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.
According to Randall Whitehead, a lighting designer in San Francisco, and author of Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide., the most effective lighting for the kitchen involves four layers blended together: task, ambient, accent and decorative lighting.
The end result: a warm and inviting environment that works with your other design elements to create a practical workspace and lively entertainment area. Design by Joel Snayd
Pendants are clearly popular here, but what other design options should people consider? SW: For longer and deeper counters, you can try one or more large and linear chandeliers, such as the Davos 45in Linear Suspension. Another approach is a cluster of LED Beauty Spots, which offer a low profile and a pop of glamour without interrupting the view.
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.
Track lighting, up-lighters, directional eyeball lights and wall sconces are all accent fixtures. Randall recommends recessed adjustable low voltage fixtures to highlight artwork. The MR16 bulbs often used in these fixtures come in a variety of beam spreads.
If the diameter of the art changes, a simple change of bulb will be all that is needed to illuminate the new art.
Lighting your kitchen doesn’t need to be a complex matter, but it is layered. “The most common mistake people make is trying to light their entire kitchen with one fixture centered in the ceiling,” says Randall.
“It ends up being what I call a ‘glare bomb,’ visually overpowering everything in the space, including family and friends.”
According to Joe, key locations for task lighting include underneath the overhead cabinets and over the island — anywhere you’ll be chopping, slicing and reading recipes. The pantry is another place where you’ll want bright, focused lighting.
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.
For a typical kitchen, you would go with a warmer color temperature such as 2700K-3500K, as this will create a more welcoming feel. If you have warm wood tones in your kitchen, go lower; for cooler colors, pick a bulb that’s higher in that range.
“Task lighting is what people think of first when designing a lighting system in the kitchen because it’s integral to preparing food,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, director of education for the American Lighting Association.
“However, if task lighting is misplaced it can actually hinder your ability to work efficiently, throwing shadows on your workspace.”
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.
The idea behind a layered lighting design is to have a variety of light levels available at your fingertips. “Dimmers and switches are the most economical way to coordinate lighting levels,” Joe says. “For about $20 per layer, you’re able to do most anything to modulate the mood and environment.
” Randall recommends implementing zones, wherein each layer of lighting is on a different dimmer for easy adjustability. Design by Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey
A great fixture for kitchens is WAC’s LINE collection, which uses advanced glare-free technology in 2700K and 3000K color temperature options. We’re offering a pendant option that we introduced on YLighting.
The kitchen used to be strictly for food preparation and children who were not to be seen or heard. Now, floor plans are more open and parties often flow from the living room through the dining room and into the kitchen.
“Ambient lighting will attract people into the kitchen and make them feel welcome while eating appetizers and sipping wine at the island,” says Randall. Ambient lighting fixtures may include flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, a pendant hanging over the island and adjustable track lighting.
What lighting works best for illuminating kitchen islands? SW: Pendants fit the bill for task and decorative needs, but people often go too small with them. Consider using two of these rather than one, and also think about a larger size to achieve a more upscale style. Clusters of smaller pendants—arranged in either a traditional line or clustered at various hanging heights—can create an impressive display perfectly scaled for the island. WAC’s Genesis 12 Light Mirrored Canopy Pendant is great for this application, and introduces a piece of art in your kitchen.
Under-cabinet lights can be a hidden asset in any kitchen, providing task lighting as well as soft ambient lighting to give the room a warm glow with the touch of a dimmer switch. Strip lights are a popular choice, long linear bulbs or a string of lights contained in a single fixture.
Another popular option is a puck light system, made up of a series of hockey-puck shaped halogen lights.
Any advice on picking the right bulbs, in terms of wattage, brightness, warmth versus coolness, and so on? SW: LED luminaires are the most effective as they keep wattage at a minimum while delivering the high lumen output needed for task lighting. As a point of comparison, 50 incandescent watts is comparable to around 800 lumens of unshielded light from LEDs.
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.
What should you keep in mind when you’re coming up with a lighting plan for your kitchen island? Shelley Wald: You want to select lighting that will complement the range of functions performed here, from chopping vegetables, to reading recipes, to entertaining and family time. An optimal lighting plan provides the ability to control brightness for these various tasks, while enhancing the overall design and providing visual cues about the central importance of this space in the kitchen. Also, make sure you have dimmers so you can adjust the mood.
