Other Tips & Design Ideas

6 Bright Recessed Lighting Alternatives You Should Know

Written by

Rosanne Jones

Writer, Designer


Steven D. Carrico


recessed lighting alternatives

Are you building your dream house from scratch or simply renovating your kitchen and bathroom? Do you have recessed lights ideas to install or maybe you have them already? Either way, lighting plays an important role in interior design.

In this article, we’ll show you the pros and cons of recessed lights, as well as recessed lighting alternatives such as disc lights, pendant lights, downlights, and more, to help you decide what lighting you’ll choose for your home.

Alternatives to Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting is popular as its fixtures are hidden behind the surface. It is often used in the kitchen, in the living room, and for bathrooms.

If you are looking for other options to give your living space a unique and inviting atmosphere, here’s a list of lighting systems you can use instead of recessed lights.

1. Disc Lights


Designed and made very slim, LED disc lighting is measured at just about an inch tall, mounted to ceiling surfaces. This light makes the interior modern-looking while saving time, labor, and space since it can be installed without a recessed can.

In fact, disc lights are ideal for bathrooms and can be hardwired if a junction box is present, which can mimic recessed lighting. In terms of disc lights vs can lights, however, can lights might look more seamless.

  • Installation is easy and low-priced
  • Light bulbs already included in the fixture
  • Featuring a modern look, ideal for bathrooms and living rooms
  • Dimmable for creating an ambient atmosphere
  • No light direction adjustment
  • Limited light colors

2. Pendant Lights


As a complete opposite in design, pendant lights are good alternatives to can lights. Compared to the LED recessed lighting, which is hidden, pendant lights hang from the ceiling through a rope or a chain.

They have many varieties made from glass, metal, plastic, or paper. Furthermore, pendant light styles range from simple to modern to fashionably intricate and come in various shapes like island, drum, globe, bell, and stem. These versatile features allow pendant lights to easily match any theme or ambiance.

  • Aesthetically pleasing and functional
  • Act as a focal art piece
  • Single spot focus reduces glare and eye strains
  • Does not require ceiling modification
  • Easy to take down
  • Limited lighting coverage
  • Not ideal for living rooms and bathrooms

3. Spotlights


Spotlights are eye-catchers for their style and class. They are surface-mounted lights that can be adjusted at any angle to project an intense, narrow beam of light directly to any place and illuminate areas that need attention.

The provided focused task lighting makes it an ideal option for kitchen use and other cases where you need lighting at a specific point, such as stair lighting, task lighting, exterior lights, and garden lights, among others.

  • Ideal for minimalist themes
  • Highly flexible angles
  • Energy-saving
  • Large-sized, taking up space
  • Installation can cause damages to the ceiling

4. Downlights


Downlights are intended to concentratedly direct light downwards. These are usually placed in a metal cylinder, such as a pressed steel or a cast aluminum can, then mounted into the ceiling.

Their versatility is perfect for creating zones and highlighting focal pieces and areas. They can provide fill-in lights and task lighting.

  • Ideal for layered lighting schemes
  • Versatile and can be installed anywhere
  • Can be used as either main lighting or task lighting
  • Must be spaced adequately to avoid overheating
  • Installation can damage the ceiling surface
  • High maintenance cost

5. Track Lights


Track lights are commonly made for and used by professionals. These lights are installed in a track bar or mounted to walls or ceilings. They illuminate workstations and odd corners and aim to give over-the-shoulder light.

As the light fixtures can be adjusted to highlight specific areas or objects, these become ideal for spaces where the lighting needs may change over time, such as a corridor, home office, or even greenhouses.

This is a good option for those who cannot or do not want to damage the ceiling surface. It fits for rooms such as the kitchen and the living room with already available additional light sources.

  • Track lighting highlights pieces specifically
  • Available in different styles, vintage, modern, simple, etc.
  • Ideal for workstations, track bars, corridors, etc
  • Adjustable angles
  • Rather expensive with custom designs
  • Over or incorrect may make the room appear cluttered

6. Flush Mount Lights


Flush Mount lights, as the name implies, are mounted and are flush to the ceiling. They are a great LED can light alternative that brings both purpose and decoration to the room.

