Starting in the 1980s, recessed light fixtures became the norm for general kitchen lighting. But within the last ten years, this has started to change as people realized that the combination of the ceiling penetrations and the greater number of fixtures needed make this type of lighting potentially less efficient than either surface or pendant fixtures. Two trends have emerged since then. One is that the manufacturers have been redesigning recessed fixtures to be much more efficient The other is electricians and homeowners have been leaving the kitchen ceiling closed, and mounting the light fixtures either on or under it.
One bit of advice regarding kitchen pendant lights: go sparingly on them. Recessed lights can be multiplied almost endlessly because they are mounted flush with the ceiling and are not very noticeable. But because pendant lights are hanging down, adding more than three or four begins to make the kitchen look cluttered.
Want suggestions? Check out our kitchen pendant light picture gallery.
And, like surface lights, pendant lights will need a periodic cleaning to remove the visible dust that they collect.
There are a lot of different ways we use pendant lights. Pendant fixtures are used for general lighting, area lighting and task lighting. We use them in our entry halls, stairwells, dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and family rooms — even on our porches. We use pendant lights to light up narrow hallways, to highlight our photos, paintings and sculpture, and to add sparkle to a fountain. Pendant lights, in one form or another, often provide the lighting we need almost anywhere in our homes.
The primary difference between area lighting and general lighting is that area lighting is only lights up part of a room. It can add to, or provide part of. the general lighting, but it isn’t doing the whole job by itself. One example is a light over a table that is off to the side of a room. Another is the “corner lights” that homeowners sometimes installed in some rooms in Victorian times, particularly if those rooms were large, or intended for entertaining, These might be a pair of wall sconces, but they could also be pendant fixtures, mounted, say, three or four feet from each wall.
Fluorescent tube fixtures hung over the workbench in your garage are another example of pendant lights used as work lights. The same fluorescent fixtures, hung over the planting beds in your greenhouse, attic or basement, and fitted with ultraviolet bulbs (tubes), are also pendant lights that are lighting work, or helping you with a task
How can you provide specialized work lighting in a room that does not lend itself to moveable lights such as floor lamps? Answer: Bring it down from the ceiling.
A pendant light fixture can be mounted as the central fixture in almost any room. Or one or more can be used to light a corridor or hallway. When a pendant light is used as a porch light, it is providing the general lighting for that porch.
Finally, recessed lighting is permanent. You need to think long and hard about where you think you will need the lighting because once the lighting is installed it is extremely difficult to move. And the problem with this is that most cooks do not really know where they will need the lighting until they have used the kitchen for a while.
Pendant lights are really a specialized form of surface lights. Their great advantage is that they bring the light closer to the areas where you need good visibility. For that reason, they can also be used to provide task lighting. The judicious installation of pendant lights can provide double service, by lighting both a work island and the area around it, for example.
General Lighting: Ceiling lighting powerful enough to encompass the entire kitchen area; and Work Lighting: Lights that illuminate small, specific zones, such as places where food preparation or cooking will be done.
One of the valuable things about a pendant fixture is that it brings the light down from the ceiling and puts it closer to your counter or table or favorite chair, or wherever you’re going to need it. As this implies, pendant lights can be very useful for task lighting.
Kitchen ceiling lighting is a tricky business. With most rooms in your house, you are trying to light up the room in general. Then, when you need to light up specific areas of these rooms–such as reading places, sewing machines, tool shop areas, eating spots, and so on–it is easy enough to add a floor lamp or a table lamp.
So, lighting in the kitchen area needs to perform two functions at the same time:
Flush mount ceiling fixtures probably have the least utility in the kitchen. A flush mount ceiling fixture is simply one or two bulbs covered by a translucent cover, usually in the center of the room.
We’re accustomed to using pendant fixtures over counters and tables. But what if you have limited space on your bedside table, or just prefer to not have a table next to your bed? You can still have plenty of light for reading, or any other task, by installing a pendant light.
