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Spotlight On… Kitchen Lighting 101

October 30, 2015

Light is a key element of your kitchen’s design. It lets you move about and complete your tasks with ease. And after all, what good is your kitchen remodel if you can’t see it?

When it comes to kitchens, a single light source is not going to cut it. It doesn’t reach corners and you cast a shadow over your workspace. Effective and beautiful lighting is done in layers.

Lighting can be described by its function, such as task, ambient and decorative, or by the kind of illumination a fixture provides, i.e. focal or non-focal. We’ll look at function first, and then at the fixtures.

Modern kitchen interior design in black and white style, showign pundants, ambient lights, and recessed task lighting.
Can you spot the 5 light sources in this kitchen?



The two primary categories of functional lighting is task lighting and ambient lighting.  you’ll need both in your lighting plan . First, choose a form of ambient lighting to make the space visible, and then take your ‘work triangle’, and use task lighting to make sure the points are well lit.  This will keep your kitchen bright and easy to use.

Ambient lighting – Natural light if at all possible is the best source of ambient light.  It increases the feeling of space.  Of course, it’s not always available, so it’s good to have backup. Chandeliers, recessed lighting, pendants and sconces all create a soft cozy atmosphere through gentle light. Use dimmers to keep the setting of your kitchen flexible. That way you can customize your light levels depending on your situation!

Task lighting – undercabinet, track lights, and pendant lights put light right where you need it. Your counters and islands are where you do a lot of food prep and other work, so focus your task lighting there.

Decorative lighting – Once you can see your room,and see your work, light can also help you see your art, fine china or whatever else you might want to highlight. Lights inside a glass-fronted cabinet showcase your collectibles, and a small spotlight on a backsplash mosaic or a row of sculptures or pottery can bring the personality of the space into focus. This kind of lighting isn’t crucial for function but you may wish to include it to increase you enjoyment of  your space.


Focal light fixtures are meant to be seen, like table lamps, chandeliers, pendant lights, sconces and track lights.  Non-focal lighting is meant ot be hidden, like recessed lighting, fluorescent panels and undercabinet lights.

Focal lighting – very powerful design statement, keep it adjustable! Pendants should be 30 inches above any surface, or 7-8 feet away from the floor. Sconces can be ambient or task lighting. You point the shade up or down to determine the direction of the light.

Non-focal lighting – recessed or undercabinet lighting. These are all about the illumination, not what’s making it. The fixtures are designed to be hidden in the other elements of your space, leaving behind only light to give away their location. These are great practical options, especially for spaces that don’t need any more features attracting attention.

Fixtures can be expensive but relatively easy to install, so put a priority on getting your electricity wired where you want it. If you have to cut a corner, you can put in a budget fixture and wait to get the perfect fixture.

Hopefully this has shed some light on how to brighten up your kitchen. We’ll take a closer look at light fixtures in a later post.


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