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Kitchen Lighting Design Tips Diy

Kitchen Lighting Design Tips Diy Kitchen Lighting Design Tips Diy

According to Whitehead, 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.”

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

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

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,” says Whitehead. “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.”

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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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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 Whitehead, a lighting designer in San Francisco, and author of Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide. “It ends up being a “glare bomb,” visually overpowering everything in the space — including family and friends.”

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Decorative lighting is the most expensive element of your lighting design scheme. If you’re on a tight budget, Whitehead 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.

Jason Kisner, 2012, Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

“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 Rey-Barreau. 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, Whitehead installs lighting inside glass cabinets to illuminate collections of china and glassware. 

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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.

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.

“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.

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:

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

According to Rey-Barreau, 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. 

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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.

Photo by: Jason Kisner ©2012, Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved


According to Whitehead, 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.

“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.”

According to Rey-Barreau, 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. 

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.)

“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.

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,” says Rey-Barreau. “For about $20 per layer, you’re able to do most anything to modulate the mood and environment.” Whitehead recommends implementing zones, wherein each layer of lighting is on a different dimmer for easy adjustability. 

Track lighting, up-lighters, directional eyeball lights and wall sconces are all accent fixtures. Whitehead recommends recessed adjustable low voltage fixtures to highlight artwork. The MR16 bulbs often used in these fixtures come in a variety of beam spreads. I the diameter of the art changes, a simple change of bulb will be all that is needed to illuminate the new art. 

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No one wants to deal with the unpleasant glare from bare light bulbs. Here are four options for reducing bulb glare in kitchen chandeliers.

This cottage-style kitchen implements a variety of storage over the countertop. Open shelves and glass-front cabinets display pretty dishware while closed cabinets conceal whatever the homeowners don’t want seen.

The right illumination can change the look and feel of your home. Check out these tips on where and how to place accent lighting.

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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. 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.

Off to the side, a small stretch of countertop is illuminated by under-cabinet lighting. Glass-front Shaker cabinets help to break up the all-white cabinetry overhead.

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 Whitehead. Ambient lighting fixtures may include flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, a pendant hanging over the island and adjustable track lighting. 

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