Surface-mounted light fixtures were the standard choice for most general kitchen lighting from the early 20th century into the 1980s. That’s when recessed fixtures first became widely available, and took the lead for a couple of decades. Then, with a growing awareness of the greater efficiency of a closed ceiling plus the design of more attractive units, surface light fixtures started to make a comeback. Today, many people are using a combination of different fixture types to get the illumination they want where they want it while keeping the system efficient.
In almost every room of the house, we use both general lighting and task lighting. One room where many of us particularly want to provide both types of lighting is the kitchen.
Recessed lights waste power in two major ways: they use large, high wattage bulbs which suck up plenty of power, and they let room heat escape into the attic.
Kitchen Ceiling Lighting For Both General and Work Areas Illuminating More than Just the Room
Kitchen ceiling lighting doesn’t have to mean banks of boring fluorescent lights. Nowadays, anything can go! The Craftsman Lantern Style Kitchen Pendant from Signature Hardware provides adequate light to small spaces and has a great, antique look. If your kitchen island needs light, the Lakewood Windsor Bronze Kitchen Island Light Maxim stretches a full 45 inches long and uses three bulbs within three separate lamp fixtures.
The single greatest disadvantage of pendant lights is the same as their greatest advantage — they hang down from the ceiling. They can get in the way, and need to be limited to areas where people won’t be walking unless your kitchen has ceilings that are more than 8 feet high. In kitchens with tall ceilings, pendant lights can both bring the light closer to where you need it and help reduce the sense of being in the bottom of a well.
But they’re also used for general lighting, usually in the center of the room.
Recessed lights disappear into the ceiling and help preserve a sense of openness and space. Many people also prefer them because they seem to need less cleaning. They might be a good choice for those reasons, particularly if your kitchen is a finished room.
But one problem with recessed lighting is that of shadows. Because the lighting is at ceiling height, and because of obstructions such as kitchen cabinetry, shadows are easily cast upon the work area. Not only that, but recessed lighting is a notorious energy waster.
Track lighting provides good lighting for the kitchen and has risen in popularity in the last several decades. Track lighting has many of the same good qualities of recessed lighting, with few of recessed lighting’s flaws.
If your kitchen has an unfinished, insulated attic above it, the good news is that you can use the less expensive and easier-to-install recessed lights that are made to be used in new construction. The bad news is that there are additional challenges to installing these fixtures. A recessed light housing that will be in an attic needs to be both airtight (AT) and insulation compatible (IC), so that it will not serve as an exhaust vent for your home’s warm air during heating season, and will not become hot enough, on its outer surface, to damage any insulation that comes in contact with it. Recessed lighting fixtures that are both AT and IC are more expensive than similar fixtures that are not.
Recessed lights, however, require enough open space above the ceiling for the housing to be fitted in. This means that the ceiling joists limit the locations where you can install a recessed light. Plumbing and wiring can also interfere with the installation of recessed lights, particularly if your kitchen is below an upstairs bathroom. And, because recessed lights are above the face of the ceiling, they do not illuminate broad areas. It will take several of them to provide full general illumination for the average kitchen.
Surface lights can range from small “mushroom” fixtures that hold a single bulb to 2′ x 4′ fluorescent fixtures with multiple tubes. Because they are on the surface, there is no issue with the integrity of the ceiling, or of what’s in the space above it. Surface fixtures can also light a wide area, although a small single-bulb fixture will not cover a very large area. The area you want to cover is part of the process of choosing a fixture. Surface lights are also, in general, easier to clean than recessed lights— it’s just that the dust that collects in a recessed fixture is less visible.
Flush mount ceiling fixtures are great when you first enter a room. You flip the switch and suddenly you can see where you’re walking. But beyond that, they don’t do much to illuminate counter space. They are mounted high on the ceiling, yet do not have the same wattage as recessed lights.
