According to Randall Whitehead, a lighting designer in San Francisco, and author of Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide., the most effective lighting for the kitchen involves four layers blended together: task, ambient, accent and decorative lighting. The end result: a warm and inviting environment that works with your other design elements to create a practical workspace and lively entertainment area.
Lighting your kitchen doesn’t need to be a complex matter, but it is layered. “The most common mistake people make is trying to light their entire kitchen with one fixture centered in the ceiling,” says Randall. “It ends up being what I call a ‘glare bomb,’ visually overpowering everything in the space, including family and friends.”
“Task lighting is what people think of first when designing a lighting system in the kitchen because it’s integral to preparing food,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, director of education for the American Lighting Association. “However, if task lighting is misplaced it can actually hinder your ability to work efficiently, throwing shadows on your workspace.”
Key Lighting Locations
According to Joe, key locations for task lighting include underneath the overhead cabinets and over the island — anywhere you’ll be chopping, slicing and reading recipes. The pantry is another place where you’ll want bright, focused lighting.
According to Randall, ambient lighting is an important layer that is often overlooked in the kitchen. “This indirect lighting is what I like to call the humanizing ingredient to any lighting design,” says the designer. “It softens the lines and shadows on people’s faces and creates a warm inviting glow in the room.”
Illuminate the Flow
The kitchen used to be strictly for food preparation and children who were not to be seen or heard. Now, floor plans are more open and parties often flow from the living room through the dining room and into the kitchen. “Ambient lighting will attract people into the kitchen and make them feel welcome while eating appetizers and sipping wine at the island,” says Randall. Ambient lighting fixtures may include flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, a pendant hanging over the island and adjustable track lighting.
Decorative lighting should be considered in direct proportion to the size of your kitchen — the larger the space, the greater importance chandeliers, hanging pendants and other eye-catching fixtures play. “There are two major considerations when it comes to decorative lighting,” Randall says. “You want to make sure that the scale of the fixtures is right for the space, and that the shade material has enough opacity to effectively hide the light bulb.”
Decorative lighting is the most expensive element of your lighting design scheme. If you’re on a tight budget, Randall recommends installing the infrastructure for decorative lighting — the junction box and/or recessed box in the ceiling — then, purchasing the actual fixture down the road.
Smart Lighting Systems
“Smart” homes are the wave of the future. You can preset and administer lighting in all rooms of the house through one centralized computer network, all through a computerized keypad. “The biggest advantage of smart systems is the high level of control,” says Randall, who recommends this option for new houses, but cautions that it can be quite expensive for a remodel. “You can preset a large number of scenes and turn on lights in any room of the house from your car or your bedroom.”
Just as the layers of lighting are combined in a variety of ways, so are the methods of controlling them. According to Randall, homeowners are typically use four-scene presets in all of main rooms, including the living room, dining room, kitchen and master bedroom. Standard switchers and dimmers are usually used in the secondary rooms, such as children’s bedrooms, bathrooms, the basement playroom and the office. The best part is that your lighting options just keep expanding.