Light is a very important consideration when designing a kitchen because it is a place where a lot of work is carried out, good lighting is paramount for safety reasons. Poor kitchen lighting may indirectly cause accidents such as burns and cuts. Task lighting in the kitchen needs to illuminate the sink, stove, benches, and any other work areas. Options for lighting include under cabinet lighting, mandible downlights aimed at specific areas, pendant lighting and natural lighting from amply sized windows. The combination that is chosen will determine the quality of your lighting scheme. No one scheme will suit all kitchens, each kitchen must be carefully considered for its specific lighting requirements.
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Kitchen lighting covers four types:
- background/ambient lighting – generally mounted on the ceiling, providing uniform light for the kitchen
- task lighting – provides concentrated and direct lighting for activities such as cooking and washing up
- mood lighting – usually used to highlight certain features like paintings.
- natural lighting – from windows or skylights
There are two main aspects of artificial lighting to consider within these types:
- The light – The type of light you want to use (bright white, LED, Halogen etc)
- The light cover – The style of light fitting
Light bulbs available include incandescent, compact fluorescent, halogen or newer LEDs. Compact fluorescent, halogens and LEDs cost less to operate than other bulbs and may appeal to those that want a more energy efficient bulb.
- Incandescent lights
- Halogen lights
- LED Lights
- Fluorescent Lights
When in lighting shops, study different light sources and make sure that you like the light that the bulbs produce. Each type of bulb has a different look or colour to them. The warmer the light is, the more homely your kitchen will feel. Make sure that the bulbs you like can have dimming switches connected to them if required.
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The purpose of ambient light is to create a diffused, even light level in a room, and it’s the first place to start when creating a lighting scheme. Ambient light can also refer to a lighting scheme as a whole, but for our purposes, we’ll be talking about ambient light sources. The source usually comes from lights on the ceiling, though sometimes a table or floor lamps can do the trick. Overhead light sources can be a lone bright light, such as a ceiling or pendant light, or multiple lights, such as track lighting or recessed cans. These smaller lights all work together to create the main light source, but the difference is that they can be aimed at different areas of the room to get into all of the nooks and crannies. Most overhead lights use incandescent bulbs, which are inexpensive and come in a variety of wattages. Compact fluorescent bulbs also have come on the scene as “green” alternatives that cost a little more but last considerably longer than their incandescent counterparts. They also have the benefit of being recyclable, whereas regular light bulbs are not. The downside is that fluorescent lights have a reputation for casting unattractive light, but manufacturers are continually working to improve this. No matter what bulb you use, overhead lighting is practical but it can be garish, so ambient light sources need to be complemented with other kinds of lights to provide contrast. In the next section, we’ll talk about accent lighting.
Accent lights are directional lights whose main purpose is to provide visual separation in a room. They’re secondary lights in a room, and as a rule of thumb, they should be three to five times brighter than the ambient light level. Wall-mounted fixtures, such as sconces, are a good example of accent lights, as are a table and floor lamps. For example, a chandelier in your dining room would provide ambient light, and one or more wall sconces would be the accent lights. Another use of accent lighting is to showcase a feature in a room, such as a painting or a collection. You’ve probably seen this in art museums. The ambient light is usually dim, which invokes peace and quiet, and the accent lights highlight the paintings, keeping you focused on the art. You can do this in your home as well, and it doesn’t have to be fine art. If you have a big, beautiful plant you want to highlight, you can put a spotlight on the floor behind it and let the light bounce off its leaves, creating shadows and drama. Typically, a spotlight or floodlight is used to accent an object, though track lights also work in certain applications. Higher wattage incandescent bulbs are often used in table lamps and wall lights for accent lighting, and halogen lamps are primarily used in spotlights.
Task lighting provides the primary light in a room and is ideally six to 10 times brighter than the ambient light. It’s used to increase illumination above ambient levels at workspaces, and carefully chosen task lighting can minimize the need for overhead lights, which is helpful in conserving energy. The term “task lighting” has noticeably popped up in the vernacular since home renovations have become all the rage. Task lighting for our ancestors often consisted of a bright lone bulb in a utilitarian desk lamp, but now the options are endless. It’s a key element in the kitchen and office, where specific tasks requiring proper light are performed. It’s also useful in the living room for projects, or in the bedroom for reading, and helps to avoid eye strain. There are many different kinds of lights that perform the job of a task light. Under-cabinet downlights are helpful for kitchen tasks because typically, your shadow gets in the way of the ambient light source. Desk lamps or floor lamps trained on a desk are useful in the office, and table lamps with high watt bulbs work well in the living room and bedroom. Halogen lights are ideal for task lighting because they’re energy efficient and produce a clean, clear light that renders accurate colours. The downside is that they tend to burn hot, so computing for hours under a halogen bulb could produce a sweat bead or two.
