Bright ideas: How to light your kitchen

The secret to successful kitchen lighting is creating a variety of moods at different times of day, says Sally Storey.

Kitchen lighting, particularly in large kitchen-breakfast rooms, needs to be the most flexible scheme in a house. It makes sense to approach a large kitchen as three different spaces: the kitchen, the dining table and the living area.

A grid of lights in the ceiling means it’s really hard to create a distinct atmosphere in each zone, so, instead, employ washes of light on the walls and art, atmospheric or intimate pools of light over specific elements and strong task lighting on work surfaces. Dimmers are essential to set these moods, but you don’t want more than four as a larger bank just becomes confusing.

A simple control system—I use Lutron or Rako – is definitely a way to overcome this and, these days, the functionality is so much better that it doesn’t need to be overly complicated. I tend to include four lighting scenes in kitchens that are preset: daytime, casual supper, more formal dining and minimal night lights for TV watching – these give the perfect balance.

Architectural lighting

kitchen lighting

Setting low-watt lights into the sides of a window gives the impression of candlelight, while some directional light on artworks reflects and becomes additional countertop lighting

I like to use a very low watt narrow beam to uplight both sides of a window or windows. Setting it into the window reveal gives the impression of candlelight at night time. If you’ve got French windows in the room leading out into the garden, consider adding some lights to the immediate area outside – it helps to draw the eyes and enhances the feeling of space when the curtains are open.

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Lighting an island

This island is often a focus of the kitchen that tends to divide the space between the working kitchen and the living or entertaining area. As a result, it’s a good place to include a decorative lighting element, such as a row of statement pendants. They will set the tone and the mood of the room and can be supplemented with more practical lighting. Also, unlike a dining table that you might want to move for a larger party, over-island pendants won’t get in the way. Add some downlights in between the pendants to ensure that you have good task lighting on the work surface below and put them on a separate circuit so you can turn up the task element, but dim the pendants for ambience.

Another way of lighting the island – especially one that has a breakfast-bar element to it – is to add a little LED strip below the overhang. It’s a trick employed by hotels and bars and throws light on the stools which can be particularly effective if they are brightly-coloured. Equally, some kitchen islands stand on legs so another technique would be to put a strip around the bottom edge that makes it look as if the island is floating above the floor. It adds another element of warmth and soft light to the room.

Counter tops

Grids of symmetrical positioned downlights often only light the floor and not the task areas. Small, flat under-cabinet lights are an ideal alternative as they ensure the best shadow-free light in the area where you do most of the work. A more contemporary look would be to fit a linear LED strip under the cabinets. Further task lighting can be introduced through using small downlights such as Polespring LEDs.

Position these above the edges of the counter top and angled across to create glare-free lighting; alternatively angle them on the cabinets – the light will be diffused down the cabinet doors, but will help to illuminate the insides when open. Using some directional light on artwork is another good technique as it reflects off the paintings and becomes additional countertop lighting.

Lighting around the cooker

kitchen lighting

Downlights set into the space behind a cooker create a sense of drama

Cookers that are recessed into a chimney space provide a good spot for waterproof downlights set flush in the plasterwork. Ours are safe enough to use in a shower, so are totally sealed and wipeable – critical in the space above a cooking area. Two or three of them, positioned quite close to the back wall, work well to create drama out of splashback tiles or glass.

If there’s a mantelpiece or shelf above the cooker, I sometimes like to use a warm LED strip such as the Contour HD24 which has a Tungsten-equivalent light that washes over any decorative plates or sculptures.

Glass-fronted cabinets and open shelves

I love lighting glassware by placing a strip at the back of a shelf as the light bounces off the back wall and the glassware is silhouetted by light from behind. In my kitchen, I’ve backlit the shelves from above and below so they look like they’re floating off the wall – it means that there’s one less need for a downlight.

Equally, don’t forget the space above the cabinets if the room has very tall ceilings, as here you can put some uplights that, again, reduce the number of downlights required.

Dining area

For a softer light, wall lights work well here – be they modern up-and-down lights or something more traditional. I also like to use a narrow-beam downlight to focus on the centrepiece of the table. Either side of this, I’d use two wider-beam downlights to create enough light for homework or reading the paper. Then, I might add some table lamps and, if there’s a dresser with a display, this is another opportunity to introduce a further light source by running a linear LED either vertically down the insides of the dresser or horizontally across the shelves. It introduces a soft glow to the room.

The best approach is to ensure there are more layers of light all around the room and less lights in the ceiling—that way you can create pockets of mood and atmosphere easily.

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