What's Cool in Kitchen Lighting

Oseye Boyd
Written by Oseye Boyd
Updated July 8, 2016
kitchen lighting pendant lights
When considering how to light your kitchen, create a lighting plan that includes task, perimeter and accent lights. (Photo by Gilbert R. Boucher II)

Create a kitchen lighting plan to include layers of light for better functionality and aesthetics.

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Lighting probably isn’t top of mind when it comes to updating your kitchen. However, kitchen lighting may be the most important lighting in your home (try chopping an onion in the dark), and changing the lighting can make a huge difference in the look and functionality of your kitchen. Plus, creative kitchen lighting also offers another way to spotlight your personality.

“If you can dream it, you can have it,” says Amy Contreras, owner of Amethyst Interiors of Indianapolis, Indiana. “Things are all about individual style right now. You have a whole gamut of styles to choose from.”

Today’s kitchen isn’t just used for cooking. It’s a gathering spot for friends and family as well as a place for homework or working from home. You stand often, but need chairs or stools for sitting as well. Don’t just think about the fixtures, but create a lighting plan to make sure you have the right combination of lighting — task, perimeter and accent — in the right places, Contreras says.

“Your lighting needs to be the layers of light,” Contreras says. “[It] needs to be balanced so you have an overall even glow, so you’re not going to have any hot spots or overly bright areas.”

Create a kitchen lighting plan

To create layers, get rid of that one light fixture in the center of your kitchen. Opt for recessed lights around the perimeter of your kitchen, task lighting under cabinets and above the sink and stove, and accent lights in cabinets or on the wall.

“Centering lighting in the ceiling is pointless,” says Deborah Goodacre, owner of Divine Redesign and Interior Decorating of Tempe, Arizona. “We rip those out when we do lighting.”

Goodacre prefers 4-inch canned lights around the perimeter of the kitchen. She puts them close to cabinetry so the light shines down onto the cabinets.

“Those lights are centered on the cabinets itself,” Goodacre says. “That kind of lighting is so nice and strong and clear that you really don’t need lighting in the center of the room.”

Lighting control

Because the kitchen is multi-functional, Contreras includes dimmer switches in the kitchen lighting plan.

“I love dimmers on kitchen lighting because you want to change the mood from working to dining or relaxing,” Contreras says.

Pendant lighting for kitchens

Pendant fixtures, especially a series over an island, in all types of fun, unique shapes remain popular for homeowners. However, interior designers suggest choosing larger fixtures rather than smaller ones for a up-to-date look.

“Instead of the mini pendants from like 7-inch diameter, [switch] to a 20-inch diameter,” says Denise Dunlap, owner of Designs by Denise of Bay Village, Ohio.

Dunlap also suggests covering the pendant in a drum shade, which is a fabric shade traditionally used on lamps, instead of a metal covering. If you prefer a metal cover, rose gold, bronze, copper, brushed nickel and polished chrome are on trend, and mixing and matching metals is no longer taboo.

“Gold is making a comeback, but it’s more of a champagne gold instead of a brassy, shiny gold,” Dunlap says.

LED under-cabinet lighting

Of course, LED is the preferred type of light — no matter where the lights are located. It works especially well for under-cabinet lighting. Also, consider LED lights for other task lighting, such as above the stove or even the toe kick of cabinets.

While LED rope lights are popular for task lighting, consider using LED for recessed lighting around the perimeter of your kitchen.

Initially, LED lights cost more than other lighting, but last longer since the typical life span is about 20 years, Dunlap adds.  

“I think of lighting as like the jewelry,” Contreras says. “It’s just seeing the bigger picture and making sure that everything is balanced and you’re going to get the results that you want as far as light distribution.”

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