A Bright Approach to Kitchen Lighting

Get kitchen lighting ideas and learn how to develop an appropriate lighting plan for your kitchen.

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Make a Plan

    A comprehensive lighting plan for the kitchen provides for general, task, and mood lighting and offers you lots of options for controlling the mix. In this large kitchen, recessed can lights are evenly spaced down the center of the room to provide general illumination. The decorative chandelier over the island and undercabinet lights along the far wall supplement the general lighting and ensure good visibility for food preparation. Eyeball lights mounted along the edge of the ceiling over the work areas point light toward the cooking and cleanup zones.

Color Matters

    The size of your kitchen helps determine how many fixtures you will need for adequate illumination, but color makes a difference, too. White reflects light, bouncing it back into the room and making the space feel brighter. With more white surfaces, you may be able to lower the wattage of bulbs used or even cut back on the number of fixtures required and still have a well-illuminated room. In this kitchen, a reflective white ceiling, white walls, and white countertops maximize the light provided by the pendant lamps and a pair of recessed cans. The light from a recessed fixture falls in a cone shape, so cones should overlap for even, safe illumination.

Functional Sculpture

    Monorail lighting systems allow you to create functional sculpture for the ceiling. The metal track can be shaped into graceful curves to suit the design of your kitchen, and because it is suspended from the ceiling by hardware called standoffs, it can be mounted on ceilings that may not be perfectly smooth and level. Most monorail systems are low voltage, operating on 12 or 24 volts. The transformer, which brings the voltage down from the normal 120-volt household circuit, is mounted on the ceiling beside the track in this kitchen. Shades are available in an enormous range of colors, shapes, and materials to suit the style of any kitchen.

Use Reflected Light

    This six-light fixture uses a photographer's trick to maximize light: It bounces light off the white ceiling, which reflects it back down to the white marble countertop, spreading a soft general illumination the length and width of the large island. Skylights bring in natural light during the day, cutting down on the need to use electric lights until early evening. To save on energy, choose compact fluorescent lightbulbs for fixtures that won't be turned on and off frequently. Warm white CFLs are affordable and resemble incandescent bulbs in the color of light they emit, yet use less energy and produce less heat. If you're remodeling or building new, check local building codes for guidelines on kitchen lighting.

Cabinet Accent Lights

    Use accent lighting to bring a wall of cabinetry to life. Linkable low-voltage puck lights can be installed along the top of the cabinets to bounce light off an arched ceiling, calling attention to the architecture. Inside glass-front cabinets, low-voltage strip lights and recessed mini cans emphasize collectibles. Accent lighting typically uses halogen, xenon, or LED bulbs because they are small enough to fit into diminutive fixtures yet produce bright light. Halogen is falling out of favor because of the high cost, relatively short life, and high heat output. Xenon bulbs are similar to halogen without the drawbacks.

Light Each Work Zone

    The darker the colors in your kitchen, the more sources of light you'll need to make sure you can see what you're doing. Dark tile and medium brown wood absorb more light than white and light-color surfaces do, but in this kitchen a well-balanced lighting plan ensures adequate light at each work zone. Two lines of recessed ceiling cans illuminate the central work area. Undercabinet recessed mini fixtures spotlight countertops and the sink, and puck lights inside the glass-front cabinets help brighten the room. Pendants allow mood-setting illumination for parties. Even the range hood does its part with integrated lights over the cooktop.

Fluorescent Undercabinet Lighting

    For task lighting under open shelving, fluorescent undercabinet lighting fixtures shed even light across the countertop, allowing you to see clearly. Look for a low-profile design less than 1 inch deep, so the fixture won't be noticeable from standing height. The fixture should be almost as long as the shelf and mounted close to the front edge to provide the most even lighting on the work surface. The color of the light is particularly important over the counter -- cool white bulbs will make food look unappealing and will also affect the way you see the colors of your cabinetry and countertops. Visit a lighting store to see how your skin, your dinnerware, and a piece of fruit look under the different colors of light and select the one that seems most natural and pleasing.

Mix and Match Lighting

    Create warmth and ambience by combining a variety of lighting that can be controlled independently. In this kitchen, there are none of the usual recessed ceiling lights. Instead, pendant lights over the island provide ambient light, supplemented by accent lighting inside glass-front cabinets, under the cabinets, and under the range hood. Wall sconces contribute to overall illumination and mood. Each work zone is well-lit, and the combined effect is glowy rather than harsh and glaring.

Furnish with Light

    The easiest way to bring more light into the kitchen is to add a table lamp. Using an accent lamp in the kitchen has the benefit of softening the utilitarian aspects of the space with a furnished feeling. Here a traditional-style two-light candlestick lamp stands on the counter between the kitchen and the adjacent family room, providing both spaces with atmospheric light. The gold lining of the black shade casts a warm glow on the countertop, providing adequate light for washing dishes and serving food. Install a CFL bulb instead of an incandescent one to trim energy usage and lower the heat output.

Add Cozy Warmth

    Banish undercabinet shadows and add a cozy glow with a small accent lamp. These lamps take a lower wattage bulb and may not be bright enough to illuminate tasks, but they enhance mood.

Bring Sparkle to Cabinetry

    Puck or recessed mini can lights bring sparkle to the interiors and tops of cabinets. Although usually outfitted with xenon or halogen bulbs, new easy-to-install puck lights are also available with LEDs (light-emitting diodes), the newest green alternative for lighting. LEDs use much less electricity to produce light, they last much longer, and they produce less heat (which affects home cooling bills). For example, a 2-watt LED spotlight bulb emits as much light as a 25-watt incandescent bulb and last up to 18 times longer. Drawbacks are the initial investment and wide variations in quality, depending on the manufacturer. Buy from a lighting source you trust, and pay attention to the warranty -- the lights should be guaranteed for at least two years.

Add LEDs

    Undercabinet plug-in rope lighting incorporates LED lights in a slender housing that mounts under the cabinet just behind the bottom frame edge. Its slender profile means the housing won't show, and the energy-efficient LEDs will light up your work surface without burdening your energy bill.

Spotlight for Drama

    Recessed undercabinet lighting and a hidden spotlight lend drama to dishwashing duties when the over-the-sink view is a beautifully framed old master painting. If the idea of hanging fine art in the kitchen seems risky, note that the niche extends about 8 inches deeper than the backsplash, keeping art and collectibles clear of splashing water. An LED spotlight would be a good choice for the painting niche, as would a fixture with a xenon bulb. Like halogen bulbs, xenon provides bright white light, but the bulbs emit less heat, are less sensitive to skin oils, and last longer.

Adjustable Pendants

    Pendant lamps usually hang at a standard height, but for variety and interesting effects, consider adjustable cable pendants with a center weight. The pendants can be suspended from a low-voltage ceiling fixture or a track-mounted transformer. Raise the pendant by pulling the counterweight down; to lower it, simply pull on the lamp.

Quick Lighting Makeover

    Pendant lamps dial up the style quotient of a kitchen, and they give the eye a place to rest in what is otherwise empty air space. If you're tired of the recessed can lights in your kitchen and wish you could have some stylish pendants, now you can. With recessed can converters from Worth Home Products (worthhomeproducts.com) installing pendants is as simple as screwing in a lightbulb. A socket adapter with cord spindle plugs into the socket, a cover plate masks the recessed-can opening, and you can adjust the shade height after installation. About nine styles of lampshades are available, from workshop retro, similar to the pendants shown here, to contemporary teardrop and bell shapes that suit Victorian and cottage-style interiors.

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