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How to Light a Kitchen

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

How much light is enough for a kitchen, and how should you place the lights in your kitchen to get the most out of them? As a rule, kitchens need more light than any other room in the home due to the kinds of activities that go on in them, says Blue Door Realty. The only place in the home that comes close to the lighting required in a kitchen is the top of a desk.

Light intensity in rooms is measured in foot-candles. Based on the recommendations of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), the different areas of a kitchen should have the following levels of illumination: kitchen floor (5 foot-candles), countertop (50 foot-candles), kitchen sink (30 foot-candles), and cooking surface (30 foot-candles).

But lighting is not just about the right amount of illumination; where kitchen lights are also placed matters. For instance, the correct level of illumination in a kitchen will not mean much if those lights can be obstructed by the people inside the kitchen. If this happens, shadows will be cast on the very surface the light is supposed to illuminate.

This is why when lighting your kitchen, you should pay attention to the amount of illumination, as well as the aesthetics and the position of those lights. Lighting a kitchen correctly is not that difficult; you must understand the basic lighting concepts.

What are the important principles to follow when designing the lighting scheme for your kitchen?

The different levels of lighting in a kitchen

To light the space adequately, the lighting in your kitchen should be layered. Three lighting levels are needed in a standard kitchen: ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. What does each layer of lighting do, and how do you arrange the lights at every critical level in your kitchen?

  • Ambient lights: These are the main light sources for a kitchen. Ambient lights are the highest layer of lighting in the kitchen and are supposed to cast light evenly across the entire kitchen. They make it possible to navigate the kitchen freely. Examples of ambient light include chandeliers, recessed lighting, and flush mounts.

  • Task lights: Task lights light up parts of the kitchen where there are shadows. They are for areas where the focus is needed, work surfaces and inside kitchen cabinets. With adequate task lighting, such as puck lights and strip lights, you can safely chop food, prepare and cook meals or wash the dishes. They also make it easy to spot ingredients on the shelves.

  • Accent lights: These types of lighting are decorative above anything else. They add emphasis to the interesting features of the kitchen and help to set the mood or create the right atmosphere. Accents lights can cross over into the functions of ambient or task lighting.

How to light different parts of your kitchen

Where should you use ambient, task, or accent lighting in your kitchen? Here is how to light the key lighting areas in your kitchen.

The kitchen island

The right lighting scheme for the kitchen island depends on whether your island features an integrated cooktop and workspace or if it is only a place for hanging out.

  • Hang-out kitchen islands: These kitchen islands do not require elaborate lighting. A set of mini pendant lights will suffice.

  • Task-oriented kitchen islands: For these, you need a combo of recessed downlights and pendant lights. Pendants should be 30-36” above the island with 30-32” of space between them. You may also use linear suspension lighting for a task-oriented kitchen island, especially if your home has a high ceiling.

Under-cabinet lighting

Installing lights under the cabinet will help to dispel the shadows cast by ambient lights. Under-cabinet lighting cost-effectively illuminates poorly lit areas. They direct light exactly where it is needed, thereby reducing waste. The two main options you have for under-cabinet lights are:

  • Strip lights: Strip lights are great for lighting the inside of kitchen cabinets due to their versatility. They are particularly effective for low cabinets that get hardly any light.

  • Puck lights: Puck lights are like mini spotlights. They produce a narrow beam of light which is excellent for illuminating workspaces directly under cabinets. Battery-powered puck lights dispense of the need to run electrical wires.

The dining area

The lighting should define the dining area as a separate zone from the rest of the kitchen. It should be able to create the right mood or atmosphere in the area and draw attention to focal points of interest. One low-handing pendant light is a great way to illuminate the dining area. You may also want to add a statement piece to the area, perhaps a chandelier. Adding dimmers to the dining area lets you alter your mood.

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