Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting: Which Is the Best Choice for Your Project?

Recessed and Flush Mount Lighting

During any lighting installation or upgrade project, chances are you'll wonder whether recessed or flush mount lights are your best option. Both are low-profile fixtures with a somewhat understated style. Depending on the space, you might need to choose between these common light styles. Here are helpful tips to help you make the best choice for your lighting project.

What Is Recessed Lighting?

Recessed lighting positions a light source inside a wall, ceiling, or floor, projecting the light beam outward. This type of fixture includes 'housing' (which keeps the wires and electrical connections hidden from view) and 'trim' (which is the small, visible part that holds and frames the bulb).

The trim defines the style and function of recessed lights. Common types of trim include:

  • Baffle trim – minimizes glare
  • Reflector – boosts brightness
  • Gimbal and eyeball – directional lighting
  • Shower – waterproof

Pros and Cons of Recessed Lighting

Does the space for your project require abundant ambient lighting? Is bright light more important than style? Even though recessed light fixtures are stylish in their own right, their features are bulbs and brightness. Think of them as light backdrops for your décor, furniture, and wall art. Recessed lights provide accent, task, or ambient lighting, with some limitations.

Pros of Recessed Lights

  • They install flat to the ceiling, making them good for narrow spaces and low-ceilings.
  • They don't distract from other room decor elements.
  • They can light an entire room without taking up space.
  • Many are wet-rated for use in showers or outdoor spaces.
  • They can be used in walls, floors, and stairs.
  • They provide directional lighting for artwork and other décor elements.


  • Due to their small size, it can take quite a few to achieve the desired effect in a large room.
  • Installation involves cutting a hole in your ceiling.
  • Your style options are limited compared to other light fixture types.

Flush Mount Lighting

What Is Flush Mount Lighting?

Flush mount light fixtures sit flush against the ceiling rather than hanging down on a chain, wire, or downrod. They are closely related to semi-flush mount lights and often used in similar spaces. Let's take a closer look at both:

Flush mounts attach directly to the ceiling. More prominent than recessed lights, these fixtures accent room décor. They come in a wide variety of shapes, including square, round, bell, drum, and rectangular. And you'll find flush mounts crafted in your preferred style, whether that's Craftsman, farmhouse, traditional, or contemporary.

Semi-flush mounts hang from the ceiling. The difference between flush and semi-flush fixtures is a slight separation (about 4 to 8 inches) between the mount and the bulb section. They don't hang as low as pendants or chandeliers. Like flush mounts, they run the gamut of style options.

Pros and Cons of Flush Mount Lighting

You can add warm light, lovely color, and exciting style to any room design with flush and semi-flush mount lights. Their wide variety of styles and finishes make them popular choices for illuminating indoor, as well as outdoor living spaces.


  • They cast ambient light over a wide area, making them a good choice for your busiest rooms.
  • They come in a wide variety of styles, colors, sizes, and shapes—from understated to bold.
  • They can illuminate small bathrooms and halls without backup from other fixtures if space is tight.
  • They require a smaller hole in your ceiling than recessed lights.
  • Their low profile works better than pendants or chandeliers in rooms with low ceilings.
  • With strategic placement, they can cover ceiling damage.


  • They can cast shadows if they are the only light source In large rooms.
  • Semi-flush mounts require cleaning to prevent visible dust collection.
  • Hanging more than one in a room can make the space look smaller.
  • Using more than one can make a room look unbalanced, unless placement is thought through.
  • Semi-flush mount fixtures aren't a good fit for rooms with low-ceilings.

Recessed vs. Flush Mount

Indoor and Outdoor Lighting: Recessed vs. Flush Mount

Pretty much every space in your home can benefit from recessed or flush mount lights. The trick is knowing what benefits each one provides in specific spaces.

Where to use recessed lighting

To realize balance in a room, be sure to combine recessed lights with hanging fixtures, table and floor lamps, and wall sconces. This produces a layered lighting effect and ensures the right amount of task, ambient, and accent lighting throughout your home.

Bathrooms love recessed lights. Small spaces, water, and moisture narrow your bathroom lighting choices. Use recessed lights in your bathroom to boost vanity lighting for personal care and other tasks, or space them around the room for general lighting. Wet-rated recessed fixtures are ideal for showers and immediately above bathtubs.

Get the job done in the kitchen. You can place recessed lights above food prep areas as task lighting, or throughout the entire kitchen for helpful illumination. Their clean look won't draw attention away from a stylish lighting focal point like a pendant or chandelier. Their flat profiles make them excellent options for small walk-in pantries and alcoves.

Bring warmth to a bedroom, living room, or basement. Any major living space in the home is a good spot to place recessed lighting as an ambient light source. They can also provide good accent lighting—try positioning them in corners or close to the edges of the room to minimize shadows and produce stylish light washes on walls. Finally, recessed lights are must-haves for bedroom closets in tandem with a pretty chandelier.

Damp- and wet-rated recessed lights enhance outdoor spaces. Add them to most any overhang by a front, side, or back door to aid with security. They provide helpful ambient lighting on porches, sunrooms, and covered outdoor dining areas. You can also install recessed lights at ground level in decking and steps, or on a landscape wall to help family and friends navigate outdoor spaces.

Where to use flush mount lighting

Though more understated than pendants and chandeliers, flush and semi-flush mount lights can tie together a room and deliver abundant style. They are mainstays of entrance halls, offices, and bedrooms. Flush mount fixtures are an excellent option where headroom is a concern, adding beauty as well as light without hanging too low.

Illuminate busy areas with stylish, low-profile silhouettes. Hallways and stairwells see a lot of activity and need the illumination flush mount lighting delivers. Though entry halls often have high ceilings and benefit from foyer lighting, you can opt for flush mount or semi-flush mount fixtures. In hallways, stairwells, and foyers, flush mount fixtures are highly visible—make sure they set the stage for your home décor. A glass-paneled lantern presents sophisticated style, while a square dark brown fixture with seeded amber glass offers a Craftsman vibe.

Make flush mounts part of your kitchen and dining experience. One or two flush mount fixtures in the kitchen will help you find what you're looking for in cabinets and light the sink while doing dishes. Just be sure to balance these lights perfectly. In homes with low ceilings or without formal dining rooms, an attractive semi-flush mount fixture is a good substitute for a chandelier, especially when paired with a dimmer.

Turn your bathroom into a spa-like retreat. Install a damp-rated flush or semi-flush mount fixture in nickel finish with a satin opal glass shade in the center of your bathroom. This adds diffused light and contemporary style to help create a modern spa-like environment.

Add style and safety to covered outdoor spaces. Outdoor flush mount fixtures (wet- or damp-rated) offer stylish illumination and added security on porches or patio overhangs. They bring panache to evening gatherings, help you see who is at the door, and make sure people can navigate outdoor spaces with ease.

Finally, recessed and flush mounts often work well together as ceiling lights in large spaces. In tandem, they'll provide abundant ambient light and undeniable style.