How to Plan Recessed Lighting in Your Kitchen

The most common question asked about recessed kitchen lights is, what is a recessed light?

They’ve been around for decades. They’re not a new trend but they are increasingly popular in the past few years. They’re often referred to as ‘downlights’ too, but a recessed light is a ceiling light fixture installed into a hollow opening in the plaster board. It’s a cosmetic choice to have recessed lights in a kitchen or bathroom, or even on a stairway.

When installed properly a recessed light appears to have light shining downwards from the ceiling hole. They can create nice lighting effects and increase mood.

There are normally three parts to any recessed light fixture, the bulb, its casing, and the trim. Like the casing, there are many different styles of recessed lighting, which includes the type of bulb too, whether these are LED’s, fire rated, or waterproof.

The amount of heat generated by a recessed bulb should be an important factor to consider when you’re thinking of installing recessed kitchen lights.

Remember too, if you require the light fittings to be hard wired into the ceiling then you need a qualified electrician to do that for you

Some typical recessed lighting products that work in kitchens include the following:

How far apart should recessed lights be placed in the kitchen?

There is no definitive distance for the lights to be placed, it depends on the size of your kitchen, the natural lighting available, and your personal preference of course.

A common piece of advice that you’ll find by researching online, or by asking a qualified electrician is that you use one recessed light for every 4 to 6 square feet of ceiling space. Following this general ‘rule’ will provide you with enough general lighting, not enough and not too little.

However, your electrician or kitchen fitting specialist (one of the high street retailers), will give you further advice on the distance but ultimately the decision is based on your preference for the quantity of illumination you need. This is important during the evenings because you will rely exclusively on recessed ceiling lights to illuminate your kitchen living space if you don’t require ceiling pendants, for example.

downlight recessed kitchen lighting in a modern steampunk styled kitchendownlight recessed kitchen lighting in a modern steampunk styled kitchen

What do I need to plan for recessed kitchen lights?

Recessed kitchen lighting is very good at creating mood and ambience because the light fixtures are permanently fixed downwards. Therefore, they need to be spaced out evenly so that the light spreads across the kitchen smoothly and evenly.

Be mindful to leave an even distance between the lights. So, for example if your kitchen is approximately 10-foot square you would expect to space out the recessed lights 5 foot apart. 


The general idea is that the space between the recessed lights is half that of the size of the ceiling area that you want to light. If you space the lights too close together, then the kitchen will be too bright, or you end up with shadows everywhere.

The basic diagram gives you an idea where approximately you would want your recessed lighting to be fitted.

To avoid shadowing on worktops, the lights are usually positioned above and set a few inches back from the front of the worktops (or breakfast bar/island).


The basic diagram gives you an idea where approximately you would want your recessed lighting to be fitted.The basic diagram gives you an idea where approximately you would want your recessed lighting to be fitted.

How many downlights do I need?


  1. You need to calculate the kitchen’s square footage so times the length by the width.
  2. Multiply by 1.5 to get the total wattage/lumens needed. So, times the square footage by 1.5.*
  3. Choose your preferred bulbs/downlights
  4. We have a big selection of downlights online.
  5. Divide the total wattage/lumens needed by bulb wattage/lumens.*
  6. Total wattage/lumens divided by the bulb wattage/lumens = lights needed.*
  7. Open plan spaces; divide the into smaller areas and calculate individually

*Only use as a rough guide when planning, always consult a qualified electrician

Does ceiling height affect downlights?

Ceiling height can affect the quantity of lumens you require (that’s the brightness). So, the taller the ceiling the brighter the recessed lighting will be required.

  1. Low ceilings may suit 3 watt bulbs
  2. Higher ceiling may need stronger 5 watt bulbs

What’s the difference between wattage and lumens?

Lumens refer to the level of brightness that a bulb can provide.

With older incandescent light bulbs, a higher wattage meant a brighter bulb but newer light emitting diodes (LEDs) use less wattage (or energy) to produce the same amount of light as the older light bulbs.

This energy saving technology is what lowers our carbon footprint compared to what it was 10-15 years ago, and this saves money. We have an in depth blog post which gives you detailed information about the difference between lumens and wattage.