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blue kitchen mid century modern track lighting
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

There are certain things in design and decorating that are kind of ‘necessary’ (or at the very least super functional) but traditionally just don’t look that great. Track lighting is one of those things. Our previous kitchen (above) had track lighting and while I never really resented it – it more or less disappeared visually, provided good task lighting and frankly, we didn’t really have any other options because we had an exposed ceiling – I’m a bit hesitant to use it again. The kitchen in our mountain house is similar and we are faced with the same track lighting issue, but for some reason, I’ve been resistant.

blue and white kitchen track lighting
Photo by Tessa Neustadt for EHD

Why was I anti-track lighting?? In a battle of form over function, track lighting wins for function. It points to what should get attention (like task areas), it can be adjusted and angled in tons of ways to work best for what you need. Track lighting is smart and downright useful. But…I’m having some feelings about it that I need to get out…consider this post a little track lighting self-soothing.

Typically when I think of track lighting, I envision something that’s busy, clunky and dated. It gets a bad rep for being pretty generic and boring. And while it’s probably not that fair to bully track lighting on a stereotype, I’m not going to overlook that what you might think of when you hear “track lighting” is something similar to the below:

Emily Henderson Track Lighting Is It Cool Old Examples 1

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

While I hadn’t discounted track lighting entirely (again, I didn’t mind it in my last house), I have a general rule for myself that it shouldn’t look ‘groovy,’ ‘funky’ or ‘seductive’. You can keep your ‘sexy’ lights (lower left), I don’t want them tarting up my ceilings.

Rooms with exposed ceilings kind of call for track lighting though because putting in cans isn’t ideal (though possible). In a way, cans are scarier because you are cutting holes several inches wide into your ceiling – permanent holes and a lot of them. At the mountain house, our kitchen ceiling also happens to be the floor above so I’m not even sure there is room for cans (which look flat but can be about 7 1/2″ deep, though more shallow 4 to 5″ options exist).

Besides, tracks can kind of be ‘hidden’ in the rafters and provide really good task lighting in addition to pendants over the island and sconces flanking the window (without having to stress about junction boxes being where you want/need them to be).

My heart says ‘really?’ while my head says ‘what choice do we have?’. I picked the mind of the EHD crew recently while brainstorming stories for the site, and everyone was wavering just like me. At first mention of ‘track lighting’, most were like ‘yeah, no’ but the more we talked it through, the more everyone flipped the script. Then the discussion turned to what kinds of track lighting can actually look good (like, really good, not just acceptably good) and in what types of spaces. We tasked ourselves to try to find some cool track lighting and boy did we find some that we love.

wood panel ceiling track lighting
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I love that track above. It doesn’t exactly blend seamlessly into the wood ceiling, but the matte black and the small lights look pretty sleek.

White marble kitchen modern track lighting
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Another matte black option, this time in a really modern kitchen. The dark tone overhead balances all the white (and the delicate frame echoes the legs on those barstools).

white sofa track lighting
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Keeping the spotlights clustered on either side like in this room can look pretty interesting. I’m into it. Would it have been better in white? Possibly…

modern dining room wood floors
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The beauty of track lighting is that you can put the spotlights right where you need them, like over a dining space (without stealing too much attention from the furniture like a more dramatic chandelier would do).

modern kitchen
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In a big, long kitchen, you kind of need multiple lighting options (you want to cut your fingerling potatoes, not your fingers). A couple of simple tracks keeps things visually uncluttered. Okay, maybe I’m talking myself into this…

marble backsplash modern kitchen track lighting
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In a scenario where you have a really cool (but really subtle) light fixture like that bar pendant over the island, I can see how track lighting that matches your ceiling color is helpful, functional and not too, too noticeable.

modern living room fireplace
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They work in living spaces, too…

Convinced? (I kind of am…) Here’s the thing, though: all of these have something in common that make them work in the rooms shown above. They are all super simple, sleek and modern and while we did find a few that have two tones (see grid below), most of the ones we love are just one tone/color.

