it brighter and I kept adding lamps everywhere! Im not saying that recessed lights are the most gorgeous things I have ever seen, but for practicality purposes, they get the job done!! On dimmers, and mixed with other lighting as well, they are fine!

When I moved into my new apartment, we had a huge living, dining room with cement ceiling and not one place for a chandelier. So we came up with this beamed ceiling idea that has recessed lights in the beams. Its actually quite awesome looking!

maison21 said...

carol ann and sketch42 vote "can do" while mrs b. and m21 vote "kick the can". i think we need more votes to determine the outcome of this most vexing of design dilemmas! :-)

Bonnie said...

I'll kick the can. I live in an old 1930s house and it doesn't have any. However, at one time (maybe in the 70's?) someone installed one in the family room ceiling. It's more like a flood light that looks like a small flying saucer. I wish I knew what could be done to make it better, or replace it with something more appealing, or have it taken out completely. Recessed lighting would just not be appropriate for this old home.

Jennifer said...

I just installed them in a long narrow hallway. It looks like a runway and I hate it. But the truth is the ceiling is so low that the flush mounts we had in there before looked like speed bumps for your head. With a 30'x3' hallway I just don't know how you can win.

katiedid said...

I am with you NO CANS! Unless they are in kitchens (that require fluorescents per code.) Or to light art....but I prefer other forms of art light. In new construction you have the opportunity to provide cove lighting. There are so many decorative lighting options, there is no excuse.

Lucinda said...

I CANnot look at that room for another second. It's awful.

maison21 said...

bonnie- if it's just one, and it's over a piece of furniture, there are adapter kits to turn a recessed light into a pendant. if it's NOT over furniture, or a spot that will accommodate a pendant, well, then your choices are to live with it (keep the dimmest wattage possible in it for less visibility) or to call out the electrician to cap it and drywall over the hole. i'd probably just live it- old houses, like old people, simply have flaws... ;-)

yikes, jennifer! a 3' x 30' low ceilinged hall is the stuff of which decorator nightmares are made! recessed lights will look like a runway and flushmounts will look like you'll knock your head (as you stated) and the only other solution i can think of would be sconces, which would feel like eye-pokers! glad it's *your* hall, and not one of my clients'! ;-)

yay katie! don't you hate that fluorescent requirement? ugh- silly. and yes, i agree about the art light too- i prefer to avoid the recessed light all together and rather use a picture light if necessary, but sometimes canvases are too big for that to work satisfactorily and a little help is required. last you stated it perfectly (though nicer than i)- with so many preferable options, relying on can lights is just lazy.

lucinda- i'm so sorry to have offended your delicate sensibilities- i'll have to hurry and post something pretty to make up for it! ;-)

Anonymous said...

This architect agrees with you! However, I can tell you that I've witnessed several can-lit rooms that were shot for national magazines and all the cans, stray wall outlets, and wall switches were Photoshopped out before print by the publication. Not all magazine shots don't tell the full truth! Wall-switched floor outlets are my best friend on electrical plans.

Anonymous said...

It depends on the room. Kitchen, garage, utility areas should be well lighted and recessed lighting is the best choice for me. Aside from function, CFL uses much less energy.

Bonnie said...

Hi Christian... Thank you for the tips. I didn't even think of those ideas!

Anonymous said...

christmas lights (garland) + staple gun = best softest warmest lighting anywhere. and in the kitchen too!

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Master bath and in the kitchen. And yes, they bug me. there's one that went out last night and now I have to get out the BIG ladder and contemplate dusting the tops of cabinetry... I wish that the contractor had put in more floor switches, or even baseboard outlets! Frights of the 100+ year old home renovation.

buzz said...

I am planning a renovation in my basement and could not think of any other alternatives. I hate Boob Light (the flash mount lights that look like a nipple), more than i hate recess lights. So what to do then?

Things That Inspire said...

I wish I knew about this post before I wrote mine! Great resource, and that picture of the great room with 22 cans - classic.

It sounds like my architect and designer are on the same page as you. I am somewhat in the middle, perhaps because my current house barely has any cans, but also barely has any floor outlets or hanging lights. I didn't realize how easy it was to add these things until last year, when I added a plug in my front hall (didn't even know you could do that) - and by that time I had mentally moved on from decorating or improving this house.