As pendant light fixtures have regained popularity in recent years, initially for their efficiency, they have also become more attractive. The open metal shades with a single bare bulb are still available, but fixtures with clusters of pendants are too. And there are styles ranging from Tiffany to post-modern. Many people are choosing to incorporate at least a few of these versatile fixtures into their overall design.
What if you wanted to provide good light over a sofa that set out in a room? A bright light hanging at each end might be nice for reading by, and some less intense lights hanging over the sofa itself might make it feel more comfortable, particularly if it’s a long piece.
One appealing quality of a pendant lights, when they’re used for general lighting, is that many of these fixtures are designed to throw at least some of the light up, onto the ceiling. As that light spreads across across the ceiling and is reflected back down, it helps us see more of the room, or hallway, of course. But it also helps us see the room or hallway itself. It shows us the edges and corners of the space, giving us a better sense of where we are, and of the ways we might best fit into it and move through that space.
The stovetop hood light takes on a lot of work because it often serves to illuminate both the stove and portions of the countertop area. But this should not be so. Countertop areas deserve their own lighting, not spill-over light from other areas.
But if your pendant lights are spaced out intelligently, they will adequately illuminate your work surfaces. Add in a flush mount ceiling fixture or a couple of recessed lights in the center of the room, and now you have covered both workspaces and the general kitchen area.
Or it can just bring the light down to a more effective height for the room — especially if you have a high ceiling.
Task lighting is the lighting we use to clearly see something we are doing. Reading lamps and desk lamps are two examples. General lighting is the illumination we use to light up the whole area, to help us walk around and find our way to specific areas and additional light sources.
Recessed, surface and pendant lights are all available in models that accept a wide range of light bulbs. If you have a particular type of lamp (light bulb) in mind for your general kitchen lighting, such as an MR-16 Halogen bulb, then you will need to shop for fixtures that will take that lamp.
One answer to the quandary of kitchen ceiling lighting is to install hanging pendant light fixtures. Hanging pendants bring the lights down to just above head level and are often vertically adjustable. Hanging pendants can be fixed in place or can be inserted into track lighting tracks.
Inside the kitchen, it’s a different matter. Floor lamps do not belong in the kitchen; and in only very rare instances may you find a table lamp.
Track lighting is installed on the bottom of the ceiling, and individual light fixtures along the track can be moved easily wherever needed. Also, these individual fixtures can be added or removed if you need more or less light. Because no holes are cut into the ceiling, air leakage is not a problem. However, track lights do consume a lot of energy. Track lights have much of the same shadowing problem as to recessed lights. Yet because track lights can be moved, it is possible to move a light either forward or backward to avoid the shadow problem.
Because the definition is so broad, there are a lot of different, and different-looking, light fixtures that are called pendant lights. The most basic ones have a single light bulb mounted base up, inside a globe or under an open shade or open reflector. But lanterns, fixtures that take bulbs mounted base down — such as chandeliers — and many of the different heads available for track lights are also part of the family.
The classic solution to the kitchen lighting problem is recessed lighting. These are sometimes called can lights. With popular diameters of 4″, 5″, and 6″, recessed lights provide more than enough illumination to certain required areas of the countertop or kitchen island.
On the downside, while surface lights are mounted “up out of the way,” they are still visible installations on the ceiling. They tend to break up the expanse, visually, more than recessed lights do. And they do require periodic cleaning because the dust on them is visible.
A pendant light is any light fixture that is mounted to the ceiling and hangs down from the ceiling on a rod or chain or, sometimes, on three chains. It’s suspended like the pendant on a necklace, and that’s where it gets its name.
In your kitchen, if you have an island or a peninsula base with no overhead cabinets as part of your counter space, one or more pendant lights can provide as much light as you need without interfering with your work area. At the same time, these lights can add to the general lighting in the room.
Most often, these days, general lighting is provided by overhead electrical fixtures. In the kitchen, these can be one of three types — recessed fixtures, surface fixtures, and pendant fixtures. Each has its pros and cons, and many kitchens have more than one of the types.