Additionally, they are all in houses that architecturally lend themselves to modern style. I would not put track lighting in our current house that is 100 years old. EVER. But I also take the rather boring view that generally, your lighting should reference your architecture and era of your house, stylistically. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when people put crazy modern fixtures in really old houses (the French love to do this and do it effortlessly) but if it’s not done right, it can look dated and disjointed. That’s all to say, it’s harder to make track lighting work in older homes – it can be done, it’s just harder.

Emily Henderson Track Lighting Is It Cool Modern Options

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Above are some nice, modern track lighting 2.0-type options. The matte black and brass option in particular is pretty special (no need to hide that one up in the rafters).

Track Lighting Panels
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Now, for the mountain house, our architect likes these (above and below) because of function – they are LED but a warm light and can be moved a lot.

lumens panels
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I was leaning toward the track lighting with tiny round spotlights, but I’m open. I want to choose function over style but also want to make sure that these are going to either disappear or look really great.

So we went on a track lighting research mission and found some that we love (and while technically, track lights are composed of a track and lights that you clip into said track and move around – which 90% of these are – we couldn’t help but include 10%ish that have the look of tracks but not quite the same functionality).

Emily Henderson Track Lighting Is It Cool Roundup1

1. Long John | 2. Nuvo H-Track | 3. Nymane | 4. Star 6 Track | 5. 3 Wood and Metal Kitchen Spot | 6. Light: Alpha Trak & Track: 8ft Track | 7. Light: White Cylinder Track & Track: Halo Trac| 8. Brushed Brass Rail | 9. Rosie Modern 3 Way | 10. Highest Quality Gallery Track Lighting | 11. Black 3 Track | 12. Light: White Dimmable & Track: Lightolier 4 ft. | 13. Bave | 14. Light: Black Water Drop & Track: Juno 4 ft | 15. Pro Track Black | 16. Skeninge | 17. Light: White Halo & Track: Single Circuit 2-Foot White Track | 18. 3-Light Track Kit

As soon as we get closer to deciding what the pendants in the mountain house kitchen will be, I’ll let you know what we end up with.

So, because inquiring minds want (NEED) to know… are you pro-track lighting or anti? Do you have them in your home and just wouldn’t want to live without them? Did this post change your stance at all either way? Or are you like me where when it’s the right track lighting in the right home, it’s great?

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Jessica Davis

It’s not technically track but I also love these single track spots Lauren Leiss used in her kitchen: http://www.laurenliess.com/portfolio-projects/fox-vale

AbbeyDove

I’m totally pro track lighting. From my perspective, things that are simple, clean lined and highly functional don’t go out of style. Consider peg rail, wishbone chairs and track lighting in this group. There’s a reason art galleries and museums typically use track lighting. It’s because it’s pretty awesome.

JB

100% agree, abbeydove.

FivebyFive

I have a version of those seductive track lights “tarting up” my kitchen ceiling. LOL! Great phrasing, by the way. I still like my tarty track lights — but I also like the black simple ones you have here. Hmmm. Might be time to upgrade.

jessvii

I’m kind of sad to see the #3 lights called tarty because I had the exact same lights installed in my condo in the mid-2000s. I had a narrow galley-style kitchen, and before I had those track lights installed, I had one giant fluorescent overhead monstrosity that looked like something you’d see at a supermarket, not in a home. Given that there was only one junction box in the kitchen, doing track lighting seemed like my only option at the time. At the time, the curve did break up a lot of the rectilinear-ness of my small, long, boxy kitchen,… Read more »

Christina Della Morte

Could be worth spray painting matte black! Would definitely update it without too much money

JB

“tarting up my ceiling” had me cracking up at 6:30 a.m.!! I like almost all of these options (the rectangles are probably my least fave b/c they’re the size of register vents and read that way to me. and there are a lot of options I’d choose first.) I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other on track lighting. Although I do remember spending weird amounts of time (for a 7 year old) staring at my aunt and uncle’s track lighting in the mid-eighties–being amazed b/c we didn’t have anything like that at home. They were ultra-cool, ultra-up-to-date,… Read more »

Beth

Such a helpful post as I consider our upcoming kitchen reno and the track lighting currently in the kitchen. Where else am I going to get a compelling daily design seminar on something I initially thought was a bit boring? Once again: thank you! Keep these coming…

Amanda

I’ve always loved track lighting. It reminds me of my childhood in the eighties. My favorite, stylish adults had it in their homes.

