A kitchen renovation represents one of the most significant investments you can make in your home – and probably the most satisfying, because it tends to be the magnet for family and guests alike. But while you splurge on those high-end appliances and custom cabinetry, make a pilgrimage to the stone yard for that perfect slab countertop, and spend hours poring over hardware catalogues; the most important element of all can get overlooked: lighting.
If all your carefully planned design selections aren’t properly lit, after all, your kitchen isn’t working – functionally or aesthetically. That’s why it’s worth prioritizing your kitchen’s lighting plan.
More than any other room in the home, there are multiple objectives to good kitchen lighting design, from general ambient to task and accent lights. And like achieving the right mix of ingredients in a delicious dish, there’s both art and science involved in getting your kitchen to glow.
This is the base layer, almost like a prime coat that supports everything else. Ambient lighting generally comes from the ceiling, and it can take on a few different forms:
- Recessed lights provide a consistent layer of light. To plan where they’ll go, think about where you’ll be standing: At the sink, the stove, and prepping at the counter, for instance. In a galley kitchen or an aisle delineated by an island and perimeter counter, a single row of evenly spaced recessed lights will do the trick. If the kitchen hugs the walls with a large open space in the middle, consider a grid of recessed lights to ensure the entire space is illuminated.
- Flush-mount lights are another option if you want a dash of design across the ceiling, especially if there’s no island in your kitchen where you can add decorative pendants.
- Track or monorail lighting is a good choice when you have a ceiling where it’s difficult to relocate the power – apartments and condos with concrete slab ceilings, for example. This type of lighting also works well with pitched ceilings where recessed lights would be too high up to properly light what’s below. Look for lighting that has a wide beam spread instead of a narrow focus (think art gallery lights) to avoid glare.
It’s the most important light you’ll never see. Task lighting illuminates the spaces where you work and makes display areas glow. LED technology is so advanced that you can choose among many different options depending on where you need it.
- Under-cabinet lighting is the most critical need, if you do nothing else. You must be able to see your counters! You can choose LED strip lighting or round pucks for existing cabinets, or during a renovation, choose customized rail kits that can integrate lighting and power outlets into your backsplash. The effect will not only make your kitchen optimally functional; it also provides a moody ambiance at night when cooking and cleanup are done.
- Display cabinets, by definition, need to celebrate whatever’s inside. Puck or dot lights are great at illuminating single objects, while L-channel LED strips are great at lighting china or glassware collections across wider shelves.
- Cabinet and drawer lights. Isn’t it great when the inside of your fridge lights up when you open it? Wouldn’t you love the same thing to happen when you open your drawers and cabinets? Motion-sensor technology can automatically activate LED soft-strip lighting to make your silverware sparkle.
- Toe-kick lighting is another option, and although it’s not critical to a specific task, it adds a beautiful glow and ambiance, and provides nighttime wayfinding so you don’t have to turn on all the lights for that midnight snack.
Once you’ve finalized a plan for ambient and task lighting, it’s time to have fun with the decorative lights, which will add all the personality to your kitchen. Most often, you’ll be choosing pendant lights to hang over your island or breakfast table to set the room’s tone and complement its architecture. You can go for oversized globes with interesting textures; a chic row of drum shades; organic shapes or modern, linear designs. Above all, I try to choose a unique or unexpected look for these important placements.
- For islands and peninsulas, choose fixtures that are scaled correctly to the counter space below them. A general rule for hanging them is you want between 30 and 36 inches of clearance from the counter.
- Ensure adequate light. While these fixtures are decorative, they provide task lighting as well, especially over the kitchen island, and if you’re working from home or have kids who like to do homework nearby, it’s also a consideration at the dining table.
- Count your lumens. If you’re unsure how much is enough, look at how many lumens a light fixture provides. A good rule for the island, especially, is about 35-50 lumens per square foot of the surface underneath. Let’s say your island is three feet by five feet. That means you have 15 square feet of surface; multiply that by 35 to 50 and you get 535-750 lumens total that would be needed overhead.
- Dimmers everywhere. Because your kitchen plays so many roles throughout the day, you need to employ different moods accordingly. Dimmer switches mean the difference between a romantic meal and finishing that English paper.
- Open-plan kitchens mean that whatever decorative lights you choose here must complement lighting that’s visible from adjacent spaces such as the dining room, family room or foyer. It’s an opportunity to connect spaces through a unifying element such as shape, color, or material, while still choosing fixtures that are unique to each space.
Need help? Lighting is one of my favorite design elements; just contact us and we’d be thrilled to help you create the (properly lit) kitchen of your dreams.