The Art of Kitchen Lighting Design

    Remember your first apartment, with the fluorescent ring light — or if you were lucky a few straight fluorescent lights in the middle of the kitchen — that never quite stopped blinking? Then there was your first home, a real fixer-upper. The kitchen lighting was a step up from the fluorescent ring with the addition of a bare bulb pendant over the sink. But you still had to stand in just the right spot to chop the veggies without a shadow of your head making the distance between the knife and your fingers a real gamble. 

    Now as you look to start a renovation of your current kitchen, getting the lighting right is an important aspect you don’t want to overlook. The days of dodging shadows on the counter from overhead while you try to prepare a meal are over.

    Today’s kitchen lighting design considers function and aesthetics to bring light to your kitchen when, where, and how you want it.

    Modern Kitchen Lighting Is Layered Lighting

    Kitchen lighting design has changed so much over the past decade, as homes have switched largely from incandescent and fluorescent to LED. LED does mean cooler, more energy efficient lighting, but it also means lighting that is more directional. Instead of the 360 bombardment of yesterday’s incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, LED lighting offers a more nuanced approach to your kitchen lighting. It offers more opportunities for a layered approach.

    When looking to make the most of your kitchen redesign, there are three types of lighting that should factor into your plans to provide the layers of lighting that, when done right, bring together function and aesthetics seamlessly.

    • Recessed (ceiling) lights
    • Under cabinet lights
    • Pendant lights

    Recessed Kitchen Lighting for General Illumination


    Recessed lights in the ceiling are the standard choice for general illumination in the kitchen. Recessed fixtures are embedded in the ceiling and positioned so that they will illuminate walls (or wall cabinets) and flat surfaces with evenly diffused brightness. A good designer will consider the ceiling height and room size to determine the number of fixtures and the ideal placement throughout the kitchen.

    This is your base layer of lighting, great for navigating around the space and being able to see the whole room at a glance. 

    Free eBook: The Definitive Guide to Kitchen Design & Renovation Success

    Kitchen Task Lighting Considerations

    What about lighting for the spaces where you get things done in the kitchen? Under cabinet lights are the most commonly used form of task lighting. They are chosen and positioned to deliver a brightness level that will light work surfaces evenly at the countertops and eliminate shadows.  

    It is important to get this layer of the lighting design right. A good designer will listen to how you use the kitchen and help you position task lighting in all the areas where you are likely to need it at any given time.

    Decorative Yet Functional Kitchen Lighting

    kitchen lighting design


    In redesigning your kitchen, you are working hard to display your unique aesthetic. Pendant lights, in addition to their utility, contribute a decorative element that adds to the overall kitchen design. Whether your style is mid-century modern, coastal, French country, or anywhere in between, there is a pendant light to fit that style.

    Like a backsplash or a unique island countertop, pendants give the designer and client an opportunity to personalize the space with a "finishing touch."

    Achieving a Balanced Lighting Design in Your Kitchen

    The amount of light needed in different parts of the kitchen depends on the surface being lit.  Different materials have different properties, so you will want to pay attention to reflective qualities and color tones of the cabinets and countertops you’ve chosen for the new kitchen.  

    Free eBook: The Definitive Guide to Kitchen Design & Renovation Success

    The lighting plan should be designed to work specifically with that set of choices. For example, a glossy white marble countertop will need to have more subdued lighting so you are not squinting into the glare reflecting off the marble as you are trying to get dinner ready. On the other hand, a dark quartz countertop with a honed (dulled) surface would need brighter lighting to bring out the unique characteristics in the material.


    Whatever the overall brightness and wattage chosen for the fixtures in the space, dimmers are another way to control the amount of light in any area of the kitchen at one time. If you just need enough light to grab a midnight snack, dimmed under cabinet lights will probably be all you need. Or if you are celebrating an occasion with a bottle of wine and a charcuterie board, some romantic low pendant lighting over the island will serve the mood much better than those old glaring fluorescents.

    Unifying the Kitchen Lighting Design

    By paying close attention to the layers of lighting needed in your kitchen, a good designer will create a space that can be used for every reason you step into your kitchen, whether you are prepping for a meal, finishing a proposal for work, or helping the kids with a school project. 

    When recessed and task lighting, along with pendant lighting are looked at as a whole, they will illuminate not just your time spent in the kitchen, but the beauty of every surface and material you have crafted into your new kitchen design.

    Learn about how to approach a kitchen design and remodeling project by downloading The Definitive Guide to Kitchen Design & Remodeling SuccessIf you are considering a home renovation, please feel free to schedule a home renovation discovery session with Gilday today.

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