Ryan

I think track lighting is just one of those things that’s done so badly so often! Always has felt dated to me, but this did certainly help with my bias! If it’s the only option you have for the mountain house, I’m sure it can be done well to look sharp.

Lana

I’m totally anti track lighting. I think it looks tacky and dated no matter what. Why not just a bunch of table and floor lamps instead?

soliterra

I think because table and floor lamps take up space, plus they don’t use directional light. I think these examples are really great!

Lilz

Ugh thank you for this! I have track lighting in a brushed nickel finish in my kitchen and hallway, and I’ve never liked it but the ceilings are low so the options are flush mount or track lights. The tracks are just so dang functional esp in the kitchen. You have me eyeing those white IKEA track lights hmmmm.

Sarah

I think track lighting generally looks best in spaces that either have high ceilings, are large and open, or both. Tracks and their cans just take up a ton of visual space in smaller rooms.

Jackie

Your work is beautiful. You had styled a desk and a chair with a painting that I saw on Saatchi. I love the desk and chair and am wondering if you would be able to tell me where they are from.
(link below):

https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Collage-Emily-s-Mark/947034/4162686/view
Thank you very much,
Jackie

Loveley of honeymoonvintage.com

a few things. 1. the lead image of your old kitchen (i think that’s your old kitchen, right?) is so great. and i kept looking at it before i even read what this post was about. then i read the title of the post, and was like, “what is she talking about? this picture has nothing to do with track lighting….weird”. THEN, i finally found the track lighting in the picture. and, THAT, is the first time i have EVER thought track lighting looked good. because it blended in so well with your ceiling that i didn’t even see it.… Read more »

Laura Fox

I’m typically VERY anti-track lighting but you do make an excellent case for it. I think that if done properly it could be extremely useful and not look like the horrible image that immediately pops into you head when track lighting is mentioned. You found some really stunning options that will make me think twice in the future. Thanks for sharing your thought process!

Crystal

You can keep your ‘sexy’ lights (lower left), I don’t want them tarting up my ceilings. <—- That right there is gold. Pure gold. This is why I'm here. Oh, and to learn about lighting obviously.

Sarah D.

Thanks! This post will save me hours:) We have a tall, vaulted ceiling in the ceiling room in need of overhead lighting. A few of these track lighting options are so sleek they seem to disappear. I always thought lights like France & Son’s multi-arm or spider ceiling lamps were the new form of track lighting. What’s the form/function difference between track lights and the long multi-arm lights?

Sarah Beth

Thank you for this great & very timely post! We recently (like, last week!) bought our first home, and we need to fix the lights in almost every room. Our sunroom/den is an addition with a flat roof and exposed beams, so I’ve been really struggling with what to do in there, knowing track lighting is the realistic option but fearing beige industrial lights. The house is both mid-century in style and date (built in 1955), though the sunroom a somewhat exception and looks more traditional. I want everything to be cohesive, but I also want to be able to… Read more »

Julie S

I wanted to like them for your sake but I just don’t! Of all those pictures there were only about 3 I felt I could tolerate – your semi invisible ones from your old kitchen and a couple of the very artistic options in the roundups. People tend not to look up if there’s nothing drawing the eye, so I really don’t mind functional/unattractive track hidden on a rafter in the ceiling color that I forget to notice… all these black ones drawing attention to themselves still just appear ugly to me. a couple of them reminded me of TV… Read more »

AM

I feel like track lighting in the pics above looks very stylish, but note all the pictures are in daylight with the lights off. I’ve never felt track lighting to be warm, inviting, or flattering…I always feel like I’m being chased down by a police helicopter or something. In a room like a kitchen I can see the need to have task lighting on a counter, but I haven’t been able to experience them in a nice ambient lighting way.

