Kitchens are more than just a place to prepare food. These days, this room is often the space where family members spend time together, or entertain friends and guests. Without appropriate lighting, though, it can be difficult to use your kitchen to its full potential.
Whether you want to improve your dim kitchen lighting to make cooking easier, showcase your décor, or create a truly welcoming space for dining, there are plenty of ways you can use lighting to make your kitchen a safe and appealing place for everyone.
When planning a kitchen makeover, it’s definitely worth considering a clever kitchen lighting scheme. Making the most of natural light, combined with a well-planned mix of light fixtures and fittings, can immediately transform the look and feel of your kitchen.
From enjoying the sunrise while you drink a coffee in the natural morning light, to relaxing with a glass of wine in the evening under the lowlights, you’ll be able to enjoy your kitchen at any time of day. Styling your kitchen lighting properly also gives you an opportunity to highlight your favourite design features and make the room appear much larger.
In this blog from Kitchen Warehouse, we’ll discuss exactly how you can use lighting to enhance your kitchen design, making this room truly the heart of your home.
How to plan kitchen lighting
One of the most significant parts of renovating your kitchen is choosing new kitchen cabinets and worktops. While lighting is often an afterthought, it’s best to plan it out at the same time. This is because the layout of your cabinets, appliances, and fittings will affect where lights need to be.
Your kitchen won’t function as it should if you don’t consider lighting design during the planning stage. This should influence the configuration of your units, white goods, furniture, and power sources. It will help you to add the right types of kitchen lighting in the right places, illuminating every area to the desired extent.
You shouldN’t make the mistake of underestimating the importance of having plenty of light in your kitchen. Even homes that are blessed with plenty of natural light while the sun is out will still need effective lighting on grey days and in the evenings.
The bottom line is that in terms of functionality and practicality, lighting is essential. Prepping food often involves using sharp implements and, obviously, the hobs and oven can get very hot! Safety is paramount, and not being able to see what you’re doing is a genuine recipe for disaster. It’s always better to have too much light, rather than not enough.
Practical lighting should be your first focus. For example, bright lights or recessed spotlights over the worktops and areas for cooking food. Then you can consider secondary lighting to set the mood, such as wall lights or a statement lighting fixture over the dining table or kitchen island.
The finish you choose for your cabinets should also influence the way you locate your kitchen lights. For instance, high gloss kitchen units are very reflective, so poorly directed lighting can cause an uncomfortable glare. On the other hand, matt kitchen units absorb light, so you may need to compensate with more artificial lighting, especially if your cupboards are a darker colour.
Types of kitchen lighting
Before you can plan your kitchen lighting effectively, you need to know more about the different kinds available. Brightness and warmth of colour can dramatically alter the atmosphere of a room, so any kitchen requires at least two different lighting levels.
The first is shadow-free functional lighting for safe cooking, and the second is mood lighting that creates a comfortable ambience. There’s also a third option, which isn’t always necessary – using extra specifically-positioned lights to draw attention to certain features in the room.
Though there are many names for these types of lighting, they’re most commonly known as task lighting, ambient lighting, and accent lighting due to their primary purposes. The best kitchen lighting design should incorporate all three.
1) Task lighting
Having sufficient light to use the space properly is crucial, which means task lighting is necessary for preparing and cooking food. This practical lighting is strategically employed over countertops and ovens, usually in the form of downlights or spotlights under cabinets or in cooker hoods.
These brighter lights should be directed towards important work areas like the hob and the sink, allowing everyone to use kitchen equipment without risking injury from not being able to see what they’re doing. An overhead light above a multi-use dining area can also serve as task lighting. For example, children might sit at the table or kitchen island to do homework while their parents cook.
While task lighting is placed in specific areas for particular purposes, you should consider its aesthetic appeal, too. It’s more than just a practical necessity – the colour, direction, and strength of the task lights you choose can not only increase visibility, but also improve visual interest.
2) Ambient lighting
Having full-brightness task lights on all the time can be harsh on the eye, which is where ambient lighting comes in. This should be the main source of background lighting for your kitchen, which supplements natural light during the day and provides a softer setting during the evening.
Sometimes known as indirect general light, this type effectively creates an appealing base level of illumination, rather than exposed overhead bulbs beaming down abrasively. Ambient lights should add a cosy glow to the room at the flick of a switch, diffusing evenly throughout the space.
