When designing or remodeling a kitchen, lighting is one of the most important elements to consider. Proper kitchen lighting serves both aesthetic and functional purposes. The right lighting fixtures and layout create a warm, welcoming ambiance while also providing ideal illumination for cooking, cleaning, and other kitchen tasks.
Whether you want to highlight modern or traditional design, boost workspace functionality, or simply brighten up your cooking space, these guidelines will ensure your new or remodeled kitchen looks stunning and works efficiently.
Layer Ambient, Task and Accent Lighting
Achieving a well-lit kitchen requires a layered lighting plan that combines ambient, task, and accent lighting. Understanding the purpose of each type creates depth and allows you to enhance both style and functionality.
Ambient lighting illuminates the entire kitchen space. It is the base layer that makes the kitchen bright enough for general use. Typical ambient lighting includes flush or semi-flush ceiling lights, chandeliers, and recessed can lighting. Ambient lighting radiates from central focal points to create diffused, uniform light throughout the room.
Task lighting provides direct illumination for specific work zones in the kitchen like food prep areas and sinks. Undercabinet lighting, pendant lights, and recessed cans work well as task lighting. Island pendants, for example, focus light right where needed for meal preparation and dining.
Accent lighting adds a finishing touch by highlighting specific architectural or decorative elements. Track lighting, directional lights, and spotlights all work for accenting features like display shelving, artwork, or the kitchen backsplash. Accent lighting lends depth and dramatic effect.
When planning kitchen lighting, consider adding all three layers using a mix of fixture types. Ambient lighting sets the mood; task lights ensure functionality; and accent lights provide interest. With all three illuminated, the kitchen will enjoy the ideal amount and type of light.
In addition to general task lighting, also consider incorporating lighting designated for specific tasks. For example, install under-cabinet lighting to illuminate food prep zones on countertops. Use pendant lights or mini-pendants to spotlight cooking areas on kitchen islands. Place task lighting above the sink to brighten clean-up duties. This type of customized, functional lighting enhances usability.
Install Task Lighting in Key Areas
When incorporating dedicated task lighting, it is important to strategically place fixtures in the key kitchen work zones where detailed illumination is needed most.
Islands benefit from pendant lights hung at an appropriate height over the central work surface or dining space. Linear LED undercabinet lighting provides excellent task illumination along the countertops on islands or against walls. Mini-pendants also work well over peninsulas.
At sinks, sconces mounted on either side of the mirror provide bright, shadow-free lighting that is ideal for washing dishes, meal prep, and more. Undercabinet lighting is another option for mostly one-person sinks.
Place a pendant light or two directly above the main kitchen workstation or stove area. This provides ideal visibility when cooking and moving between burners and the counter space.
Make sure to install lighting inside glass-front cabinets or above open shelving. This displays and highlights dishes, glassware, and other decorative items.
If your kitchen has windows or skylights that provide ample natural light, install daylight harvesting technology to automatically adjust artificial lighting based on changing daylight levels. This helps reduce electricity usage while maintaining proper illumination.
Use Dimming to Set the Mood
One of the biggest advantages of planning your own kitchen lighting is the ability to incorporate dimming functionality. Dimming allows you to easily control the ambiance and adapt the lighting to match the current activity or mood.
For overall ambient lighting, install dimmable recessed or ceiling lights. Opt for dimmable LED tape lighting under cabinets as well. Then use dimmer switches or smart lighting controls to easily adjust these lights from full brightness for cleaning to a lower level for relaxed dining.
Make sure pendants and accent lighting are also dimmable. Controlled with a dimmer, these fixtures can transition a kitchen from a brightly lit workspace to a soft, inviting atmosphere for entertaining guests.
Placement of dimmers depends on personal preference–near the kitchen entryway, on the wall near the dining table, or wherever you’ll access them most. Smart lighting systems now also allow dimming via smartphone, voice assistant, and app.
Choose Energy Efficient Fixtures
When selecting kitchen lighting, energy efficiency should be a priority. Long work hours mean kitchen fixtures log many hours of use. Opting for energy-saving bulbs and fixtures saves money and protects the environment.
LED lighting currently provides the best kitchen lighting efficiency. LEDs last years longer than incandescent bulbs while using a fraction of the energy. Fluorescent lighting is another high-efficiency option well-suited for ambient lighting.
Also check the lumens per watt ratio when choosing fixtures. This measures visible light output per watt of electricity consumed. Look for recessed cans, track lights, pendants and more with a high lumens per watt value. The higher this number, the better the fixture’s lighting efficiency.
Your electrician can also help recommend the most eco-friendly kitchen lighting solutions. Energy efficient kitchen lighting paired with dimming gives you full control over brightness and energy use.
Consider installing smart kitchen lighting that can be controlled via smartphone, voice commands, and other smart devices. This adds convenience while enhancing your energy efficiency and automation capabilities.
Select Pendants to Enhance Island Lighting
Islands are a high-traffic area most homeowners want to highlight. A pendant light or set of mini pendant lights hung above kitchen islands provides both appealing illumination and decorative flair.
Single pendants work well for narrower islands, while wider islands can support eye-catching rows of 3, 5 or more mini-pendants. Staggered heights and asymmetric placement creates visual interest. For large islands, combine pendant rows running horizontally with a statement pendant like a wide drum or chandelier shape.
When selecting island pendants, consider the island’s purpose. Mini-pendants provide more focused task lighting. Wider pendants like drum shapes offer ambient lighting. For combined dining and prep zones, layer mini and large pendants.
Placement is also key. Standard height is 30-34 inches between a pendant’s bottom edge and the countertop. Raise pendants up to 6 inches higher to maximize space and visibility underneath without compromising lighting levels on the island surface.
