Kitchen lighting design

Place your lighting where it counts

It is important to plan your kitchen lighting design early on since the electrical wiring has to be installed before the drywall is done. If you don’t have a lighting plan you may incur additional expenses for running the wiring after the walls are completed. Task lighting in the kitchen is often overlooked. A new builder home usually has only one center light which does nothing to light the counter area. You need the light where you are working and eating.

It is important to plan your kitchen lighting design early on since the electrical wiring has to be installed before the drywall is done. If you don’t have a lighting plan you may incur additional expenses for running the wiring after the walls are completed. Task lighting in the kitchen is often overlooked. A new builder home usually has only one center light which does nothing to light the counter area. You need the light where you are working and eating.

There are five types of kitchen lighting fixtures to consider in the kitchen lighting design:

General lighting will light the entire kitchen but does not provide enough light for kitchen tasks. If you have enough pot lights over the counter these can also provide enough general lighting.

One or two hanging fixtures over an island can be considered general lighting when the counter lighting is not turned on. Consider having the island or center light on a dimmer switch for more flexibility.

Task lighting is directional lighting on those areas where you do most of the food prep work on the counters and over the stove and sink. If you have enough task lighting you do not need a center general light fixture. However if you have a large kitchen the task lighting will not be enough.

In a large kitchen there is no point in using recessed lighting as general lighting since you need a lot of pot lights in the place of one ceiling fixture. Pot lights will only light up a small area of the room and the general light fixture will spread the light around to a wide area.

If the light source is behind you the counter in front of you will be in your own shadow. The best way to achieve light on the counter is with 4” recessed pot lights installed 18 to 24 inches from the back wall. Space the lights about 3 ft apart over the counter areas.

If you can not include pot lights in your kitchen lighting design there are decorative task lights that attach to the upper cabinets to illuminate the counter below. If you choose these make sure the lights are far enough out to light up the first foot of counter space. It helps if these lights are adjustable to get the light where you need it.

Accent lighting is used to highlight features of the kitchen such as backsplash, evening lighting or decorative accents. Often called valance lighting it can be either florescent or halogen fixtures. It can be installed in an existing kitchen but you will either have to plug it in to a wall outlet or damage the backsplash to run the wiring.

If you want this kind of accent lighting in your new kitchen make sure you have the wiring and switches installed before the walls are refinished. Accent lighting is not task lighting since it mainly illuminates the back wall and counter, not the work area so it is not the focus of the kitchen lighting design.

Valance lighting under the upper cabinets is popular, however consider that it does not light the work surface, it only lights the backsplash. I consider it more decorative lighting, something you only use at night. It can also get very expensive since you also need to have a wood trim installed to match the cabinets so the lights will not be seen. I always advise the ceiling pot lights on a dimmer for full flexibility.

To reduce costs you can install kitchen track lighting instead of pot lights. Just remember it will lower the ceiling a bit and may visually compete with hanging fixtures in the same space.

If you don’t want  pot lights to be a part of your kitchen lighting design at least install a light over the sink if it is against the wall. A window will give you light during the day, however winter days are short and it gets dark before dinner time. Install the above sink light about 12″ from the wall or center in the bulkhead if there is one. Remember, any light coming from behind you does not count since it will create a shadow in front of you on the counter.

If you have an island this is where you can add some decorative lighting. There are many choices for style and price. If you only have one electrical point on the ceiling and you want several hanging lights consider a track system that you can customize to your taste.

You can choose the style of light and where to place them on the track. This way you get the look of individual hanging lights without the extra expense and mess of doing the additional electrical rough-ins.

Including some decorative lights in your kitchen lighting design will add style to the space.