Kara

We live in a literal log cabin and in some areas, especially the kitchen, track lighting is really the only option. We still haven’t gotten around to remodeling the kitchen, so still have the absolutely terrible track lights that were probably installed in the 1970s, but I’m definitely saving this post to reference for options and inspiration whenever we get around to changing things out. In some spaces track lighting is necessary and appropriate and I think you found a lot of great options, however I will say I do NOT like the rectangular option your contractor is encouraging. They… Read more »

Lauren

I think in a kitchen it makes sense and some of those options are nice. But I have to say I REALLY don’t like the architect-recommended LED lights. They look like iPhone screens. No thank you.

Megan

I am pro track lighting. I think there are some great updated options out there and I really like how it was used in all the pics above. And I like how you used white track lights that just blend in to the ceiling in your old kitchen. I would rather have track lights than those ugly dated ceiling fan/lights.

Brandyn

If a situation calls for track lighting it’s fine, but I would stick to the instinct to blend with the ceiling. I don’t really think they work as a statement. My favorite are the ones are either incredibly simple that completely blend or the white one where it looks like the track runs through the open beam. Still a blend look, but a little more interesting?

Katherine

This exactly! Not everything in a room can make a statement. Blend it in and people will be staring at the beautiful pendant/chandelier instead. And can I mention that seeing your old kitchen is really refreshing. I know your kitchen post earlier in the week was a hard one for you, and I’m glad you’re still able/willing to put yourself out there. Your old kitchen represents what I think a lot of us are craving- having make it work moments (track lighting, existing cabinets, etc) and making it work, even if it’s not “perfect”. And it’s nice to hear you… Read more »

Brittany

First time commenting—I love the track options you found, but recessed lighting has come a long way too—you don’t need a can at all! I recently spec’d some flushmount LED for recessed lighting. They are 1/2” thick, IC and UL rated and dimmable. You do need room for a 1”junction box, but you don’t need to attach the junction box to anything-so the electrician can daisy them together-and you don’t have to worry about joist/truss placement because they can go anywhere (even over the joist). Anyways, my electrician had never seen them, but is a convert now. I think Globe,… Read more »

Meg T

Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this. I have been wanting to put in recessed lighting in our kitchen to replace 80s florescent lighting but it was going to be tricky because of joist placements. But this sounds like the solution! I am soo happy. Thank you so much!

Sarah

Wow, thanks! Do you have any product links you can share?

Brittany

Here’s a video link that explains the type of lights I’ve used—I had to show this to my electrician so that he could wrap his head around it! I’ve used them for remodels-since access was usually a problem, but when we built new I used these since I could wait until cabinets were in to decide where to install the recessed lighting and you can get a full insulation value over the top of them—which matters!!

All major manufacturers now make them, just search either slim LED wafer

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NOoJ2eNfrLg

Laura

Hey Brittany – how much do these run you? We are considering track light partially because of cost as well. Each light is going to run us like $150-200 if we do a normal recessed lights. Are these less expensive or more?

Brittany

WAY less. I think cost of the light is about $25-$50, depending on manufacturer. As long as you can fish a wire you can install everything from below, you just need to cut the 6” hole for the light.

Grace

So many of these are STUNNING! Saving this to reference later.
BUT, the option that your architect likes has me cringing… mostly because they remind me of iPhones. This may be super crunchy of me, but I know the mountain house is where you go to unplug and relax, and having a bunch of iPhone-like lights looming over your head may be a bad choice in that respect. Then again, I’m a millennial with a very complicated relationship with screens, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Shannon

I’ve always thought “cool track lighting” was an oxymoron. You changed my mind. I’m saving this page for future reference.

Emily

This post was very interesting Our house was built in 1891, and so I don’t see using track lighting in our own home, but I still found this post very enlightening (pun intended). It changed my view of track lighting completely, and I now can see how in some spaces it can be both attractive and quite functional. As an aside, I know some of the comments on an earlier post this week were disheartening. I just want to say thank you for showing up every day in this space and giving your all. I’m a long-time daily reader of… Read more »

JEN

Thank you so much for sharing your insights and tons of beautiful inspiration for track lighting. The perfect article for me at the perfect time – we just bought a cabin with lots of track lighting. I kind of love it but I was hoping for a wonderful way to update the current, tired fixtures. Your suggestions are gorgeous and realistically affordable – I love that so much! You made my day! Thanks so much, your blog is the best! 🙂

olivia

I think the examples you’ve found make a very strong case for track lighting! The only one I can’t get on-board with is the Architect’s recommendation. Looks like a bunch of smartphones on a pole!