Popular finishes like brushed nickel, oil rubbed bronze, and black complement most kitchen designs. For a pop of color, select a pendant with a colorful woven shade or transparent glass globe.
Use Accent Lighting for Key Design Elements
Beyond general and task lighting, strategically placed accent lighting puts focus on key kitchen features. This adds depth and dimension to your kitchen design both day and night. Focal points illuminated by accent lighting could include:
- Glass-front cabinets displaying collectibles
- Open shelving with cookbooks, dishes or glassware
- An architectural focal point like a range hood or tile backsplash
- Decor like art, mirrors or a framed menu collection
Directional track lights work perfectly for these types of displays. Rotate and angle the lights to highlight the areas you want to feature. Mini-pendants, recessed accent lights and LED tape lighting behind cabinets or shelves also create focal points.
Daylight illuminates displays naturally, while accent lighting showcases them beautifully at night. The result is a kitchen that truly shines 24 hours a day.
Ensure Sufficient Lighting Over Sink and Stove
The sink and stove zones likely see the most use, making sufficient lighting here a must. Experts recommend at least 50-75 foot candles of illumination over kitchen sinks and ranges.
Over the main sink area, elongated LED undercabinet bars provide full wash coverage without shadows. Wall sconces on either side of the mirror is another option. For a one-person prep sink, undercabinet lighting, pendant lights, or accent recessed can lighting directly above can work.
The range or cooktop area benefits from potent task lighting as well, like twin pendants or a small chandelier hanging low enough to illuminate pots but high enough to avoid steam. Low-voltage rail lighting is another adjustable option.
Adequate lighting in these two zones creates a fully functional workspace. Once these key areas are covered, the remaining task, ambient and accent lighting completes your kitchen’s custom lighting design.
Don’t Forget Dimmer Switches
As mentioned in the ambient lighting section, incorporating dimmer switches allows you to control the mood and adapt the lighting to your needs. Dimming is especially useful over key work zones like the stove, sink, and island. You can turn lights up for cooking tasks or dim them down for a relaxed meal.
Choose Decorative Fixtures that Align with Style
Beyond providing illumination, kitchen lighting fixtures double as decorative elements that contribute greatly to your overall design. Consider the style of your kitchen when selecting fixture finishes, shapes, and materials.
In traditional kitchens, polished nickel and brass finishes complement an elegant vibe. Crystal chandeliers, vintage-style filament bulbs, and glass pendant shades enhance the classic look. Turn to the soft glow of candelabra-base incandescent lights or dimmable LEDs with a warm color temperature.
Contemporary styles shine with matte black or silver-finished fixtures boasting clean lines. Think streamlined track lighting, modern globe pendants, and minimalist flush mount ceiling lights. Crisp white recessed LED cans complement the sleek aesthetic well. Lengthening stems on pendants creates a stylish look.
Farmhouse designs glow with galvanized metal finishes, exposed filament bulbs, and antique-inspired fixtures. Vintage pendants, sconces, and Edison bulbs pair perfectly with the cozy style, as do reclaimed wood fixtures.
Your kitchen lighting can enhance your design style when the finishes, materials, shapes, and bulb types align. When possible, choose dimmable fixtures to allow further fine-tuning of your ideal lighting ambiance.
Create Lighting Plans for Kitchen Remodels
For kitchen remodels and renovations, develop a detailed lighting plan that addresses both aesthetics and function. Approach new kitchen lighting the way interior designers do for well-lit, gorgeous results.
Start by analyzing how existing light functions in the kitchen, making note of poorly lit zones or excessive shadows. Decide which fixtures and layout to keep versus replace. Consider updates like adding a kitchen island or new sink that require supplemental lighting.
Evaluate the kitchen’s lighting needs at all times of day. Factor in task and ambient needs based on how you utilize the kitchen mornings, afternoons, and evenings.
With lighting needs defined, choose well-placed fixtures that solve each issue, complement your style, and fit your budget. Create an electrical plan and select control systems like dimmers or smart switches.
New kitchen lighting breathes life into old, dark spaces. Follow these tips when redesigning your lighting to enjoy a bright, gorgeous, functional kitchen.
Work Within Your Kitchen Lighting Budget
Budget plays a key role in kitchen lighting decisions. Develop an allotment for lighting as you estimate overall kitchen remodel costs. Kitchen lighting typically accounts for about 10-15% of total remodeling budgets.
Focus first on adequate lighting over key work zones like islands, sinks, and the stove, purchasing high-quality fixtures for these areas. Then fill in surrounding task, accent, and ambient lighting affordably. Rely on lighting retailers to supply solutions that balance cost and quality.
Factor long term lamp replacement costs as well. LEDs last years longer than incandescents and offer energy savings. Install fixtures with easily changeable bulbs when possible.
Compromise on size over quality when needed. Opt for two smaller pendants over an island instead of one massive chandelier, for example. Take advantage of dimming ability to save on energy and enhance ambiance.
With smart planning and budget allocation, your dream kitchen lighting is within reach. Focus on quality where it matters most and creatively meet the rest of your lighting needs affordably.
Kitchen lighting serves many important purposes in the heart of your home. Following the tips above will ensure your new or remodeled kitchen is both beautifully and functionally lit. A mix of ambient, task and accent lighting layered throughout the space provides ideal illumination and visual appeal.
Strategic placement of task lighting over key workstations coupled with ample ambient and accent fixtures creates a well-balanced, professional quality lighting design. Your choice of shape, size, finish and style of pendants, flush mounts, sconces and more let your lighting enhance your kitchen decor as well.
Approaching kitchen lighting deliberately, with a focus on both form and function, results in a warm, inviting space perfect for cooking, conversation and entertaining. Use these guidelines to light up your ideal kitchen beautifully.