The ins and outs of kitchen lighting

Last modified

March 11, 2021

There are various schools and theories to lighting out there, and the proper lighting of kitchens is one of the most overlooked and underutilized means of fully expressing, both functionally and aesthetically, many  kitchen projects. Too many kitchens look dull and dingy and have a lot of shadows and are generally dreary and uninviting almost solely due to poor lighting. There are a lot of things that can be wrong with a kitchen. Lighting really should not be one of them. The basic overriding problem of most kitchens is not enough lighting, and not enough types of lighting. 

There are 3 basic types of lighting

Direct  Lighting

That’s the lighting that emanates from the ceiling. The worst case scenario in kitchen lighting  is the single fixture in the middle of the kitchen ceiling. This is typically a four foot florescent light that puts out a pasty blue-ish light that tends to washout colors and makes everything somewhat flat, lifeless and sterile. That single light fixture also creates shadows that cause eye strain and eye fatigue… which admittedly isn’t that big of a deal for folks who don’t use their kitchen much. At the very least good direct lighting is an essential component of any kitchen remodel. The ideal is recessed can lights which can be a little pricey and a little messy to install. But for the more budget conscious consumer, inexpensive track lighting can be used for a fraction of the cost of recessed can lighting.

There is no such thing as too much light in a kitchen.People fear that too much light will be overwhelming. Where there are typically 4 recessed can lights in a kitchen ceiling there should typically really be 8 lights.. not because that it should be that  bright but because the lighting should be as even as possible and the only way to achieve even lighting is to have as many direct  light sources as possible.  It is rare that that much light is needed and that is why all kitchen lighting should be on a dimmer. “ Over-light and Dim” is the best lighting plan not only for functionality but for the overall aesthetic sense of a kitchen. At night all the lights are on but dimmed all the way down giving a warm inviting almost magical glow… the feeling is eternal dusk; no glare, just a warm coziness akin to a warm fire in a fire place… And when it is time to clean, or do a bunch of prep work or a huge cooking project, or bright light is needed to just wake up, you have the light you need.

Task Lighting

Typically this is the lighting that emanates  from the underside of the upper cabinets which has two functions: 1, It compensates for the shadows that are created by the upper cabinets against the back half of the countertops. 2. It creates lighting to make the backsplash absolutely pop. This task lighting should also be on a dimmer so that it can act as night light; that inviting warm glow that safely facilitates that late night snack or midnight drink of water without interrupting anyone’s circadian rhythms.

Accent Lighting

This would be that soft glow of warm light that glows from atop the upper cabinets. That lighting can also be used as a night light. Ideally this lighting is turned on and off by a photoelectric cell, so that he kitchen always geeked warm and welcoming regardless of the hour. Accent igniting can also be at the  toe-kick of the base cabinets. Another use of accent lighting is lighting behind glass cabinet doors.