Good luck!

Tracy Leigh Morgan

Ok, I needed this info SO MUCH right now. We’re in the process of buying a 70s era contemporary home with a cabin-y vibe that has a couple of tracks (hidden in exposed beams in the kitchen being one!!) and I am dying to swap out the ugly, dated heads. THANK YOU!!

northerngirl

I don’t think track lighting is something I would ever gravitate toward right off the bat. But for functional lighting that can blend in it can work and, in some spaces, I would argue it works better than can lighting. Because track lighting hangs down having big, airy spaces with tall cielings is a big part of making it work. Like industrial elements, track lighting is all about function (although it often tries to blend in more than industrial pieces). With track lighting simple and functional are the core requirements most of the time. I think this is why I… Read more »

Molly

Totally agree. I could completely get on board with track lighting in a room with high ceilings or exposed beams like your old kitchen. In my house with 8 foot ceilings, I think it would be so eye catching hanging down from above – in a very bad way. I really liked some of the options you shared. But I have to agree, the only one I don’t like at all is the one your architect recommended! I think small, round, and simple is the only way to go. P.S. I commented the other day that your suggestion for new… Read more »

Jb

This is sweet.

Sheila

I have exposed beam, flat ceilings throughout my mid-century modern house. Previous owners installed dimmable, low voltage cable lighting in the living room. The wires run parallel to and in-between the beams so they almost disappear. They’re by the same manufacturer as your architect-favored LED iPhones but I have the K-pivot heads ( http://www.techlighting.com/Products/Fixtures/Kable-Lite/K-Pivot-Head ) and I like the way I can adjust them to illuminate artwork. I wish I could put them in other rooms but it’s not really in the budget for me. Is something like that under consideration?

Laurielulu

Call me “tarted”……..and it’s your fault, you have converted me.

Ed Komasara

Track lighting seems like it should work, but rarely does. Kind of like the stuff hucksters ell in infomercials. Imagine trying to light your room with flashlights… That’s why it doesn’t work. Lighting specific items like artwork is about all it is good for.

Teresa

My auto response is a resounding no, but… why does everything before the but never matter?! But, I have them in my own kitchen and will likely use them in our next house as well. It really is the best functionally with open beam ceilings. I prefer them to disappear. If I barely notice ‘em, I can’t hate on ‘em. I have to say though, a couple of the options you threw in the mix has me wondering if they really can be integrated into a planned lighting scheme for more reason than just the light they shed.

Samantha

Emily!! I currently have a (very) small ceiling fan in my kitchen (33 in)…I’ve been thinking about replacing it with track lighting. You may have convinced me. Having a fan in the kitchen is super convenient and functional…but it’s so small it doesn’t do a lot in keeping the rest of that level of the house cool. (kitchen/dining room/living room all open)
Thoughts? Do I look for a better ceiling fan or go track lighting? The kitchen is all white so I could get some that would blend in very well.

Elise

This is such a great post, and apparently I’m the only one who LIKES the iPad-looking lights your architect recommended!

classic casual home

What a dilemma. We have them in our 100 year old apartment in SF as we have plaster cielings and they provide task lighting in my office and kitchen. At least you found some pretty great ones!

susanne

What is the ceiling height on your main living level (kitchen, living area)? You said that the ceiling is pretty much the floor of the floor above, I would seriously consider dropping the ceiling height on the main level by a few inches just to be able to add some sound insulation!! Installing this beautiful kitchen and then hearing every footstep, conversation etc. above, will just be disastrous!! We have the same issue right now: we are building out our basement and its ceiling is the floor of the main living area. You hear EVERY.SINGLE.THING of the adjacent floors. So,… Read more »

Diane Jaynes

When my house was built in 1986, track lighting strips similar to 18 were installed in the open beam ceiling in the living and dining rooms. However, I recently swapped them out for 15 (except in white). They look much tidier and are good spot-lighting for art. Agree about the “tarty” lights. When I walked into my cousin’s kitchen and saw the same, I thought, “Not a good look.” Hope he doesn’t read your blog!

