One of the critical elements of a great renovation, or at least an amateur DIY renovation that can look very professional, is the proper choice in lighting.

Gone are the days of a single light fixture hanging in the center of the room to provide all of your down lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. All a single central light provides is a wonderful way to make your room look flat and boring, and your guests featureless and unattractive.

While looking through the various DIY projects online, and also perusing the professional renovation jobs in magazines and portfolio websites, I noticed just how important it is to mix the various lighting sources in every room. This approach is the only way to properly provide that complex and layered look in lighting that makes a finished room look professionally done and "high end". They say to layer textures and fabrics for visual interest, but layering lighting is just as important.

Throughout our renovation we've played with several different types of lighting. Though we are by no means lighting designers, we have gotten to the point where we are fairly comfortable with selecting the various lighting choices that will be necessary for each room. Wendy is quite good on the aesthetic comprehension of how a room will look in the after when we are still very much in the before. I'm able to play the roll of Chico to Wendy's inner Candice Olsen by providing ideas for execution of her vision, assessment of possibilities, and ultimately the install of the lighting.

Take a look at our master bedroom before and after. It went from a room with the only light provided by a few small and dim bedside lamps...

...To a room with a central chandelier, multiple recessed fixtures at each point of interest, and more substantial and nicer bedside lamps.

The key to this look is the addition of recessed lighting to provide the visual interest and additional light necessary, while also using more traditional fixtures where they are expected.

Over the years we've used several different styles and brands of recessed and down lighting. From $30 puck lights in the kitchen, to small and easy to install low voltage recessed pucks in the office desk. We've used $400 per unit 3" halogen Lightolier fixtures in the bathroom and office ceiling (don't worry, I think I paid $60 on an eBay find, no way I'm paying the full price), and installed a very inexpensive 4" fixture and LED conversion in the basement stairwell.

In other words, we've tried and installed everything from the very high end and expensive to the very entry level budget fixtures. What's the best part about this depth of knowledge and experiences? Sharing our experiences with you, of course! 

Several years ago I saw an episode of This Old House (the Nantucket Bay season I believe) where the lighting designer was talking about accent and down lighting. She mentioned how the fixture she was using was particularly nice because the lamp (bulb) sat inside the fixture and you could control the angle and wash of the light pool very specifically. She also made particular mention that you couldn't see the lamp rating tag inside of the fixture when looking up, and when you needed to replace the buld, your angle settings weren't lost during re-lamping. I thought this sounded perfect to me so I did a little research and scored a great bargain on eBay from a builder with surplus.

I picked up a couple of these Lightolier Calculite MR-16 fixtures and they ended up being very "as advertised." Easy to install, reliable, configurable, etc. But at $250-$400 regular price, there's no way we could use them unless we got really lucky on eBay.

The next time we needed light, I thought "how different can these super expensive ones be to the mid range lights?" We did a little research and were able to determine the lighting brand Candice Olsen likes to use in her projects. After a little digging, we found that she uses products from a company called EuroFase.

Our local lighting supply store could order this brand, but it came in about $175-$200 per fixture which is a bit ridiculous in our book. Again we went to the Internet for help, and Google didn't fail me. We were able to find a sketchy supplier (more on that in a second) that stocked and sold the 3" EuroFase recessed lights we needed for about $45 per fixture including the trim components.

I say sketchy because the Internet store is now mysteriously gone, and each time we ordered something from them we ended up with a strange charge on our bill for some sort of a subscription for weight loss pills. Hopefully it was fraud and not a friend or family member trying to tell use we were fat and needed to drop some lbs. At any rate, we changed our card and got the charges dropped. Quite a hassle, but we got a good deal on lighting out of it.

The lights we received we installed in our bedroom without any issue. They weren't quite as easy to install and setup as the super expensive ones, and the construction wasn't quite as refined, but it wasn't difficult by any means and they were a good quality product.

To secure them in place you just need to slide a few clips into their correct location and tighten a few set screw. The minor issues we've had with them along the way are nuisance issues, like the fact that they overheat and shut off (only one or two of seven) after long periods of leaving them on, and some of the converters have gone bad and needed to be replaced. I must say, the tech support/customer service was great and sent out replacement parts free of charge and in ample quantity. I was able to resolve our issue, but it did require more electrical work.

The final type of recessed lighting we tried was a simple $17 can light from one of the big box stores. I expected it to go smoothly because of the other two, but it didn't. The construction of this light is not like the others. No set screws to secure them, and just a few clips that were nearly impossible to push into place. Once in place, if I ever have a problem with the light that requires its removal, we're going to have an issue and may damage the ceiling.

In all, I was disappointed with the quality of the inexpensive option, but I guess you get what you pay for. I do have to say the 4" LED Sylvania conversion is pretty nice and works quite well. I would buy that again if necessary.

So what's the point of this post? Beyond sharing my experience, we're starting to look into lighting for our master bathroom. I know we'll be doing a few sconces next to a mirror behind the vanity, but we'll also be doing some recessed lighting above the shower, tub, and main areas of the room. We're going to be going back to the Eurofase lighting since we liked it for the bedroom, but we'll probably be making a few changes in size and technology. As we make a few decisions we'll keep you posted on them and our thought processes.

