The kitchen is at the center of many home activities, so it deserves a smart lighting plan that addresses the room's various roles. Good overall lighting ensures the kitchen is a welcoming place for family and friends to gather, but you'll also want efficient light aimed at kitchen work areas. A well-lit kitchen layers three different types of light: task, ambient, and accent.
Be sure to illuminate countertop areas in the primary cooking and prep space. "You want to get the fixture close to the task area, so mounting the lights on the underside of the upper cabinets is convenient," says Eric Strandberg, a senior lighting specialist with Lighting Design Lab in Seattle. Affordable xenon lights can easily be retrofitted into an existing kitchen. Choose from strip or puck lights. "In the case of an island or peninsula countertop, with no upper cabinets to attach lights to, you should hang pendant-style fixtures or project light from the ceiling," Strandberg says.
This type of lighting provides general illumination for the room and substitutes for natural lighting when it's not available. Recessed ceiling lights arranged around the room are especially useful when the kitchen is being used simultaneously and for different purposes. A surface-mounted ceiling light in the center of the room can also work -- or opt for a chandelier for a touch of drama. You can add a gentle glow around the perimeter of the room with cove lighting, such as lights hidden behind a molding installed several inches below the ceiling. "Consider placing lights on top of upper cabinets to indirectly reflect off a light-colored ceiling," Strandberg says. "If you have at least 12 inches of space from the top of the upper cabinets to the ceiling, this is an inexpensive way to brighten a kitchen."
Add a special spotlight or aim track lights so they illuminate a prized collection of dishware or a striking architectural feature. "Halogen lights have defined beam patterns and cast hard shadows, making them excellent for accent lighting," Strandberg says. Remember, kitchen lighting isn't all about function. Fixtures also finish the look of any design scheme. "Light fixtures are art," says Marie Lail Blackburn, a certified master kitchen and bath designer and owner of MLB Design Group in Seattle. "There are so many beautiful choices out there. The choice is very personal."