How To Light A Kitchen Expert Design Ideas And Tips

October 24, 2018 8:42 am by sandiego
Adorne kitchen under cabinet system from legrand
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How To Light A Kitchen Expert Design Ideas And Tips

Tips on the three types of lighting most commonly found in kitchens.

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

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Get expert advice on the right counter height, the best flooring and where to put your appliances.

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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.

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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.

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:

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“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.

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What if you’re lucky enough to have a light-flooded kitchen? AP: If the room is well lit, add accent lighting for interest. One idea is to float shelves at open cabinets, or cabinets with glass doors, and mount LED strip lights in the back of the shelves. This creates a wash of light at the back cabinet wall that highlights the objects on the shelves. Typically, you will want to leave approximately 2 to 2.5 inches of space between the back of the shelf and the back wall of the cabinet. Also, add a small wood stop or bumper at the back of the shelf to keep items on the shelves from being pushed into the light-strip gap. The Ledra Orion Sabre mentioned above works great for this.

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When it comes to kitchen cabinets, there are plenty to choose from. Here is some information to help you choose what kind of cabinet is right for you.

Decorative lighting. Whitehead likes to refer to this type of lighting as architectural jewelry. It adds sparkle to a space.

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.

For many people, the kitchen is the hub of the home these days. “That’s why it has to be functional, comfortable—and tied together with the right lighting,” says San Francisco–based interior designer April Powers. Here, Powers, whose contemporary yet timeless designs have been featured in publications such as Architectural Digest, offers ideas and tips on how to light a kitchen.

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What are some universal tips to keep in mind when lighting a kitchen? April Powers: The kitchen has become about so much more than food prep; it’s inevitably where everyone will congregate when entertaining, so it’s important that the lighting is both task-oriented as well as ambient and friendly. Avoid anything overly bright. Also, all fixtures should be dimmable so the light can be adjusted to meet specific needs. And since so many kitchens are located directly off a great room, it’s nice to be able to lower the lighting levels once the food prep is done.

How about pendants? AP: They’re ideal over islands and dining areas to bring a warmer, more ambient light. They provide light at a lower level in the room than recessed ceiling fixtures, which allows for more balanced overall lighting and some stylistic and visual interest. I typically prefer for pendants to hang approximately 40 inches above the island or tabletop so they’re not in the sight line of the average person standing or sitting in the space.

Which under-cabinet lighting do you like? AP: For task lighting at countertops, I often use LED strip lights like the Ledra Orion Sabre from Bruck Lighting because LED lights stay cooler than incandescents. They’re mounted behind the fascia board at the front of the cabinet, so they’re hidden from view and not shining in anyone’s eyes, but the light is directed down on to the counter. For the ultimate in under cabinet systems try Legrand’s adorne which allows you to hide outlets and USB ports as well as light your counter.

Consider adding a lighting designer to your remodeling team. (Visit the International Association of Lighting Designers website at 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.

What about placement of the lighting? AP: It’s best to work with three levels of light in a kitchen: down lights (also called recessed), under-cabinet strip lighting, and hanging (or pendant) lighting. Wattages can vary based on the space, but typically, MR16 Halogens or LED lamps are used in the recessed fixtures, LEDs for strip lights, and incandescents for pendants. As for bulb color temperature, I usually opt for warm, golden tones.

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.

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.

“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.

Why are down lights important? AP: Recessed lighting in the ceiling is best for general room illumination and combats glare and shadows. I like the Tesla 2” High Output LED 0-30 degree Adjustable Reflector because it has a small aperture so you’re not punching an enormous hole in the ceiling. Recessed lights also work well in areas of circulation, like walkways, and the space between the island and kitchen sink. You can install them wherever you need them so they are good for task lighting, such as over sinks.

A nice option over an island is Tom Dixon’s Pressed Glass Tube Pendant, which I like to use with clear bulbs. It offers a decorative accent and a softer, diffused light that filters through the hand-blown glass. A good option for the dining area is the Moooi Round Boon Pendant because the black shade will direct the light more specifically onto the table surface and the ceiling above. It creates a more moody effect than a typical fixture that glows from all sides.

Two of the most important elements in any kitchen are good lighting and flooring. Our experts share the different options for both.

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.

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Give potential homebuyers a fresh look at your kitchen with a combination of new ambient, task and decorative lighting.

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.

America’s top lighting designers share their foolproof tips for creating the perfect lighting plan for your kitchen.

Outdoor kitchens have become an extremely popular outdoor extra for new homes, especially in warmer climates.

What’s the biggest mistake you see when it comes to kitchen lighting? AP: Too many lights hanging from the ceiling. I typically tend towards having only one hanging-style fixture in the kitchen, whether it’s a pendant over an island or eating area, or a pot rack with integral down-lights over an island or cooking area. I usually prefer either/or—two competing hanging lights leave the ceiling plane feeling cluttered.

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