Recessed Lights for Traditional Interiors
Lighting a room with just recessed lighting can create an unflattering effect.
I’m installing recessed lights in a 1910 shingle-style house in Maine with very traditional interiors, but the living room is huge and needs illumination. Previously, I’ve used recessed cans that take incandescent bulbs. Should I use recessed low voltage MR16s this time? Is the light too hot for an old house? Too white?

Breathe deeply and stay calm; I can talk you through this. Traditionally Arts and Crafts-style homes tend to be on the darker side because there is a lot of unpainted wood used in the finish work. I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling, though, that you are attempting to light the living room with just recessed fixtures. Recessed fixtures alone won’t do much to add any beneficial lighting for the overall feel of the room. They also create unflattering shadows on people’s faces. It’s like holding a flashlight over your head at Halloween. Downlighting instantly ages you at least 10 years. This is only beneficial if you’re nine years old and want to look 19.

When you bring up the idea of recessed MR16 fixtures, I’m hoping that you’re considering adjustable fixtures which could be directed towards art, tabletops, plants and sculptures. These will be neither too hot nor too white if they are used in conjunction with other sources of illumination. The recessed fixtures are providing a specific function, which is accent lighting, but accent lighting by itself creates the “museum effect,” where what you own appears to be more important than family or friends. What you want to do in addition to the recessed fixtures is to add a layer of indirect lighting (also known as ambient lighting), as well as task lighting and decorative lighting. Blending these various types of light together creates a much more alluring overall feel for the room. Numerous manufacturers are now making a recessed adjustable trim with a square trim plate. I think that these would relate well to the Arts and Crafts architecture. Some manufacturers offer these trims in a bronze or brown finish that would blend well into any wood or darkly colored ceilings.

Randall Whitehead lighting designer
Randall Whitehead, IALD

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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