The Beauty and Function of Adding Light to the Heart of the Home
Light. You know you need it, but do you know how to get the right type and proper amount in your kitchen? There is probably no other room in the house that serves as many different needs as today’s kitchen, and it needs proper lighting to make it welcoming and efficient.
Lighting is the easiest way to set or change the atmosphere of a room. With one switch your kitchen can go from a bright, efficient hub of activity to a softly lit setting for a quiet meal. Plus, the right light can make meal preparation and cleanup safer and more efficient. Just think how much time you might save if you could open a cabinet and spot whatever you need right away or how quickly you could chop an onion in a bright, clear, shadowless space. In addition, performing tasks that sometimes feel like drudgery seems easier in the right light because your eyes are less susceptible to strain.
This kitchen in a 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath Farmhouse style home is an example of good general and task lighting. The recessed lights in the ceiling provide ambient lighting, while the pendants over the island, chandelier over the table, and countertop lighting offer effective task lighting (House Plan #109-1191).
The key to devising a versatile kitchen lighting plan that can change with each activity, as well as with the time of day, begins with knowing about the different types of lighting.
• General Lighting – ambient, or general, lighting that fills an entire room, usually an overhead fixture or group of fixtures.
• Task Lighting – functional lighting for specific jobs: at the cooktop, over the sink, at the desk, above the laundry, above the snack bar and table.
• Accent Lighting – lighting that highlights a particular element or decorative object such as a handsome range hood, elegant stemware, a basket or pottery collection, or wall art.
• Decorative Lighting – deliberate and contrived lighting that is intended to draw attention to itself. Some examples include candles, chandeliers, sconces, neon signs, or strips of miniature lights.
Top: The decorative lighting in the upper glass-front cabinets adds a touch of sophistication to this kitchen. Bottom: Seen from another angle, the same kitchen displays effective task lighting over the island and background dining table, as well as decorative lighting evidenced by the scones on the dining area wall. The recessed general lighting illuminates down to the floors, while the countertop and range task lights brighten work areas (House Plan #136-1030).
Lighting the Kitchen
When a room isn’t bright enough, most people just exchange low-wattage bulb for high-wattage versions. Wattage, however, is simply a measurement of how much electricity a lamp consumes. There are other aspects of lightbulbs that you should pay attention to for lighting in the kitchen.
• Lumens per watt. The light output of a bulb is measured in lumens. If you aren’t satisfied with the light provided by the bulbs you have been using, use ones with more lumens per watt (lpw). You should be able to find this information on the bulb packaging.
• Candlepower. When you’re looking for intensity produced by a lamp, try to determine its candlepower (Cp). The more candela (units) associated with the lightbulb, the brighter it will be.
But when planning a suitable kitchen lighting design, you must take other factors into consideration, too. Before you do anything about buying lamps and fixtures, assess how you will use the kitchen in addition to the basic functions of cooking, eating, and cleaning up. Think about how you want it to feel – perhaps cool and efficient while you work but cozy while you dine.
Assess the reflectance levels in the room – the amount of light reflected from a colored surface, such as a tiled countertop or painted wall. Light colors and shiny surfaces are reflective; dark colors and matte surfaces are absorbent. For example, white reflects 80 percent of the light in a room, while black reflects only 4 percent. When selecting materials and colors, therefore, remember that a kitchen with light walls and cabinets and high-gloss countertops and flooring requires less light than one with dark or matte-finished surfaces and wood cabinetry.
Next, consider the size of the room. How high are the ceilings? Tall ceilings require brighter lights than low ceilings to dispel shadows. Light tends to bounce off low ceilings and walls, so there are fewer problems with shadows.
The number of windows in the room will also affect the kitchen’s lighting needs. Do the windows face the sunny south (resulting in bright light), or is the kitchen’s exposure directed toward the north (darker, requiring more artificial lighting) or somewhere in between?
A good example of "you can't have too much lighting," this brightly lit kitchen makes good use of recessed ceiling and task lights. But the large kitchen island pendants, which cast prismatic light and shadow on the ceiling and contribute to the ambient lighting, really make the difference (House Plan #198-1032).
Examine Your Activities
Make a list of everything that occurs in the kitchen on a daily basis. Besides typical kitchen duties, such as cooking meals and cleaning up, include your hobby or craft pursuits and anything else you do or would like to do in the kitchen, such as clipping coupons, reading the paper, or sewing. Consult other family members as well.
