How to Choose a Kitchen Lighting Scheme

Sally Story explains how to get the best out of kitchen living with a well-planned lighting design
by Sally Story
26th November 2012

Of all the rooms in the house, the kitchen needs to have the most flexible lighting scheme to reflect the wide range of functions it must fulfill. Kitchen lighting needs to adapt from a bright, general light for the day, to a level that’s suitable for the children’s tea and homework at dusk, and intimate light for dining in the evening. Overall, you need to have good general lighting, good task lighting and mood lighting.

General lighting

The term general lighting refers to the overall illumination of a room, and it plays the role of daylight – this means it’s particularly important in north-facing kitchens or small rooms with poor natural light. In a kitchen, general light should be as close to daylight as possible, so that you can tell if food is cooked properly, or if raw food is fresh. General light can include direct and indirect (reflected) light sources – for example, central pendant lights, ceiling-mounted fittings, wall lights, downlights, and uplights.

Recessed lights – such as the Double Trim with low glare AR70 Halospot lamps – placed at intervals in the ceiling are a good option, as they light the workspace with a bright light for day and can be dimmed for mood lighting at night. A single, central pendant light – often the only source of general light in unmodernised kitchens – isn’t the best choice for general lighting as it tends to leave the corners of the room in shadow. However, pendant lights do work well hung over a dining table for mood lighting, or if they’re used to highlight a specific kitchen feature.

Task lighting

Good task lighting in the kitchen is essential to help you with food preparation and cooking. Any task lighting should be fairly bright and positioned so it doesn’t cast shadows over your working area. Task lights include directional lights, such as downlights and spotlights – under-cupboard lighting, which casts a pool of light over the worksurface, is ideal.You can use a directional downlight, such as the Polestar, to great effect to bounce light off fitted cupboards, accentuating colour and creating the illusion of more space.

Mood lighting

When you’re choosing general lighting for the kitchen, if you opt for designs that you can dim you’ll have mood lighting in an instant. However, it’s also worth considering lights that pick out various kitchen features – then when you dim or turn off the general lighting, these lights will change the entire look of the kitchen. For example, if you fit Sirolo lights to the plinth of a central island they’ll throw pools of light out over the floor. And if you fit light strips to the legs of kitchen units – for example Clickstrip – it’ll look as if your furniture is floating.

Highlighting shelves and cupboard doors will again help turn a daytime kitchen into a place to relax over dinner in the evening. And lastly, experiment with coloured lighting – for example, an illuminated splashback that turns from one shade to another. But be careful – a colourful light that’s too bright will spoil the mood.

Top Tips

  • Exposed light fittings collect oily grime from cooking – always opt for recessed or semi-recessed fittings if possible
  • If your kitchen has a high ceiling, fit uplighters to the top of your kitchen cabinets for general light – this will also reduce the number of downlights you need
  • If you’re investing in a new kitchen, look out for items that come with built-in lighting, such as cooker hoods or cupboards with lights that are triggered when the doors are opened

Main image: This kitchen features a mix of lighting by John Cullen, including under- and over-cabinet spotlights for atmosphere

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