Kitchen Lighting Basics

By Wendy Silverstein, Originally Published in Houseplans.com

Spot the different types of lighting illustrated in this kitchen -- ambient, task, and decorative.

KITCHEN LIGHTING BASICS

Well-conceived and executed lighting is an essential element in the successful design of a kitchen, since it’s a multi-functional space that’s used continuously through the day and into the night. Here are the basic principals to keep in mind when planning the lighting in your kitchen.

It’s all in the mix
The kitchen has always been a place of work but today it also functions as a place of entertainment, relaxation, and general family life. That means it requires a mix of different kinds of lighting—ambient, task, accent, and decorative—to create an environment that’s bright and functional but also warm and welcoming. Whatever you do, don’t try to light your kitchen with a single fixture in the middle of the ceiling—an old-fashioned solution that creates a depressing combination of harsh glare and dark shadows.

Ambient lighting
Indirect, overall lighting that provides general illumination, casts a soft glow, and brings an inviting, humanizing atmosphere to the kitchen. Recessed ceiling fixtures or adjustable track lights are a good choice for this function. Consider placing a can every 4 to 6 feet, and use bulbs that diffuse rather than point light. Under-cabinet lighting can also provide a band of warmth around the periphery of the room, and hanging pendants with diffusing shades can create flattering light in the center of the room.

Task lighting
Bright, focused lighting is needed in any area where you’re preparing food, reading labels and recipes, operating tools and appliances, or performing other activities that require clear vision. LED fixtures, which tend to be small and unobtrusive, are often a good choice for this function. They can be located under wall cabinets to illuminate countertops, on the ceiling to flood an island with light, or in a pantry so that shelved provisions can be readily seen. Just make sure they don’t cast unwanted shadows on your work surface.

Accent lighting
Do you want to highlight a fine architectural feature, spotlight a piece of art, draw attention to exquisite tile work, or illuminate an in-cabinet china collection? Accent lighting—whether track lighting, up-lighters, directional eyeball lights, or wall sconces—can be used to do the trick, creating points of interest and drama. Recessed adjustable low-voltage fixtures with a variety of adjustable beam spreads are a good general choice for many of these jobs.

Decorative lighting
Don’t forget that the lighting fixtures themselves are part of your kitchen’s design and decoration. In choosing decorative fixtures, getting the scale right is crucial: the larger the space, the more imposing the chandeliers, wall sconces, pendants, or other eye-catching light sources can be. Consider installing a dimmer switch, so that the amount and mood of light can be controlled precisely. And if you can’t afford an extravagant ceiling lamp right now, install a junction box so that one can be hung with ease and less expense at a future date.

In- and under-cabinet lighting
LED light strips have simplified the internal illumination of cabinets and drawers. Approximately the same thickness as masking tape, these strips provide great light in tight spaces without sacrificing storage room. Under-cabinet lights can function as both task and ambient light sources. Strip lights—long linear bulbs or a string of lights contained in a single fixture—are ideal for this location. Another popular option is a puck light system, made up of a series of small hockey-puck shaped halogen fixtures.

January 5, 2014