When asked to describe their most coveted space, many homeowners are quick to toss out adjectives like light and airy. Natural light is highly desirable light in a home, simply because it makes everything look appealing. Lighting schemes relying on natural light are called daylighting, and builders and architects are getting more requests than ever before to implement it in new construction. Perhaps it’s because we spend many of our busy hours sitting at a desk indoors, but we didn’t evolve that way. Daylighting keeps us in touch with the outdoors and time of day, and studies have found that people who work in natural light are more productive [source: Mother Earth News]. There are other benefits to natural light as well, such as savings on electricity if you don’t have to turn on lights. But making the best use of natural light is more detailed than throwing open your curtains and embracing the sun’s rays. Glare can be an issue if the sun shines directly, or even indirectly, into the room. Heat also needs to be managed, which is usually best accomplished with curtains or shades. Painting a room a light, reflective colour can help amp up the natural light, and the best ceiling colour to complement the light is the whitest white you can find.
Common Fixture Types
Common types of kitchen lighting fixtures that you find in today’s kitchens are recessed, ceiling, track, pendant, under cabinet and sometimes wall sconce or chandelier lighting. With the use of these types of fixtures, you can provide lighting where it is needed most.
- Recessed Fixtures – Often referred to, as can lights, consist of a housing that is mounted above the drywall in the ceiling. Inside the housing is an adjustable bulb socket that can receive various bulbs. The can light is finished with a trim ring that goes flush against the drywall.Can lighting is useful in that it can provide general lighting in the kitchen, task lighting over the stove, sink and counters and well as accent lighting. There are many different kinds of can lights and trim rings for many types of uses.
- Pendant Fixtures – These good looking fixtures add a lot of style to a room and also provide general and task lighting. The designs are almost endless for this type of fixture and they are great for over kitchen islands, open counters and sometimes dining tables. They are often attached to the ceiling with a chain, cord, rod or stem to the desired height.
- Track Lighting – This type of fixture has a lot of uses. They are comprised of tracks that hold many track heads. The heads can be moved and pointed in different directions to get the desired effect. The heads can also be moved and adjusted at a later time to your liking.The tracks can be flush to the ceiling, hanging down and be straight or curved. There are a lot of different track heads and even pendants that hang down from the track. They are great for accent, general purpose and task lighting.
- Under Cabinet and Puck Lights – These are great for lighting the area below the wall cabinets. They also cast light on the kitchen backsplash and highlight your countertops. They come in many styles and serve as task and accent lighting. Install them per the instructions to get an even amount of light as desired.Puck lights are small round lights that are often installed in cabinets that have a glass door to highlight attractive items in the cabinets. They can be either flush mounted or cut into the cabinet top for a recessed look.
- Chandeliers – These fixtures hang down from the ceiling and include many arms with light bulbs and decorative shades. They add a touch of elegance over kitchen islands and more often over kitchen tables. They provide general lighting using up lights, downs lights or exposed bulbs.
- Wall Sconce Fixtures – In the kitchen the space for wall sconces is pretty limited seeing how much of the wall area is already being taken up with cabinets and counters. They do add character and could be used flanking a hutch or piece of artwork, for instance.
- Ceiling fixtures – These fixtures mount flush to the ceiling or hang down a few inches. They diffuse light through the fixture lens and off of the ceiling for general ambient lighting.
Dimmers or other lighting controls are very useful in the kitchen to get the amount of light that you want for the activity of the moment. It is nice to be able to set or program the amount of light that you want or need. For instance when you are preparing food you might want a strong bright light, however when you are eating you may enjoy a softer light.
Common kitchen lighting mistakes
- Using one light in the centre of the room – This type of lighting creates a shadow on every space that you work on as the light source comes from behind you. This can cause accidents and is very frustrating. It also causes a glare when you look into the kitchen.
- See our blog post on how to avoid kitchen lighting mistakes.