In any busy kitchen work zone, you need an overall light source as well as task lights aimed directly at work areas. Track lighting can provide both, and give you the flexibility to direct light exactly where you need it. If your kitchen contains a single ceiling light fixture in the middle of the room, it's a great candidate for track lighting. Track lighting systems, available with both rigid and flexible tracks, can be wired directly to the ceiling junction box and individual lights can be aimed to illuminate artwork, the prep zones, or other prominent design features.
"You have a lot of freedom with track lighting," says Thomas Hayes, a designer with Thomas Hayes Interiors in Los Angeles, California. "There's a lot of really pretty lighting available." For a seamless look, he suggests choosing white track lighting that will blend into a white ceiling. Or you can make the track lighting more of a design statement and choose a metal finish, such as stainless steel or bronze. Spotlight-style lamps for these systems are ideal for directing light at artwork or a specific architectural feature. Many systems also allow pendant-style lights, which can provide softer, more filtered light and add style with colorful glass shades.
Track lighting systems can often be wired right into the junction box of an existing ceiling fixture. Some of the most basic systems include a 4- or 8-foot track with several spotlight-style fixtures. But beware of options that don't allow any flexibility, says Richard Landon, a certified master kitchen and bath designer in Bellevue, Washington. These systems usually provide light only at the center of the kitchen, instead of the perimeter work areas where task light is especially important. A better choice is likely to be the flexible track systems, also referred to as monorail systems. These can be curved to fit your specific kitchen design, and the light directed to a variety of work areas throughout the room.
Although track lights are often mounted close to a flat ceiling, they are compatible with a variety of ceiling heights. Because the lights are not recessed into the ceiling, they can work well in rooms with irregular ceilings, too. The tracks from which the light fixtures are suspended are supported by hardware called standoffs. These standoffs can be rigid (often used with systems installed close to flat ceilings) or adjustable (good for irregular ceilings or when the system is suspended from a higher ceiling). You can use a track suspension kit to install track lighting systems in kitchens with tall or vaulted ceilings.