From the beams of warm reading lamps to coolly efficient spotlights, good lighting makes all the difference in helping shape tasks throughout your house. The requirements for kitchen illumination, as in other rooms in your home, can be broken down into three basic categories: ambient, task, and accent. Rather than viewing each of these groups as separate light fixtures independent of each other, it’s much more productive to approach lighting as layers or an overall collection. Taken together, effective lighting components help create a workable and enjoyable home environment.
Ambient, or general, lighting is typically accomplished by a central source that provides overall illumination. This type of lighting should create a comfortable level of brightness that is generated from a central ceiling-mounted fixture, recessed lighting, or track lighting. If recessed lighting is intended to be the main light source for the kitchen, the American Lighting Association (ALA) recommends it be placed around the perimeter of the room, approximately 30” from the wall.
Task lighting, as the name indicates, serves the purpose of lighting a specific region of a kitchen for a certain job performed in that area of the room. Recessed, track, under-cabinet, or pendant fixtures can all be given the duty of task lighting, with the location incorporated into the overall room design based on workspace.
Accent lighting adds visual interest and is based on focal points and notable design features in the room, which may include a piece of art, an exposed brick wall, open suspended shelving, a unique cabinet front, or any other component that warrants notice. Accent lighting is an important detail that helps in the creation of a kitchen that truly shines, rather than one that only functions. This type of lighting also acts as the icing on the cake in a layered approach to lighting design.
Among the numerous types of fixtures and mounts that are well suited to a kitchen lighting plan are ceiling mounted, wall mounted, pendant, chandelier, track, rail, recessed, and under-cabinet options.
Tips on placement:
To make a room feel more spacious or dramatic, lighting can be added to the areas above and below your cabinets. LED strips can be used to illuminate the toe-kick and cove areas.
Lighting that illuminates a kitchen table typically falls under the general lighting category, and something moderate in size will suffice based on the size of the table. The ALA recommends that a pendant fixture, for example, should be mounted 30” above the tabletop; if the table is round, an ideal fixture will be 12” narrower than the diameter of the table. For square and rectangular tables, a fixture that is 12” narrower than the smallest side is suggested.
Over islands and breakfast bars, a combination of task and general lighting provides an effective lighting solution to accommodate the various activities that occur there. In accordance with the ALA’s guidelines, the bottom of the shade of a pendant fixture should fall approximately 66” above the floor to allow unobstructed visibility across the room and under the shade. Where there is island seating and the shades are not deep, a pendant can hang a few inches lower at 60” above the floor. The ALA also suggests that one pendant for every 2’ of counter space is appropriate, with additional fixtures to be added, if they are particularly narrow.
Under-cabinet lighting is best installed toward the front of the underside of the cabinet, rather than at the wall, creating better distribution of light on the countertop.
Dimming systems can be incorporated to add drama and contribute to a certain ambience when dining or entertaining. Dimming systems will also assist in cost-savings when a lower level of light is sufficient.
Once you’ve made your selections and your layered lighting design is in place, you’ll then be faced with choice of the right light bulb. A little research can help you find the option to set your desired tone, whether that is warm white, bright neutral, or cool daylight. Find more information at www.energystar.gov or www.americanlightingassoc.com,where you can access ENERGY STAR’s Choose a Lightbulb Guide.