Recessed Lighting: Outdated or Still in Vogue?

Last Updated on May 27, 2023 by Kimberly Crawford

Recessed lighting, also known as can lights, pot lights or downlights, has been a popular and fashionable option for homeowners and designers for many decades. However, with the ever-evolving world of home design trends and architecture, the question of whether or not recessed lighting is outdated arises.

In this comprehensive and informative article, we will delve into the history of recessed lighting and its role in modern-day architecture.

We will also discuss the reasons why some people might view recessed lighting as a thing of the past, while exploring the pros and cons of this lighting solution regarding style, home value, and energy efficiency.

Finally, we will conclude with a strong summary addressing whether recessed lighting has officially become a relic of the past.

History and Transition in Lighting Design

Recessed lighting first gained popularity in the 20th century, as a sleek and modern alternative to traditional light fixtures.

The emergence of minimalism in the mid-century placed more emphasis on clean lines and unobtrusive design.

This desire for simplicity paved the way for recessed lighting systems to become a predominant feature in architectural design.

Over the years, lighting design has transitioned from being mere functional elements to an integral aspect of home d├ęcor and aesthetics.

This evolution has given rise to newer lighting options and more attention to layering and mixing different types of light sources, including ambient, task, and accent lighting.

Is Recessed Lighting Outdated?

recessed lighting

Despite its long history and changing design trends, recessed lighting remains popular for several reasons:

1. Versatility: Recessed lighting can be used in a wide range of interior spaces, including kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, and hallways. Additionally, it can provide general ambient lighting, accent lighting, or task lighting, depending on the configuration and placement of the fixtures.

2. Space illusion: The flush-mounted nature of recessed lighting creates an illusion of more space and height, giving rooms a clean and uncluttered look.

3. Energy efficiency: Newer models of recessed lights are compatible with energy-efficient LED bulbs that can reduce energy consumption and cut down electricity bills.

However, there are valid reasons why some people might consider recessed lighting as outdated:

1. Overuse: Overreliance on recessed lighting as the primary light source in a room may result in an excessively uniform, lackluster, and less visually appealing space.

2. Installation and remodelling: Installing recessed lighting can be more complex than other types of light fixtures. In addition, if homeowners decide to remove or replace recessed lights, it may require significant remodeling, patchwork, and repainting, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.

3. Light pollution: Recessed lighting systems often cause light to be directed downward, limiting its spread and contributing to dark spots and shadows in the room.

When should you not use recessed lighting?

While recessed lighting has its merits, there are instances when it might not be the best choice for a particular space. Here are some circumstances in which you should avoid or reconsider using recessed lighting:

1. Architectural Constraints

Depending on your home’s construction and architecture, installing recessed lights may not be feasible.

If your ceilings are too low, have obstructions such as beams or HVAC systems, or if you have concrete ceilings, recessed lighting may not be the most practical option.

In such cases, you might opt for other lighting solutions like surface-mounted fixtures, pendant lights, or track lighting.

2. Spaces with High Humidity

Recessed lights might not be the ideal choice for areas with high humidity, such as bathrooms or poolside environments.

The additional moisture can cause condensation within the fixture, potentially damaging electrical components and leading to reduced performance or even safety hazards.

In these scenarios, it’s essential to use damp-rated or wet-rated recessed fixtures that are designed to cope with these conditions.

3. Focus on Aesthetics

If your primary goal is to create an eye-catching and distinctive lighting design, recessed lights may not be the best option. Given their unobtrusive nature, they generally do not serve as focal points or design elements.

In spaces where you wish to make a bold statement, suspend decorative fixtures, such as chandeliers or pendant lights, to create visual interest and elevate the room’s overall ambiance.

4. Preservation of Historic Buildings

If you live in a historic building that you want to preserve, retrofitting recessed lighting may not be desirable, as it could damage the original architecture or compromise the building’s integrity.

In such cases, period-appropriate lighting fixtures, such as sconces or lantern-style lights, can maintain the building’s character while providing adequate illumination.

5. Artwork or Wall Decor

Recessed lighting typically directs light downwards, which may not be ideal for accentuating artwork or another wall decor.

In situations where you want to draw attention to these features, opt for track lighting or wall-mounted fixtures that can be angled to create the desired effect.


In conclusion, recessed lighting cannot be deemed entirely outdated as it still finds relevance in modern architecture for its versatility and clean aesthetic.

However, the key to maximizing its potential lies in integrating it thoughtfully and strategically with other lighting sources to create a balanced, functional, and visually appealing space.

As with any design trend, lighting preferences are subjective and can differ from one individual to another. Therefore, it’s essential to choose a lighting solution that best reflects your personality, style, and functional needs.


Is recessed lighting outdated?

Recessed lighting is not entirely outdated, as it continues to offer versatility, space illusion, and energy efficiency in modern architecture. However, overreliance on it as the sole light source may result in a lackluster space. Combining it with other lighting sources can create a balanced and visually appealing room.

Does recessed lighting decrease home value?

Recessed lighting usually does not decrease home value if it is strategically incorporated into the overall design of the house. On the contrary, well-planned home lighting systems can enhance the home’s aesthetics and appeal to potential buyers.

What can replace recessed lighting?

There are several alternatives to recessed lighting, including pendant lights, track lighting, wall sconces, and floor lamps. Choosing the appropriate lighting source and combination depends on factors like the room’s purpose, size, and overall design aesthetics.