How to Plan Kitchen Lighting
In a space with many uses, you need lighting that’s versatile and practical. Here’s expert advice on how to get it right
We asked three experts to walk us through the process of planning kitchen lighting.
Professional advice from: Clinton Patey of The Kitchen Partners; Cat Hoad of Absolute Project Management; Emma Merry of Emma Merry Styling
Beginning your kitchen project? Read How to Start a Kitchen Renovation
Kitchen design is all about zones, and your lighting plan could help you to define different areas.
“A great starting point is to work through all the uses of the space,” Emma Merry says. “Will it be used for cooking, breakfast on the run, entertaining, office work or school homework?”
“Typically, the sink, hob and main preparation areas need the best task lighting,” Clinton Patey says. “Other areas will need to be lit, but not necessarily to the same level.”
As a good place to start, he also recommends separating the island and the other worktop areas. “Pendant lights over an island not only look stylish, they can be functional when needed, too. If these can be dimmed, then that can also create mood lighting, which is nice if the island has a breakfast bar seating area.”
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There are three main types of lighting that apply to kitchen design. “In practically every kitchen lighting scheme, we’d aim to include task, accent and ambient lighting,” Cat Hoad says.
Task lighting is direct light that illuminates an area where you perform specific tasks. In the kitchen, that might be food preparation. Accent lighting picks out details, while ambient light is the overall illumination in the room.
“Task lighting will almost certainly be needed over worktop areas,” Cat says, “but we’d consider providing it for appliances you’re likely to use them a lot, too. We’d usually suggest light strips under wall cabinets, pendants over the island and maybe directable downlights or wall lights.”
If you’re totally redesigning your kitchen, it’s crucial to think about lighting early on. “Personally, I’d consider lighting from the outset,” Clinton says. “Most kitchen planners will include wall unit lights and undercounter/plinth lights in their designs, but can also give advice on other lighting choices.”
Consulting an electrician is also sensible when selecting lights. “They’re an excellent source of information and can give you guidance on the correct number, position and wattage,” Clinton says. “Many lighting stores will also offer a free lighting planning service, so they can be good for advice, too.”
More: How to Draw Up a Timetable for Your Kitchen Renovation
Most kitchens today perform more than one function. “Almost all the kitchens we design have other activities going on in them and aren’t in a dedicated room,” Cat says.
This means it’s important to consider the lighting with the whole space in mind. “In the dining area, you want controllable, soft lighting; in a study or snacking area, brighter focal lighting will probably be required,” Cat says.
You also need to make sure the lighting works as a whole. “Consider things such as the alignment of lights throughout, so downlights line up nicely for example,” she adds.
If the kitchen is a completely separate space, providing ample lighting for the whole room is your priority. “Factor in how much natural light there is,” Cat advises. “There’s often less natural light than if the kitchen were part of a combined open living area.”
More: How to Design an Open-plan Kitchen Layout
If you’re placing pendant lights over an island, think about how the island or table is going to be used. “If there’s going to be lots of messy prep, make sure the pendants are raised out of the splash zone,” Cat says. If they’re mainly there to supply ambient light, they can hang lower, she says, “though not where anyone’s going to be walking underneath them or standing up into them”.
Choose the style and colour of the shade carefully, too. “A large, dark-toned or opaque shade can feel intrusive if it’s hung too low,” Cat says.
“We like decorative pendants over work surfaces, but not so close they’re going to get splattered with cooking ingredients,” she adds. “Pendants can also work really well in period houses in the middle of the room in the position of the ceiling rose, or where it would have been.”
You certainly can, depending on how the space will be used, but specific considerations apply in kitchens. “Consider the practicality of the light,” Cat says. “It shouldn’t include materials that will deteriorate or stain in humid conditions. If it’s likely to get splashed with water or oil, is it easy enough to clean?”
If you want to include freestanding lights in your kitchen, there are safety regulations to consider, too, including the proximity of the light to water sources and ensuring there are no trip hazards from trailing flexes. “Freestanding lights can be a good option, though,” Cat adds, “for instance in a listed building, where recessed or fitted wall and ceiling lights might not be allowed.”
If the kitchen is used as a study area and you can plug a lamp into a work surface without having any cable trailing across cooking areas, that’s also useful.
The tone of a white bulb is definitely a detail you’ll need to consider. “Typically, warm white works best in the kitchen, as it gives you a softer light,” Clinton says. “Cool white tends to mimic natural light, so it’s best used in dark areas where there’s a shortage of daylight.”
Clinton recommends multiple switches with dimmers to create different lighting moods in distinct areas, depending on what they’re used for. “Creating separate lighting zones will help with not ‘over-lighting’ the space,” he says.
Cat agrees. “We generally have all lights in a kitchen on a dimmer switch, so the brightness can be controlled,” she says. “This is especially useful if there’s a dining or entertaining area adjoining, or if the kitchen worktop doubles as an office or study space, which is increasingly the case.”
If you simply want to improve the lighting in your kitchen, rather than design a whole new scheme, begin by speaking to an electrician to get a sense of what’s possible and what it might cost.
“Adding pendant lights over the island with a dimmer switch would be an excellent start,” Clinton says. “Upgrading existing spotlights and under-cabinet lights to the latest LEDs would also be good.”
Rechargeable strip lights are worth considering in areas where you have no lighting and can’t easily get lights fitted. “These can have motion sensors incorporated, so will only come on when needed and will last much longer before they need recharging,” Clinton says. “They’re really effective in larder cupboards, where they can come on when the doors are opened.”
“There’s a common misconception that the more lights the better,” Clinton says. “It can be quite simple to create effective lighting by just making some sensible choices from the start. Expensive and complicated lighting systems are not necessary.”
Emma agrees. “Don’t overdo it,” she says. “Spotlights should be used like expensive perfume: sparingly.” She recommends there’s a function attached to where each spot is placed. “One spot above the fridge and kettle, so you can see exactly how much milk to add to your tea; a further spot above your oven,” she says. “Simply adding a row of spotlights in a kitchen is overkill and can give the effect of a hospital waiting room.”
What tips do you have for lighting a kitchen? Share them in the Comments.