Should we use recessed can lighting in a mid century living room?

1960s living roomShould recessed can lighting be added to mid century homes, where there wasn’t any originally? And if, so, how? I’m throwing this one open to reader ideas. Natalie writes:

Pam – You link your kitchen to show your round, chrome, recessed lights, but I cannot find anywhere on the website where you say what the product is that you used for those round, recessed lights in your kitchen. We have vaulted ceilings in our “Den” with fake wood beams seperating it into 6 rectangles. The previous owner put in some nice 80’s can lights in each section. We cannot decide if we should replace them or if we should just close up the ceiling holes. If we close up the holes, I am afraid the living room will be dark, because the only light coming in there is from the patio door on one end of the room. So then I thought about recessed lighting to help it be more flush with the ceiling. Any ideas are welcome. I just needed a second opinion, well third since the hubs is just as stumped.

Thanks, Natalie

I ask Natalie whether the existing “eyeball” can lights work. She reports:

They work okay I guess, except that if you use regular light bulbs when they go out they explode. Like explode. And the light bulbs they have to go in there are like $40 for a pack. We flipped the lights on once and the one right above the light switch and entry way into the living room exploded in front of us. Then another one exploded over the couch. So there is currently only one light bulb in them.

I find them bright and kind of spot lighty, if you get what I mean. It is a den, it should be more warm.

And, when she sends more photos, she adds:

And we are actually trying to decide if we want to paint the beams white or not.

What do you think, readers — how should Natalie and Graham get more light into their mid century living room / den? Note, we had a post earlier this year in which readers weighed in (1) keeping a beamed ceiling and (2) with some comments on painting the beams. Although the style of the house was different, it’s worth taking a look — there were 80 comments!

  1. Christa says:

    The first thing I have to say ( and it has been said before) is call an electrician to check those light fixtures…there is NO reason that there should be exploding anything! Not good at all. The second thing is if you want to keep a ceiling fan, do change it out…The Modern Fan Co. is a good place to look. Third, regarding the cans, if they can be stopped from exploding, they can be kept, though there are different types of ceiling fixtures that might be more appropriate, and work well for highlighting art and such.
    Just as an example in my own home…I got them pretty inexpensively from e-bay, and they replaced, you guessed it, eyball cans, though slightly smaller ones.
    As far as the wood goes, I am more fond of keeping the wood, and perhaps change the color of the walls and / or ceiling to make the room richer overall…that way,there would perhaps be less of a contrast. You have a wonderful ceiling, the beams just highlight that fact.
    All in all, good luck and happy renovating !

  2. susan says:

    Take those crappy lights out and find some yummy retro hanging lights. Mix a few colors or go with the same color. I love aqua and red together but coral is tugging at my heart also…or maybe salmon…but orange is good too.

  3. These are all wonderful suggestions and ideas. Gives me some more things to research and decide on. I saw one comment about putting a built-in in on the back well, well guess what, there already is one…right beside the fireplace! http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/eh9Kr7X6a8eJQhfeMfUryA?feat=directlink

    Yes, the fireplace is pink, which is why the room will be painted turquoise. It is the middle color on the wall in between the built in and fireplace. We also have a couch in that room that is the exact same color as the fireplace. (http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/DSACNDE_9Uzlh30MKPeYZQ?feat=directlink)

    I also want to agree with several people about the fan. I hate that fan. Haha. It will go, just haven’t gotten a new one yet. We have also considered just using lighting from the fan (which is what the other houses on our street have), but I am afraid it would be too little. We currently have an arch lamp for the room, and one table lamp. The patio door gives light to only one side of the room. The buffet and TV go on the wall that goes into the kitchen (first picture).

    From the comments so far, I am leaning towards painting the beams a very light brown with white ceilings (I am weird about ceiling being anything other than white). The stain job on both the ceiling beams and the built-in were done by the previous owner, they are very splotchy and poorly done, which is why it would be easier just to paint them instead of re-staining.

    Still undecided with the lights though. It is such a hard decision. I like the idea of smaller recessed lights, but I also like the idea of no ceiling lights.

    Anyway, I hope that gives everyone a little more insight and I really, really appreciate all the ideas! Everyone on here is so great with resources!

    Oh and Linda – are you from Dallas? Our house is located in Farmers Branch! =)

    1. Cindy says:


      What did you end up doing to finish this project and can we see the results?
      Your room reminded me of the space I have in a mobli home with vaulted ceilings and fake beams. I want to paint and I’m not sure if I want to paint over the faux beams. The ceiling needs painting so bad and painting around 3 beams seem like tedious project. My ceiling fan is white and was added to the home- not original but extremely functional for hot Texas weather with no central ac.
      The white against the white ceiling does not take away from what the rest of the room . The previous ower started painting white on the hall wall and stopped against a pepto bismal pink. I’m not a creative type, but know good taste when I see it and try to follow that lead. I look forward to seeing what you did. I was excited because I was also considering a teal color for the room.
      How did that work out? My main wall is currently a antique pink floral wall paper like fabric with stains that I cannot get out. I think I will have to Kiltz it, and add floor molding because the previou owner put id dark hard wood planks and forgot to replace the molding. The home is about 900 sq. feet and I’ll have to be careful to have minimal furniture and use a color that will open it up and be cheerful. I have thought about additional lighting in the ceiling expcept for blowing fuses from electrical overload. No exploading lights yet. I am anxious to see your end result and thank you for sharing your home project with us.

