Rules for lighting a kitchen

I have been called on the carpet by a couple of readers to give it up on my “rules” for lighting a space well…specifically kitchens. So, okay! I am guilty of pointing out the bad and the good without some follow up substance. I will wager many designers have different opinions on a few of these tips but  I swear by my “rules” because time after time, we end up with not just a well lit space but one that can be “dressed” differently with the lighting to fit many moods. I.E. serious cooking, entertaining, craft time with the kids, late night snack with hubby and so on. I think often lighting is poorly done because no one thinks so much about it at the outset of planning( I used to be guilty of this too!) and then when budgets get tight, it is the first thing that seems to go. But if you do not have the proper lighting in a kitchen, you are simply killing your design.

Lighting tips for the best kitchen design:

**The kitchen is undeniably the focal point of almost any home and family.

Thus, the lighting needs to be humanizing and contribute to the overall warmth and welcoming nature of the space.  This means layering the lighting. There is no one device that can fill all the above needs. The old school one main light centered in the middle of the room cannot multitask. Layering means creating ambient light, task light and general light. And, they need to be woven together to work in conjunction with one another.
We like well hidden puck lights for washing a wall, a cabinet or lighting an accent space in a bookshelf.

**Recessed can lights are a good choice for general lighting.

But, left to most electricians, the lights will end up in some sort of grid pattern. I disagree with this concept. First off, it may look good on the floor plan but who walks around looking up to see the symmetry? NO ONE. So, the can lights need to be placed where they are needed! For example, I want a light in front of my refrigerator. I do not care if the other can lights are out from the wall the same distance. Sometimes it makes sense, often it does not. I refer to the typical grid pattern as little soldiers marching in a line. And in fact, (gasp!) I think it looks worse to have can lights all lined up in a row and calls more attention to them. And, let’s face it, no one “loves” recessed can lights so let’s let them do their job but not make a grand announcement they are there.

**Make sure recessed cans are not too close to the cabinets thinking you are lighting the countertop.

I see this often on plans. Depending on your ceiling height and size of cans, the cone of light will “break” on the cabinets if too close and you effectively lose much of the light into the cabinetry but also you should not put them directly over where you will stand or you are creating shadows. AND, whatever you do, please make sure that your crown molding clears the trim of the can light by a good margin. Sadly, I walk into homes all the time that have a “grid” lighting plan and the refrigerator crown molding is “kissing” (as cheryl calls it) the trim. This is the epitome of bad planning and I would hang up my tape if I let this happen to me!

**SWITCH all lighting differently!

This helps create the mood. Think about the switching carefully! Do NOT let your electrician makes this decision for you. If you do not have an architect, designer or a really savvy contractor, then you must learn yourself and think it through.

**Put all kitchen lighting on dimmers. Enough said.

**Don’t use halogen puck lights under the cabinetry.

 OOOOOKKKKK, am sure this will tick off a few designers and maybe even an architect or two. But I stand by my recommendation to use LED  or even slimline fluorescents.  Typical halogen puck lights burn very hot. I have seen a child get a burn from touching one. ( why she was allowed to climb all over the counter is another story) AND they create pin point light and I prefer a strip to give off more even light. I like Alico because they are easy to use and have a solid metal housing but there are many brands that are good. Now, the small puck lights can be used in display areas etc with no problem but even then I prefer Xenon. (which are still hotter than fluorescents) But when doing the undercabinet lighting, use strips.

**Don’t forget about natural light!

If you are building new or can work in additional windows, do it. There is no substitution for natural light. I will eschew the long rows of upper cabinets any day to work in an additional windows! Think about Solatube options. This is a better version of a skylight. In my area, skylights can be problematic with our weather problems but done correctly ( and this is the key) it can be a great source of daylight. But, plan locations well!
greenhouse kitchen window
In this kitchen we did for Kohler and Silestone, we designed a lift up garage door style outside to patio and a green house glass ceiling.
**Work in decorative lighting. This is the essential way to add personality and set a mood in your kitchen in the form of pendants, mini chandeliers or even wall sconces. I loooove wall sconces in a kitchen. This type of lighting transforms the kitchen into a living space not just a cooking space.
White, Blue and Grey Scandinavian Kitchen - Interior Design - Kitchen Remodel -
Decorative lighting adds a ton of style!

**Consider using small puck lights in a glass fronted cabinet.

This adds little cost at the outset and provides great effect. Also, I like to use a small light inside a deep corner cabinet. Remember, I have “crossed over” to the age where good lighting is critical! ( no age jokes, please!)

hood farmhouse kitchen
Lit upper cabinets is always the right decision.

**When laying out lighting for pendants over an island, do yourself ( and your electrician) a favor and draw the outline of the cabinetry/countertop on the floor and get exact measurements.

Do not rely on the plans or almost assuredly, they will be wrong and have to be moved.

** Remember the older you get the harder it is to see.

( trust me on this, one day you wake up and LITERALLY, you need bifocals or progessive lenses) Plan ahead. And don’t forget a light directly over the sink to help “see” the dirt!   LAYER YOUR LIGHTING AND PROVIDE ABUNDANT LIGHT SWITCH  DIFFERENTLY DEPENDING ON USAGE PUT EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON DIMMERS LOOK FOR WAYS TO INTRODUCE MORE NATURAL LIGHT