We'd also love to hear about experiences you've had with recessed lighting in your projects. We want to hear the good, bad, and even the ugly.

Comments 17


Karin K
3/28/2012 at 1:37 PM
Your bedroom is gorgeous! At first I thought, "Oh well, of course it looks a million times better - they got new furniture and….wait….no they didn’t!” You’re right – the lighting is great. Never would have thought it would make such a difference. And the paint and window treatments are perfect as well.
Thanks so much Karin! We're really enjoying the space too and the better lighting makes reading in bed so much easier!
Lisa Mc
3/28/2012 at 1:37 PM
Love the redo on the lighting - and love your blog! :o) Couple quick questions on your room: 1) where is the chandelier from - perfect choice! 2) what color is the wall paint and 3) where did you find the comforter/bedding? We have similar style furniture and it's a real pain to find something "up to date" looking that goes with the heavy wood - a.k.a. - we don't want it to look like a heavy tapestry B&B room! ;o)
Thanks so much Lisa! To answer your questions:

-We purchased the chandelier from an antiques store in Cleveland and spray painted it in a semi-gloss, off white.
-The wall paint is Benjamin Moore's Balboa Mist.
-The duvet cover is from West Elm.

I know exactly what you mean about the challenge of balancing out the heavy wood furniture. Good luck!
Lisa Mc
3/28/2012 at 4:10 PM
Thanks Wendy for your quick response! You guys are wonderful! :o) Love how the fixture turned out too - I'm always wondering about painting lighting and haven't been bold enough to do it yet - you're inspiring! :o)
3/29/2012 at 8:26 AM
Oh-lala, love your new bedroom look! Just two weeks ago a chandelier was added to my bedroom and I love it! A perfect touch of elegance to any room.

I read at Apartment Therapy that the three things you should splurge on to dress up a room is: lighting, flooring, and hardware.
Thanks! Like I said, Wendy has a great vision for this sort of thing, I'm lucky to have her.

I'd say the AT advice is pretty spot on, especially since you can readily change out the other items. You're stuck with your floor, lighting, and to some extent, hardware, so you had better like it. And if you're going to look at it every day, you don't want to regret not spending the few dollars more to make it what you really wanted.
3/29/2012 at 4:34 PM
Chico and it! If you two are anything like my husband and I, I sense that you two banter back and forth using these names during your lighting projects.
This is exactly the case. Nicknames seem to make the project go faster. If not a TV design couple, it's often random zoo animal references. I guess we can be a little weird sometimes.
3/29/2012 at 5:29 PM
I feel like the bedroom has the same problem as those excercise commercials- an honest assessment of effect is really hard when the two pictures are from different angles and different times of day.

Anyway, your blog is on my RSS feed, and I've been waffling about whether or not it's for me. After the 'Toxic Avenger' reference, how could I say no? ;)
Carol, you're absolutely right about the angle/time of day, but trust me, the lighting makes a world of difference. I wish we had a better camera back when we were taking the older photos. If I ever shoot a few with a similar setup I'll update the post with it. Although, a sun filled and nicely lit room with a massive wide angle lens does tend to make a room look a little better than one at night with a crappy camera and flash that constantly shows dust as image artifacts.

Also, as an RSS subscriber, I have to apologize if you are seeing tons of duplicate posts of ours. I don't know what the problem is, but it is annoying and I'm trying to correct it. But I'm quite glad my love of Troma films has helped to keep you around.
7/23/2012 at 9:16 PM
Wow, great job. I thought this fixture looked interesting for the bath:

Are you using MR16 50W Halogen bulbs with EuroFase fixture or converting to LED?
Thanks, Mark. We are using the MR16 50W Halogens for the bedroom and office, but we've converted to the EuroFase LED for the vestibule (since it stays on 24x7). To be honest, I really don't like the EuroFase LED options that they offer, the light is very cool and almost green. Also, I've had to replace it once after just a few months of use when it went to 50% brightness and began flickering.

For the bathroom I'm going with EuroFase again, but 3 1/4" trims with GU10 so that I can more easily switch over to LED using standard bulbs. I feel like this will allow us to get the warmer light we're looking for. For the wet location I'm going to use a 4" fixture in an IC Housing and a wet location glass trim (also from EuroFase). At least, this is all the plan. :-)
7/26/2012 at 11:30 PM
The LEDs may not look as good because halogen MR16s still provide more attractive illumination and truer color rendition than LEDs.

What brand and type MR16s are you using in the after photo - I'm assuming a spot or narrow spot? I'm about to order Philips brand regular spot bulbs but don't want to make an expensive mistake.
Isabel Treacy
11/13/2014 at 3:10 AM

Hi ,

I visited your website earlier today and just wanted to congratulate you on a well presented, and informative website.

I have an (Aussie) website that has relevant information to your site, I am wondering if you would be interested in exchanging links allowing both of us to add significant and related resources that will be useful to our readers.

I would be interested to hear anything you can propose as well; such as guest post articles, product or business reviews, promoting up and coming events or promotions to each other’s databases etc.


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