You can achieve this with a blend of ceiling lights, wall sconces, or even coloured strip lights. Your task lights and ambient lights can even be one and the same, if you install spotlights with a dimmer switch that allows you to adjust the brightness and warmth to suit your current activity.
3) Accent lighting
While the previous lighting types are enough to create a balanced environment, accent lights are the cherry on top of the cake for a well-designed kitchen. As the name suggests, these lights accentuate a particular area, highlighting a design feature and improving the overall atmosphere.
It’s more than just mood lighting or spotlights, though these are common uses of this type of kitchen lighting. There are lots of ways to use light as a supporting character in kitchen design. Accent lighting is often used to create a dramatic effect, drawing attention to decorative elements.
A popular example is using backlighting to display crockery or other items, especially with glass-fronted cabinets or open shelves. Under-cabinet strip lights or plinth lights around the base can also highlight aspects like cabinet or worktop finishes, without being as intense as task lighting.
How to layer kitchen lighting
Some kitchens commit the sin of having just one centralised light (the ‘big light’). This is a serious problem because it’s impossible for a single light fixture to provide enough light for the whole room and everything you need to do in each area. It can also make the kitchen feel much smaller, with shadowy corners closing in.
Ultimately, the most effective kitchen lighting will be a design that incorporates each of the three types. The real trick is to create a cohesive lighting plan for the kitchen where all three lighting elements blend together effortlessly.
The solution to this issue is designing a layered lighting scheme. This means creating different lighting ‘zones’ throughout the room, so that the lighting in each area is suitable for the activities that will take place there. You can then adjust the lights to meet your needs at the flick of a switch.
Task lighting should help you to see clearly for precise cooking and cleaning. One way to ensure that your worktops are sufficiently illuminated is to install under-cabinet lighting. Adding flexible strip lights or puck lights underneath the outer edge of wall units should light up the counters without creating murky shadows, allowing you to use your hob and chopping boards safely.
When you don’t need bright directional lighting to focus on a task, you’ll want to be able to turn those lights off and switch to ambient lighting. Rather than spotlighting cooking areas, these lights should illuminate the rest of the space enough for you to navigate the furniture and sit to eat or drink comfortably. Uplights on the wall and semi-flush-mount ceiling fixtures can achieve this.
Last but not least, accent lighting can add further dimension to your kitchen design when the task lights are off, complementing your ambient lights. Again, fitting LED strips or puck lights on the bottom of shelves or cabinets to shine on what’s stored in the space below is a common method.
Consider kitchen light controls
When you divide your kitchen lighting up into these three types, it’s useful to have separate circuits with different switches. This allows you to turn each lighting type on individually or in combinations, as and when you please, to create the ideal light levels. Of course, locations should be practical, such as the switch for the overhead lights being by the door so you can easily turn them on right away when you walk in.
We understand that not everyone has the budget to include multiple kitchen lighting systems. However, you don’t necessarily have to rewire everything on different circuits. Alternatively, you can install dimmer switches to turn the brightness up or down, so you can use the same lights in various ways whenever you need them.
For instance, overhead spotlights can be task lights at full brightness, then become ambient lights when dimmed. The same applies for pendant lights or accent light fixtures over islands or tables. If you opt for smart kitchen lights, you could even connect them via WiFi and control them from a smartphone app. This is a versatile way to achieve multiple kitchen lighting layers at once.
Remember that your light fittings should also fit in with your overall kitchen design. It’s a good idea to match your switches to your kitchen cabinet handles or kitchen sink taps – e.g. silver with silver or brass with brass. However, when it comes to installing the lighting controls and fittings, do not attempt DIY wiring. Unless you’re a professional yourself, you should hire an electrician.
Choose the right kitchen lighting colours
When choosing light bulbs for your kitchen light fixtures, including integrated LEDs, you might be wondering what the best light colour is for kitchens. We’re not talking about rainbow hues here – more the temperature. Light is often categorised as either cool or warm, with cool lighting being a brighter white and warm lighting being a softer yellow, though there are several tones.
