Kitchen Lighting Ideas

Learn about the three types of lighting that work together to provide adequate illumination for both the entire room and specific work areas and to highlight your kitchen's features.

With a bevy of activities going on in a kitchen, good lighting is a must. Create a layered lighting plan by drawing on three different "layers" of light. Ambient lights are fixtures that offer overall illumination; task lighting sources focus light on specific areas to make performing tasks easier; and accent lighting highlights specific features within a room, such as architecture or displays.

Ideally, each lighting layer should be on a separate circuit and controlled by dimmer switches, which allow you maximum flexibility in setting moods.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient light can come from a variety of sources: recessed "cans" in the ceiling, toe-kick lighting around base cabinets and islands, tracks, pendants, and above-cabinet fixtures.

Ambient light makes your kitchen's first impression. "That is going to set the whole mood of the space," says Terry Scarborough, a certified master kitchen and bath designer (CMKBD) and NKBA member in the New York City area. "You want the room to be welcoming."

Task Lighting

You need task lighting wherever people do close work -- food prep areas, the range and sink, the kids' homework spot on the island, or a desk where a laptop is used. "People won't work on a countertop if there's not good lighting above it," Scarborough says. "They'll shy away from it and go to another part of the kitchen. As we get older, we need better lighting because our eyes change."

Undercabinet task lighting comes in strips, pucks, or mini tracks and utilizes low-voltage halogen, xenon, compact fluorescent, or LED lights. "You want the light to be toward the front of the cabinet so you're lighting where you're working," Scarborough says.

Use frosted lamps to avoid the glare of undercabinet lighting bouncing off shiny surfaces such as polished granite.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting includes strip fixtures placed inside glass-front cabinets to spotlight collections, sconces highlighting a textured wall, and directional spotlights washing down over a gallery wall.

Accent lighting beneath cabinets can also add extra task lighting to the work spaces beneath them.

Innovative Kitchen Lighting Tips

Outfit deep pantries and corner lazy-Susan cabinets with automatic lights, just like the refrigerator, so when the door opens, even back shelves are visible.

Pick a range hood with lights on the front and back for cooking and highlighting the backsplash. Add task lighting above or around downdraft ventilation systems.

Make a statement with a chandelier by the sink window. "With a beautiful faucet below, it's like jewelry accessorizing the kitchen," says Sarah Michalowski, a certified kitchen designer (CKD) and NKBA member in the Minneapolis area. "It's kind of neat to find chandeliers in unexpected places."

Add elegance and drama to an island or peninsula with a chandelier. "They make some really great linear chandeliers -- very long and narrow -- and over a peninsula, they can be gorgeous," Michalowski says.

Show off that beautiful island base with downlights hidden beneath the countertop.

Choose trim for recessed ceiling lights that makes a visible difference. White trim disappears and brushed metal creates a subtle contrast, but a grouping of cans with black trim can look like polka dots.

Consider flexible cable or rail lighting over an island or peninsula. Pendants and accent spotlights can be moved or changed out easily.

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