Kitchen Planning: How to Light Your Kitchen for Maximum Impact
Combine practical lighting with fun features and wow washes for a kitchen that’s stylish, functional and relaxing
Always remember that the exact colours and colour renderings (how the light will make other colours appear) of light fittings vary hugely by manufacturer, so always test out a light source before you buy – you don’t want a tomato to look like a plum!
A common mistake people make is to overcomplicate their lighting. Often, keeping it simple is the most effective and elegant solution. But simple doesn’t have to mean boring.
Here, the work surfaces are lit with precisely positioned spotlights, perfect for task lighting. The ceiling coffer lighting demonstrates how artificial light can be used to complement natural daylight. Sections of the ceiling have been lowered, then hidden, low-profile linear LED fittings have been used to wash the ceiling. This effect requires planning at an early stage, as the ceiling needs to be constructed to house the fittings.
Even at night, the colour temperature of these light fittings – between 3000-4000K – would make the space feel as if it’s filled with daylight. Natural daylight can be both cooler and warmer than this depending on the time of day, but 3000-4000K is a comfortable general approximation that will give a similar feel.
In this kitchen, the interest is in the low-level lighting, which provides a warm glow and takes your eye down through the room.
If you’re considering this effect, take a careful look at the layout of your kitchen. It works best if there’s a continuous line to follow; it’s much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve this seamless look if the kickstrip is interrupted by a dishwasher, fridge or other appliances. It also works best if there’s a small down stand (overhang) at the front of the units behind which the light fitting can sit discreetly.
LED fittings require a driver. Drivers have a similar purpose to transformers: they step down the mains power to the voltage required by the fitting. Drivers have a maximum distance they can be sited from the fittings they drive, so driver locations and access for maintenance will need to be considered at an early stage.
In rooms with tall ceilings, rather than keeping sightlines low, it’s a great idea to accentuate the height with uplighting. A wash of light delivers an even coverage across a surface from a concealed location. A simple, linear light placed on top of the upper bank of cabinets is great for this striking effect. It’s a very flattering light that has all the glamour of concealed lighting.
The linear, blue, under-unit lighting is an interesting accent, although as it’s a key functional area, it will need to be supplemented with some white light as well, separately circuited. The pendants, meanwhile, visually link the kitchen through to the lounging area next door.
See more on concealed lighting
If you have a white kitchen and want to add a touch of colour without making any permanent changes, or just want to jazz up your room a little, coloured lighting might be the way to go. It adds a layer of interest and totally changes the feel of a room – perfect for the transition from dinner to drinks, for example. Remember, though, that a little colour goes a long way, so use it sparingly.
The use of colour can be quite divisive – people tend to either love it or hate it – but done right, it can really make a space sing. The cheapest route is to use LEDs of a single colour, which come in green, blue, red or amber. This is straightforward and doesn’t require any additional cabling apart from power.
If you want the lights to be different colours, or want the ability to change colours, it’s best to use a lighting control system. This requires fittings that contain a mixture of red, green, blue and sometimes white LED chips. The lighting control system is able to set each of the chips to different levels, creating a complete spectrum to choose from or cycle through. This will need a different cabling structure and equipment and is probably a job for a professional.
One of the great things about venturing out of the conventional with your lighting design is that you can use it to zone your areas, and create different ambiences in each.
Here, the playful and glamorous dining area feels quite separate from the functional working zone thanks to the statement pendant lighting. Downlighting in the kitchen area is perfect for prep, and the combination of the two enables the mood to be changed at the flick of a switch – a lighting control system can throw the dining area into entertaining mode, with the functional lighting in the cooking area dimmed right down.
If you don’t want to go quite as flamboyant as this kitchen, you can pinch some of the same zoning ideas and apply them with a little more moderation.
Check out 10 ways to dazzle with cluster lights
If you’re planning on redesigning your kitchen, then you have a lot more options open to you, provided you plan far enough in advance. Working your lighting into the fabric of your kitchen is a great way achieve subtle elegance, and have a scheme that really panders to your every need.
In this kitchen, strong under-lighting of the island makes it seem as though it’s floating, and the backlighting behind the shelves brings out the texture of the stone and adds a welcome vertical contrast. The lighting really enhances the bespoke feel of this kitchen.
If you plan early, you’ll have a variety of options, including under-lighting units, building lighting into shelves or worktops, and dropping the ceiling to create a coffer. Discuss these options with your kitchen or lighting designer early on, as you’ll need to plan out a number of technical details, such as how you’re going to mount the lights, where the cables are going to go and where you are going to locate the control gear, such as the drivers for LED fittings.
If you have an awkward space with no obvious points for pendants or spotlighting, don’t worry. Even the most challenging kitchen layouts can be worked around. In this kitchen, the track lighting and the small fittings mounted on the side of the cabinets by the range are particularly effective in delivering light to the working areas. The pendants, meanwhile, have longer chains to provide sufficient light to the island.
Early consideration needs to be given for lighting like this, as the transformers are generally fairly chunky and need to be fairly close to the light fixtures due to voltage drop restrictions. But the point to take away is that almost anything can be done with a little creativity.
Building up layers of light brings out the richness of finishes and creates interesting sightlines, drawing your eye through the space.
This kitchen features low-level LED accent lighting shining across the floor, under-cabinet lighting providing supplementary task lights, and high-output downlights delivering shadow-free task lighting to the main work surfaces. Other options for layering the light include uplighting and pendants in the dining area.
What does the lighting in your kitchen look like? Does it work well for you? Share your thoughts and photos in the Comments below.