Devise an Informal Plan
Refer to your floor plan, and circle all activity centers: cooking and cleanup zones, baking center, garden and craft areas, and so on. Mark each circle with a G for general, or ambient, lighting; T for task lighting; A for accent lighting; and D for decorative lighting. Some places may require more than one. If you plan on using your kitchen table for small intimate dinners as well as paying the bills, for example, you might indicate A, G, and T.
This floor plan of the kitchen in a 4-bedroom, 2-bath Country style home shows the informal lighting layout indicated by circles and letters for general, task, decorative, and accent lighting (House Plan #142-1192).
Now you’re ready to place the general lighting. The rule for spacing ambient lights is to create a consistent spread of light. If the lighting breaks up into noticeable patterns, the sources are placed too far away. Recessed incandescent fixtures provide good general illumination and can be dimmed. You should place them 6 to 8 feet apart to provide the best light spread.
Note the placement of the recessed lights in this kitchen of a 3-bedroom, 2-bath contemporary Craftsman home. Situated at the four corners of the kitchen area and spaced 6 to 8 ft. apart, they provide excellent ambient, or general, lighting for the overall space of the kitchen (House Plan #104-1064).
In large kitchens you might try perimeter lighting. Plan for recessed fixtures aligned over the front edge of the counters to form a square-, L-, or U-shape pattern to conform to your cabinet layout. An alternative is to place recessed fixtures in the soffit area (if there is one) above the cabinets.
Here are the typical places in the kitchen that will need specific illumination.
A recessed down light (or two down lights 18 inches apart) provides adequate task lighting when installed in the ceiling or soffit above a sink.
Ranges and Cooktops
Most range hoods are equipped with fixtures that accommodate one or more 40- or 60-watt incandescent bulb or equivalent. Position any additional task light toward the front of the range to prevent glare, following the guidelines for lighting the sink area.
This island cooktop in a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath Country style Ranch home is well lit by four halogen lightbulbs in the sleek, modern stainless-steel vent hood that seems to hover over it. Note also the pendant lights over the peninsula eating bar and the recessed lights in the ceiling (House Plan #106-1281)
Under-cabinet lighting is ideal for countertops. Mount fixtures as close to the front of the cabinets as possible to prevent reflected glare. Choose from slim energy-efficient fluorescents, mini track lights, recessed halogen or LED lights, or low-voltage linear systems.
This countertop in a 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath luxury European style home exhibits a great application of task lighting. The under-cabinet-mounted lights brightly illuminate work surfaces and prevent shadows (House Plan 198-1032).
Peninsulas and Counters with Upper Cabinets
In a small kitchen, the general lighting fixture over the counter will have to double as a task light. If you have the space, recess or surface-mount fixtures 20 inches apart, centered over the counter. Use 75-watt or equivalent reflector floodlights or miniature low-voltage pendants.
Islands or Booths
One or more decorative pendants are suitable for use. Installed with dimmer, these lights provide atmosphere perfect for dining. Figure on a total of about 120 watts incandescent to light a booth.
A pair of large decorative pendants hang over this kitchen island in a brand-new (no refrigerator yet) 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath European Country style home. The beautiful pendants provide not ony task lighting for the island surface but decorative lighting as well – and actually become a focal point of the kitchen (House Plan #141-1188).
In a kitchen with a conventional 8-foot-high ceiling, install a fixture so that its bottom is 27 to 36 inches above the table. Raise it 3 inches for every additional foot of ceiling height. With a chandelier, consider the height of the backs of the dining room chairs when deciding how high to place it. Place the fixture higher for tall ladder back chairs and lower for short captain’s chairs. Bulbs totaling 200 to 300 watts are sufficient to light most tables.
The elegant five-light chandelier over this dining table in a 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath luxury Texas-style home plan sits at just the right height over the table surface as it hangs from the 9-ft. tray ceiling. Accent lights in the glass-front upper cabinets behind the table illuminate collectibles and stemware (House Plan #161-1049).
The right lighting in the kitchen is so important. The best way to learn about your options firsthand is to visit lighting showrooms. You can often take advantage of free in-store consultations. Alter all, you need to do the planning and fixture selection right – the first time!