This is ideal for spaces where recessed and hanging lights won’t work well. When it comes to can light vs flush mount, the latter lets light spread evenly throughout an entire space.

It also comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It can even be customized, giving the flexibility to choose which suits the desired theme best.

  • Less dust accumulation
  • Suitable for spaces where hanging lights cannot be used
  • Ideal for both indoors and outdoors
  • Elegant and vintage vibes, ideal options for living rooms and bedrooms
  • Fixture must be removed when replacing the bulb
  • Quite expensive if used for large rooms
  • The room will look unbalanced if more than one is used

Pros and Cons of Recessed Lights

As much as they are a popular choice for homeowners and designers alike, recessed lights like all other LED light alternatives, also have their own pros and cons.


  • Aesthetically pleasing – Modern recessed lighting ideas provide a clean, stylish look that complements any decor style.
  • Maximized space – As they are installed within the ceiling’s surface, recessed lighting takes up less space and makes a room seem larger.
  • Energy-efficient – LED bulbs make recessed lighting look better and consume less energy than traditional bulbs.


  • Costly – It’s required to make space for the wiring and housing unit, which requires an electrician’s expertise, resulting in additional costs. Professional labor would cost around $170 to $260 for electrical work.
  • Limited adjustability – Unlike other lighting options, recessed lights have minimal flexibility regarding light angle and direction.4
  • Air Leak – Recessed lights can have air pockets which cause Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) problems, making them less efficient.

Cost to Install Recessed Lighting

Economically wise, recessed lighting should be installed during house construction. Depending on the specifications you prefer, it can cost as low as $100 to as high as $500, averaging $300.

For your information, each type of bulb serves a different purpose and price.

Bulb Type Cost
LED $5 to $50
Halogen $3 to $12
Fluorescent $2 to $15
Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) $3 to $15
Low-voltage $5 to $15
Incandescent can lights $3 to $40

There is also a canless recessed lighting option, which is ideal for living room use. However, it would cost about $20 to $160 per fixture. So if you choose between a can vs no can recessed lighting, it all depends on your budget.

Aside from bulb types, other factors such as housing, trim type, finish, and professional electrician labor should also be considered as part of costs when installing recessed lighting.

Tips to Choose a Recessed Lighting Alternative


When you are out in the market searching for a replacement for can lights, there are certain things that must be kept in mind to ensure that the perfect atmosphere will be achieved.

  • Room Function – Decide in which area of the house these lights will be used and if they will serve their purpose well in the selected location. Do you need bright or dim, colored or white, or narrow or wide lights?
  • Room Style – Match the lighting to the style of the room. For example, a modern room may benefit from sleek and simple lighting fixtures, while a more traditional space may require more ornate fixtures.
  • Room Size – Consider the room size before replacing recessed lighting. If the room size is small, it may benefit from brighter lighting to give the illusion of a larger space. Meanwhile, using large fixtures in a small space will make it seem compacted.
  • Cost – Stay within the budget and do not overspend unless necessary. Choose lighting that will save energy use over the long run, and one that will cost less in maintenance.

Frequently Asked Questions


Are recessed lights out of style?

No, recessed lights are not out of style and will not be out of style anytime soon. These lights are a popular choice as they save space, provide an even light distribution, and are aesthetically pleasing.

What is the difference between downlights and recessed lights?

Downlights jut outwards and produce angled lights from a focal point onto the desired location, such as flooring or countertops. On the other hand, recessed lights are mounted within the ceiling’s surface and come with a narrow beam, making the place look larger.

Do LED recessed lights use less electricity?

Yes. Generally, LED lights use up to 50% less electricity, making them much more efficient to use than traditional bulbs. Aside from that, LED lights also produce much less heat which in turn lowers cooling costs.


Proper lighting is an essential element when it comes to interior design. Whether you’re building or renovating, there are a variety of recessed light options available, as well as recessed lighting alternatives that offer the same feel.

Some options will give you aesthetics and elegance, while some will offer practicality. A few things that should be considered before purchasing are light output, energy efficiency, service life, size, color, compatibility, and finish.

Ultimately, choosing what kind of lighting to install will depend on your style preference and needs.

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