  4. Lynne says:

    I would leave the beams the way they are. Priming and painting multiple coats would be daunting-especially with your hands and arms over your head! Paint the walls and in between the beams in a warm candlelight yellow or ivory. Then, bring the same wood tone as the beams, (or at least a color as close as you can get it) and sprinkle it around to the other parts of the room. Such as end tables, bookshelves and or bookcases. That way the beams will look like they belong. How about that floor? Could it be refinished to match the beams??

    As for the lighting, I agree with the others. Get a good electrician to look at the wiring before you make any decisions. In my opinion, I’d keep the cans and put them on dimmers.

  5. Nina462 says:

    I agree with Gavin on just ignoring those lights and using lamps instead. As for the beams …. don’t paint them. I have beams too , original to my 65 ranch- they are meant to be the color of the wood, not paint! I just went to an open house that also had beams…and was sad because they had painted them. I remember babysitting in that house in the 70’s and the beams were not painted then. My feeling is: why have the beam if you’re just going to paint them? They are meant to be seen.

  6. I think that it’s an excellent idea to just ignore the ceiling lighting and use mood lighting around the room with lamps and sconces (you can get great vintage ones that plug in and you don’t even have to have them wired). I don’t think you asked about the beams but I think that they’re beautiful.

    You could also remove the ceiling fan and hang a large period appropriate fixture there. I wish that I could attach a photo of the one that we have in our house – we have a ceiling just like yours but ours is all wood with wood beams. We found a hanging fixture with three huge lights hanging from it and it’s really pretty and gives nice light along with some lamps. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to put a link to a photo of the room here..

        1. brilliant.girl says:

          I agree with Eartha – replace the fan with a cool pendant or other MCM style fixture.
          Then take Gav’s suggestion and get lamps or task lighting for other areas where needed. This will be the quickest and least expensive approach.

          As for the can lights – get an electrician out pronto or put a flat box over the switchplate so no one can turn them on. You’ve definitely got a problem there and don’t want to start a fire!!

  7. Elaine says:

    Our 1964 family room has two can lights at each end, and in the middle where they can shine on the fireplace, two of those frogeye looking spotlights. Ours have never exploded no matter what kind of bulb we put in them. We have used regular incandescent light bulbs, spotlights, floodlights. Some last longer than others. It would be a good idea to have an electrician look at them. They may need repair, or maybe you are just using the wrong kind of bulb. There are quite a few choices when it comes to those bulbs, and they all look exactly the same, but with different numbers and recommended uses.

    We also have walnut beams on the ceiling, which are part of the original mid-60s colonial decor. There is a wide walnut panel molding all the way around the ceiling, and the French doors to the sun room are walnut as well. We wouldn’t dream of painting them. The floor is walnut stained oak.

    The builder stopped by for a visit not long after we moved in, and confirmed the lights were original.

  8. Jt says:

    if the lights are staying (and exploding), that usually happens (as atomgrrl stated) when there’s too much power getting to the bulbs, tough it isn’t necessarily wattage, because watts don’t go through wires, current does (watts is the work, i.e. lighting the lamp, done over time). current is voltage divided by resistance. In order for the current to be high enough to blow your bulbs, either you need a significant voltage potential (your lights aren’t wired at 220v, are they?) or you need very low resistance in your bulbs. Or, something is causing the excess current at the bulb socket. Another thing could be bulbs of too low wattage installed. I’ve done it before where I bought the more inexpensive bulbs, only to find out there wattage rating was too low, and putting them in a high rate wattage light fixture (and therefore high current as current is directly proportional to power) caused them to explode. Check the type of light fixtures you have and whatever tech spec sheet/booklet they came with to see if you’re using the proper rated bulbs. If that isn’t the case, time to call in the electrician (if you’re keeping them)!

    1. pam kueber says:

      wow, that sounds like a really good explanation of wattage vs. voltage. alas, my brain is just not wired to understand this, so no matter how many teams i read it i will not understand. just as: i cannot work the THREE remote controls it now takes to run our big flat screen tv that replaced the old one killed mercilessly by a thunderstrike (no it wasn’t the surge protector — it was the cable itself!) Three complicated remotes. Three. Did you hear me? Three! Insane.

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