A Bright Approach: 20 of Our Best Kitchen Lighting Tips

Kitchen backsplash and sink
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Make a Plan


A well-lit work area is a safety essential in a kitchen. Lighting can also be used to create ambience. The key to good kitchen lighting is to rely on a cast of lighting sources and to layer your lights, mixing ambient (overall), task, and accent or decorative lighting with natural light.

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Consider Your Space

Cottage Cabinets

The number of fixtures and placement of fixtures greatly depends on your kitchen's size, layout, and look. For example, taller ceilings and darker finishes call for more light.

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Rule of Thumb: Task Lighting

Nostalgic Influence

This essential light should be included over the cooking surface, at the sink, over the counters, and over any table or other work surface. These fixtures should be about 30 inches above an island, peninsula, or table, but might be higher if you are taller or are placing the light over a raised surface or an area such as a cooktop.

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Rule of Thumb: Recessed Lights

Lighting Trends

Recessed, or can, lights that provide ambient lighting for the room should be 24-42 inches apart and should work to light the entire room -- not just areas without task lights.

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Good Lighting in Action

Kitchen lighting

In this large kitchen, recessed can lights are evenly spaced on the ceiling to provide general illumination. The decorative chandelier over the island provides concentrated task light on the surface, and undercabinet lights along the far wall supplement the general lighting and ensure good visibility for food preparation.

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DIY Undercabinet Lighting

If a kitchen remodel isn't in the cards, but you still want to improve your lighting, you can with this easy DIY installation. Watch and see two easy ways to add undercabinet lighting without any major rewiring.

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Functional Sculpture


Monorail lighting systems allow you to create functional sculptures 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 might not be perfectly smooth and level. Most monorail systems are low-voltage, operating on 12 or 24 volts. Shades are available in an enormous range of colors, shapes, and materials to suit the style of any kitchen.

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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 many white surfaces, you might be able to lower the wattage of bulbs used or even cut back on the number of fixtures 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. The pendants use a photographer's trick to maximize light: They bounce light off the white ceiling, and the light reflects back down to the white marble countertop, spreading a soft general illumination the length and width of the large island. The uncovered window brings in natural light during the day, cutting down on the need to use electric lights until early evening.

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Style Accents

Open Layout

Pendant lights come in a variety of styles, shapes, sizes and colors. They work well to fill the visual void above islands and peninsulas while providing necessary illumination for the work area. In this cottage kitchen, vintage-style lanterns are suspended above the island, adding another layer of chic to the room.

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Quick Lighting Makeover

white kitchen

If you're tired of the recessed can lights in your kitchen and want to add stylish pendants, use recessed can converters. The switch is as simple as screwing in a light bulb. A socket adapter with a cord spindle plugs into the socket, and a cover plate masks the recessed-can opening.

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Not All Work


A set of three pendant lights gives this large island plenty of direct task lighting for chopping and prep, but they're not all business. The bold red drum shades steal the show -- adding personality and drama to this kitchen. In the scheme of a kitchen remodel, pendant lights are less expensive than switching out cabinets or countertops, making them a great place to take a risk. When you need a change or grow tired of the color palette, it's an easy change.

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Adjustable Pendants

Pendant lights

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.

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Surface Considerations


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 surfaces absorb more light than white and light-color surfaces do. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, a kitchen with dark surfaces needs about one-third more light than a kitchen with lighter surfaces.

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Mix & 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. Each work zone is well lit, and the combined effect is glowing rather than harsh and glaring.

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Look Inside


To see deep into the corner of cabinets, install a micro switch or motion sensor that activates the puck or LED light when the door is opened and turns it off when the door is closed. Costing $20-25 per switch, this allows you to maximize the space in your cabinets and find what you've stored.

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Fluorescent Undercabinet Lighting

Blue Kitchen cabinets

For task lighting under open shelving, fluorescent undercabinet lighting sheds 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.

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Cabinet Accent Lights

Design Wide Walkways

Use accent lighting to bring a wall of cabinetry to life. Linkable low-voltage puck lights, strip lights, or recessed mini cans can be installed inside glass-front cabinets to 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. 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.

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Bring Sparkle to Cabinetry

Task Lighting above kitchen counter

Puck or recessed mini can lights bring sparkle underneath and to the interiors 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 lasts up to 18 times longer.

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Kitchens Go Glam

Kitchen cabinets

Chandeliers aren't just for dining rooms anymore. The juxtaposition of the hardworking kitchen sink and a crystal chandelier works in this simple white kitchen. When mixing styles, a simple background, such as white cabinets, white walls, and a bare window let the pretty chandelier take center stage.

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Spotlight for Drama

Kitchen backsplash and sink

Recessed undercabinet lighting and a hidden spotlight lend drama to dishwashing duties when the over-the-sink view is beautiful tile. Create subtle mood lighting in architectural coves or areas with accent tilework with programmable LEDs. Like theatrical set lighting, the color and intensity can be adjusted to create a mood.

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