What is the proper height to hang kitchen-island lighting and where do you position it? SW: The rule of thumb is to suspend it 28 to 34 inches above the island. As for positioning, centering the lighting is most common and offers even light distribution. If it’s not centered you have to be sure you have adequate lighting on the surface from other luminaires.
What about recessed lighting? SW: If you don’t want anything hanging over your island, recessed lighting works perfectly. It offers a more concealed light source, while maintaining the appropriate illumination for all tasks. I recommend the Tesla High Output recessed down lights in 2- or 3.5-inch sizes. However, it’s good to think of your lighting plan three-dimensionally, and ways to layer it. Recessed lighting will provide continuous illumination across the kitchen while helping to highlight any decorative fixtures over the island. If the pendants are shiny—such as the Roxy pendant, which creates sparkles with no glare—recessed lighting shows them at their best.
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.
Expert tips on the best lighting fixtures for kitchen island modern lighting and where to place them.
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.
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.
The drawback of dimmers and switches is that while it’s easy for you to enter a room and tinker with the light levels, it’s equally easy for children, grandparents and guests to take the same liberties.
If your budget allows, you may want to consider a “scene” integration system that allows you to preset, typically, four different lighting levels. (For example, daytime, food preparation, dinner and evening entertaining.
)According to Joe, a standard scene integrator that is hardwired into your electrical system and controlled by a switch plate with a limited number of scene choices will run under $1,000. Of course, more scenes and a higher level of technology are available — for a price.
What about LEDs for kitchen island lighting? SW: I’m partial to LEDs, and with the technology providing directional illumination and higher lumen output decorative chandeliers and pendants can now be utilized over the kitchen island for task lighting. A favorite of mine from Modern Forms is the Soleil pendant.
“Smart” homes are the wave of the future. You can preset and administer lighting in all rooms of the house through one centralized computer network, all through a computerized keypad. “The biggest advantage of smart systems is the high level of control,” says Randall, who recommends this option for new houses, but cautions that it can be quite expensive for a remodel.
“You can preset a large number of scenes and turn on lights in any room of the house from your car or your bedroom.”Just as the layers of lighting are combined in a variety of ways, so are the methods of controlling them.
According to Randall, homeowners are typically use four-scene presets in all of main rooms, including the living room, dining room, kitchen and master bedroom. Standard switchers and dimmers are usually used in the secondary rooms, such as children’s bedrooms, bathrooms, the basement playroom and the office.
The best part is that your lighting options just keep expanding.
“Accent lighting is the least common layer in the kitchen, but it is becoming more common as people spend more time in the kitchen for casual entertaining,” says Joe. You may want to hang a piece of artwork on the wall behind the breakfast table, or a tile splashback over the sink may be a decorative focal point.
Occasionally, Randall installs lighting inside glass cabinets to illuminate collections of china and glassware. Design by Roger Zierman.
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.
The kitchen island is one of the hardest-working and most versatile spots in a home, employed for food prep, cooking, and family time. For advice on picking the right lighting for this area—as well as how and where to hang them—we turned to Shelley Wald, President of WAC Lighting, a leader in LED technology and creator of a vast range of modern lighting designs. Read on for her tips on bringing sparkle into your kitchen, and why layering lighting is key.
According to Randall, ambient lighting is an important layer that is often overlooked in the kitchen. “This indirect lighting is what I like to call the humanizing ingredient to any lighting design,” says the designer.
“It softens the lines and shadows on people’s faces and creates a warm inviting glow in the room.” Design by Beth Haley.
Decorative lighting should be considered in direct proportion to the size of your kitchen — the larger the space, the greater importance chandeliers, hanging pendants and other eye-catching fixtures play.
“There are two major considerations when it comes to decorative lighting,” Randall says. “You want to make sure that the scale of the fixtures is right for the space, and that the shade material has enough opacity to effectively hide the light bulb.
“Decorative lighting is the most expensive element of your lighting design scheme. If you’re on a tight budget, Randall recommends installing the infrastructure for decorative lighting — the junction box and/or recessed box in the ceiling — then, purchasing the actual fixture down the road.