Kitchen lights

Kitchen lighting – Six things you need to know about kitchen lighting design

Nowadays when people are designing their kitchens, they think differently than people did just a few decades ago. Kitchens are bigger and people don’t use them just for cooking; kids do their homework there, parents sit at the kitchen table to talk about everyday problems, people do evening work there, and so on. Most modern kitchens have an island in the middle and many families use that island instead of a dining room (which they use only on Sundays or for company).

That is why I would like to give you some facts that you should know if you are designing your own kitchen (or double checking the work of a professional designer). After reading this article, you will know which types of lights are most suitable for the kitchen, why ambient lighting is so important, the advantages and disadvantages of under-cabinet lights, and the role of dimmers in the kitchen. So, let’s take a look at six important things about kitchen lighting design.

1.) Kitchen appearance

Okay, you’re probably saying that it’s obvious that the appearance of the room impacts lighting decisions, but I would like to take this a step further. If your kitchen walls are darker (for example, black or brown), you will need to have stronger lights in order to provide sufficient illumination. The reason is simple – darker colors absorb more light.

Another important thing many people don’t consider is the reflectivity of the kitchen furniture, especially places with direct task lights (such as the island and countertop; we’ll talk about that in the next section). If the reflection is too bright, people in the kitchen won’t feel comfortable, and you will find it harder to work there.

2.) Task lighting in the kitchen

Task lighting in the kitchen is extremely important because we tend to do a lot of things there – not only is the kitchen used for cooking, kitchens are often used instead of dining rooms. For example, many people eat breakfast and dinner in the kitchen, not in the dining room. A single light fixture in the center of the kitchen won’t be enough, mostly because kitchens are so big nowadays that one light can’t illuminate the whole area properly, and also because people will end up standing between the source of light and the place where they are working. This will cause unpleasant shadows and the workplace won’t be well enough illuminated.

Task lights can (and probably should) be used in two places in the kitchen – under the above-counter cabinets and above the island. Under-cabinet lighting is perfect task lighting because it’s between the work surface and the worker, so any unpleasant shadows are avoided. Unfortunately, it also has two disadvantages – the visible part of the light is under the cabinet, but the inner part of the light is in the cabinet. Because lights produce some heat, chocolate cookies or other food items in the cabinet can melt. This issue can be solved by putting items that are sensitive to heat on the top shelves. Another disadvantage is the reflection of the light off the counters, especially if it's made of highly reflective material.


Picture 1: Modern kitchen with under-cabinet lights

Task lights above the island (usually ceiling lights, pendant lights, or recessed lights) also have a very important role in the scheme of lighting design. Under-cabinet lights can’t be seen, so it doesn’t matter how they look. But a light above the island is usually the first thing people notice when they enter the kitchen, so it’s extremely important that it looks good. This means that lights above the island aren’t just task lights; they are decorative lights as well. I will write more about island illumination in a separate article, but I will just give you a quick tip: You can buy pendant lights with two switches – one for general lighting and another for focused task lighting (they can be switched on and off separately and can also work at the same time).

3.) Ambient lighting is also important

Sometimes people ask me why they need ambient lighting in their kitchen, and my answer is simple – because you want to feel good while you’re in your kitchen, and you are likely to spend lots of time there. The best ambient light in the kitchen is indirect light – you can install recessed lights (or a linear light source) above the cabinet and turn them towards the wall. Recessed lights can also be installed on the ceiling. If you don’t want to use indirect light, you can use wall sconces as your ambient lighting source in the kitchen.


Picture 2: Recessed lights can be a great source of ambient light in the kitchen, especially if they are properly dimmed

4.) Accent lights

If I’ve mentioned them everywhere else, I must also mention them here. Should you use accent lights in the kitchen? If you have something to illuminate, then yes, you should use them. If you have nothing special to illuminate, then you’ll do better to focus on the other three layers of light.

5.) Light switches matter

Maybe I didn’t stress this enough in my other articles, but in order to make your lighting useful, you will need to have enough light switches, and these light switches will need to be positioned correctly. You will need main light switches near the entrance (be careful if you have a swinging door). Ambient light switches can also be near the entrance, whereas light switches for under-cabinet lights should simply be installed near the lights. Can you imagine wanting to go to the entrance of the kitchen when you decide that you would like to chop something and you need stronger light? I can’t.

6.) Light dimmers

Experts recommend using light dimmers in the kitchen as well – you should have a separate light dimmer for every light in the kitchen in order to be able to adjust it according to your needs.

I believe I’ve covered all the main factors of a good kitchen lighting design. If you make sure that your kitchen has suitable task, ambient, and decorative lights, connected with switches and dimmers installed in the right places, you will have a winning design. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination when you are searching for lighting design solutions.

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