Tips for Kitchen Lighting

A lighting plan should be an integral part of a kitchen remodel. Here are some of the main factors to consider.
By: Alicia Garceau
Kitchen After

Kitchen After

An after shot of a kitchen with hardwood flooring, pot lights, pendant lights and under cabinet lighting

"Lighting is often the last thing considered in a [kitchen] design and the first thing cut from a budget," says Randall Whitehead, a nationally known designer and author on the subject of residential lighting. But to look its best and function well, a kitchen must be properly lit — and that involves more than just specifying stylish fixtures. A good plan blends lighting into the architectural and decorative details of the room.

Avoid Glaring Errors

When it comes to kitchen lighting, the most common mistake is trying to light the entire room with one ceiling-mounted fixture. The result ends up being what Whitehead calls a "glare bomb," which visually overpowers everything in the space. Recessed lighting, if installed in a generic grid, isn't much better.

"A lot of people do it incorrectly, and they'll end up with too much light in some areas and shadows everywhere else," says Max Isley, a certified kitchen designer and board member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Plan for a Layered Look

No single light source can provide all the necessary light for a kitchen. A well-lit kitchen layers and blends four different types of light. Every kitchen remodel should include the following:

  • Task Lighting. It is the workhorse of illumination and provides adequate light for tasks like chopping vegetables and reading recipes. Optimum placement of task lighting comes between a person's head and the work surface, which makes lighting located below the upper cabinets so effective. If a kitchen remodel includes a pantry, make sure to specify task lighting there as well.
  • Ambient lighting. It creates a warm glow that fills a room, softens shadows and helps to make people feel instantly welcome in a kitchen. If cabinets do not reach all the way to the ceiling, that space is a great spot for ambient light. Of the four types of lighting, ambient is most often overlooked.
  • Accent lighting. It gives depth and dimension to a kitchen. Examples of accent lighting include fixtures placed inside glass-front cabinets to illuminate China, glassware, and other collections as well as recessed, adjustable low-voltage fixtures used to spotlight art.
  • Decorative lighting. Whitehead likes to refer to this type of lighting as architectural jewelry. It adds sparkle to a space.

Dim the Lights

As in any room in the house, the ability to adjust light levels in the kitchen is ideal. When cooking or cleaning up, a bright punch of illumination makes the job easier. For lingering over a meal and conversing, dimmed lights create great ambiance. One dimmer in the kitchen won't do the trick, however. Make sure the design calls for separate dimmers for each type of lighting: task, ambient, accent and decorative.

Consider Using a Lighting Designer

Consider adding a lighting designer to your remodeling team. (Visit the International Association of Lighting Designers website at www.iald.org to find a professional.) A lighting designer will study the kitchen's layout, as well as other elements of the design, such as ceiling height, natural light and surface finishes, to determine the amount and placement of light needed in the space.

If your budget doesn't allow for a lighting designer, Whitehead's latest book, Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide, includes an extensive section on kitchens.

Plan

One last kitchen lighting tip from Whitehead: "Even if you don't have the budget for?a series of pendants over the center island, at least install the three junction boxes [during the remodel]," he says. Then fixtures can be purchased at a later date and easily added to the kitchen.

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