Lighting warmth is measured in Kelvins (K), with the bluish-white tones of daylight being about 5000K. According to lighting experts Lumens, these are the ideal light temperature ranges to use:
- 3100K-4500K– bright white, best for task lighting (cool white tone for working clearly)
- 2000K-3000K– soft white, suitable for ambient lighting (in between white and yellow)
- 1000K-2000K– warm white, great for accent lighting (similar to a candlelight glow)
The higher the temperature, the cooler or more blue-toned the light will be. Conversely, the lower the temperature, the warmer or more yellow-toned the light will be. Anything above 4600K is close to natural daylight or even brighter. This is usually only needed in clinical or commercial settings. No domestic kitchen should feel like a hospital or supermarket!
Many people don’t immediately notice how much different light temperatures can influence the mood, but the wrong tone can be visually jarring. This is another reason for thinking carefully about which lights should use which bulb temperatures, and which types you can mix.
Task lighting is likely to be used individually, so this can be bright or cool. Since ambient lighting is warmer, you usually won’t want to have it on at the same time. However, accent lighting is also warm, so it won’t feel strange to have these two on at once. This is the purpose of layered kitchen lighting, so you can always achieve a comfortable brightness.
Stay on theme with kitchen lighting styles
Of course, lights should be functional first, so their type and layout should be your first concern. However, the way you position your lights will also have a visual impact on the whole room. You should create a sense of balance by installing kitchen light fixtures as symmetrically as possible.
When lights are recessed or hidden, you don’t have to worry so much about exact spacing. That said, it’s still best to space every light an even distance apart. This ensures there are no gaps where parts of the kitchen could become ‘dark spots’. It doesn’t have to mean always sticking to even numbers, though. It’s often more eye-catching to have an odd number of fixtures, such as three pendant lights over an island.
Since light fixtures can be a decorative feature in themselves, it’s also important to consider colours, shapes, and textures. Fittings should be consistent throughout the room to tie everything together. If you want to add some pops of colour, you can play around with contrasting shades. Sculptural shapes offer a striking artistic touch, while textured fabric lampshades can introduce a comforting softness to the room.
How to light a kitchen island
When you have a kitchen island, this often becomes the central focus of the room, whether it’s freestanding or a peninsula, with appliances or seating. The shape of the island and how you use it should inform your lighting choices, plus its position in relation to other key areas in the room.
If it’s more of a workspace, with an integrated hob or sink, then task lighting should be the first option. Recessed LED downlights can act like spotlights over the work area. However, you should try to avoid placing too many close together in a tight grid. This can result in harsh lighting that’s uncomfortably bright. If you install a dimmer switch, you can transform them into ambient lights.
For kitchen island lighting over an area for dining or entertaining, such as a breakfast bar, ambient lighting is more appropriate. Small pendant lights tend to be the go-to in this situation. If you’re working with limited space or lower ceilings, linear suspension lighting is a popular alternative.
Don’t forget about natural light
Though we’ve been discussing artificial kitchen lighting at length, you should never forget natural kitchen lighting. You’ll need to observe the natural daylight in your kitchen to design a lighting scheme that compensates for any shortcomings. This way, you can get the light settings exactly right at any time of day, both day and night.
The best way to boost natural light in the kitchen is to incorporate as much glass as possible. Bigger windows, skylights, and sliding doors are ideal for letting light in. There are plenty of options for privacy glass, so you don’t have to bother with heavy curtains or fiddly blinds.
If French patio doors are off the table, you could choose a back door with a large glass panel. Similarly, if skylights aren’t an option, you could look into alternatives like clerestory windows. These are narrow horizontal windows that run along the top of an outward-facing wall. Even smaller porthole windows can make a massive difference.
What if the space is too small to add windows or glass doors, or it won’t work with the layout? There are still things you can do to make your kitchen brighter. You should opt for lighter colours and reflective finishes like high gloss to enhance the existing light.
Plan a new kitchen with Kitchen Warehouse
Now you know the basics of kitchen lighting design, you’re ready to discover the ideal kitchen lights for your home. If your search for lighting is part of a bigger kitchen renovation, why not take a look through the collection of complete kitchen units and kitchen fittings available on our site?
We have a variety of cabinet styles on offer here at Kitchen Warehouse. The best part is, we also supply doors separately. This means you can redecorate your kitchen on a budget by ordering replacement kitchen doors to fit your existing cabinets, instead of replacing all the units entirely.
This blog was updated in May 2022.