Light Up Your Kitchen

House PlansKitchens today are more than places to prepare meals. The room now ranks as the heart of the home plan and center of family activity.

“The kitchen has become the hub of the house,” says Barry Levett, owner and president of House of Lights in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. “Families today truly live in the kitchen. Kids study there; parents pay the bills and write checks there; everyone reads the morning paper in the kitchen; families eat their meals there.”

Such multi-tasking kitchens demand equally versatile lighting. A single 100-watt fixture centered in the kitchen’s ceiling is no longer sufficient.

“I see people every day who are saddled with one light in the middle of the kitchen,” says Geoff Dent, president of Dent Electrical Supply in Danbury, Connecticut. “Most of the work in a kitchen is done around the perimeter of the room. This means that, with only one central fixture, you’re working in your own shadow. To make matters worse, the fixture is usually undersized, and we all need more light as we get older.”

The Right Light for the Job
The best lighting for your kitchen depends on the size and complexity of the room. Small kitchens may require only a central ceiling fixture and task lighting tucked under a cabinet. More elaborate kitchens will demand a blend of general, task, and accent lighting, according to the American Lighting Association.

“Lights have specific functions, whether it’s to accent a specific area, create general ambience, focus on a task, or wash a wall,” says Monty Gilbertson, CLC, manager and buyer for Lighting Design by Wettsteins in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. “You are seeing all types incorporated into the kitchen.”

Determine what you want the lights to do. Functional fixtures provide well-diffused general lighting that’s perfect for moving about the room safely, peering inside drawers and cabinets, and performing chores. While large, surface fluorescents have been popular in the past, the latest looks revolve around recessed lights and low voltage, industrial styles, often with a metal finish.

House PlansThe latest looks revolve around low-voltage, industrial style. (Photo courtesy of The American Lighting Association)

Recessed downlights assure even illumination. Installed over the stove and sink areas, they create adequate task lighting for cooking and cleaning. “When you add new lights over the sink or stove, the whole area comes alive,” says Levett.

The kitchen table is another family focal point. A decorative pendant, operating with a dimmer control, will provide sufficient lighting. “People want to make a statement by hanging a pendant, then backing it up with task lighting at the counter,” says Gilbertson.

Pendant lighting installed over islands or peninsulas gets the job done. “Light over the island is not only functional, but beautiful,” says Dent. “Even people who use recessed lights throughout the kitchen can introduce some color and style over the island. I personally prefer several smaller pendants.”

Consider a decorative fixture with three lights. “A trio over an island provides good light,” says Levett. “It breaks up the kitchen but you can still see through it.”

House PlansDecorative pendants illuminate the center island while task lighting over the counters and range ensure that no one gets left in the dark. (Photo courtesy of The American Lighting Association)

Make Sure You Have Enough Circuits
No matter how many lights you install in your kitchen, the American Lighting Association recommends circuiting them separately so the lighting is zoned. This allows you to create ambience by mixing the various lights you turn on. The easiest way to do this is when you are building your new house. Your electrical contractor can help you with this process.

“Lights above the cabinets should be soft and low-voltage,” suggests Gilbertson. “The light over the sink should have its own switch. Same with the lights over the island and those over counters. You will be pleased with the results.”

For more information about kitchen lighting, visit, the website of the American Lighting Association, a not-for-profit association of leading manufacturers, retail lighting showrooms, and sales representatives in the U.S. and Canada.

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