Heidi

Wow, I’m amazed – I think I’m a convert! Your team managed to find track lighting that’s “really good, not just acceptably good.”

I like the black track lights best when black is incorporated elsewhere in the room, otherwise it can feel out of place or even jarring (and draw too much attention).

Your examples don’t show them in a cabin-y setting, but if anyone could make them look right, it’s EHD.

Great content, guys!

Lil

I have the UGLIEST track lighting in my kitchen and wasn’t looking forward to the expense of changing it out. I’m going to look at a few of these – feeling much better about having track lighting now. Thanks!

Jessie

TIP for people who have track lighting like the upper right picture in the “bad examples” – we had ones similar to those in our kitchen when we moved in, and I HATED them and wanted to replace them, but when I had to change one of the lightbulbs, I discovered that those black plastic rings inside each can are REMOVABLE. Now, in the example above, that wouldn’t fix the weird L shape, and it wouldn’t fix the fact that those are super yellowed, and that the cans are different shapes (seriously what the heck???), but for ours, which were… Read more »

Jessie

Oh, and Emily, tell your architect to get out of here with those weird “iPads attached to the ceiling” lights. I’m sure the function is great, and maybe it would be better if they were designed a bit better, but as is, they don’t meet the requirements of being streamlined and unobtrusive OR of being beautiful and special. Not that you have time for another project, but that manufacturer needs your design consulting. Or at least needs to read this post.

BEX

I had the “tarty” track lights in an old room of mine and just HATED THEM. (perfect, hysterical wording for them!) but you make a great case for track lights. I’ve always been pro just because they ARE SO FUNCTIONAL, but liked how you had them in your kitchen = blended in.

Well done EHD team, you’ve converted me and so many others to the beauty that can be track lighting!

Michelle

I had the sexy track lights in my kitchen when I moved it. They were terrible. They came with hot bulbs that burned out constantly. It was pretty fulfilling to take them down after living with them for a year but then I had multiple holes to patch. If done right and in the right style of home, I think perfect. They have no place in my 1970s townhome.

Marcey

I wish that there were some non-hardwired options. I really want to have this look in my living room.

Betsy

My mom redid a gutted condo several years ago. Unfortunately, her junction for the kitchen light was completely off center. Right in front of her refrigerator at a very awkward spot. But, she is in a condo with concrete ceilings and floors. So she couldn’t just move the junction box for the light. So track lighting was the only option. I will admit that I cringed hard at the thought. But she had no other choice in the matter. So off we were to find track lighting for the kitchen. Ended up finding a pretty decent matte black light. The… Read more »

Emmie

This is another situation like the visible appliance dilemma in which US trends seem to differ from other parts of the world. I’m in New Zealand and all of my friends with design degrees specify sleek, modern black or white track lighting in their kitchens – often in the position that Americans put sconces- and often living areas – very like the images you’ve chosen. We’re renovating a 1958 house, though the kitchen is a new addition. We have white adjustable track lighting that doesn’t draw attention to itself, some spots angled down for task lighting and a couple angled… Read more »

Kindra

Gah! This topic is so timely for me. I’m renovating a 1980’s contemporary (that lives in the land of colonials in Virginia) and have very tall vaulted ceilings that would be a REAL hassle to put cans in. I’ve always been anti-track, but now I may be changing my mind. I love that wood ceiling with the sleek black track lighting.

Paula Carr

Late to the party, as usual, but just wanted to chime in that I hate those tablet lights your architect recommended. Yuck.

I’ve never lived in a place with track lighting, and, generally, I don’t care for ceiling lights much at all, but some of these examples are not so bad. Damned with faint praise!

I’ve always HATED those tarty lights, too. Just so clunky.

Charu

Oh my goodness! PLEASE, PLEASE DO NOT use the lights your contractor is recommending!!! I tend to feel that many LED options are manifestations of the devil finding their way into our home and stealing the warmth… even if you can get away from that with a warm-tone LED I think the shape your contractor is recommending just drains them of all charm. I’m totally a fan of most of the other fancy-pants track lighting that you have featured in this article. I say go with something that can disappear into the ceiling without notice if possible, but I even… Read more »

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