Kitchen lighting – everything you need to know

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  • Create a well-planned kitchen lighting scheme that sets the mood for cooking, eating and entertaining

    A great kitchen lighting scheme has the power to transform an ordinary kitchen into the truly spectacular. Now that our kitchens are increasingly performing on a multifunctional level, the lighting plan must evolve to cater for dining, relaxing, office or homework and entertaining.

    Cleverly positioned lighting can also hide a multitude of sins. It can make a small kitchen appear larger, disguise awkward architecture or compensate for poor natural light.

    Follow these steps and you’re guaranteed to get your lighting right first time.

    Need more help? Read: How to plan a kitchen – your step-by-step guide to the perfect space

    How to plan your kitchen lighting

    Modern galley kitchen with feature pendant lighting

    Experts agree that the best time to install a new lighting scheme is way back at the planning stage, as you are signing off your kitchen drawings. Leave it until later and it becomes an afterthought with limited possibilities.

    Look at the areas of your kitchen plan and think about the activities that will happen in each space. Some spaces, such as food preparation zones, the kitchen sink and above the hob, will require task lighting, while others, such as the dining area, call for mood and accent lighting. If people are going to be chatting to you in the kitchen over a glass of wine while you’re cooking, you’ll want them to sit in a softer light so they can relax

    Research the types of kitchen lighting available, consider the size and layout of the kitchen and the amount of natural light it receives. Then work out whether you have the environment to incorporate the below options to create the perfect kitchen atmosphere for you.

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    Consider how to control your lighting

    After kitchen Vannozzi kitchen IH April p124

    As well as simple on/off switches, dimmer switches are great for creating a soft, ambient glow by decreasing power to the light source or better still with a wealth of light sources at your disposal and different functions to cater for, it is wise to consider a flexible control system.

    For the ultimate scene-setting device, today’s intelligent light systems allow you to create and recall pre-set light patterns at the touch of a button. Some systems can now be controlled via a smart phone, tablet or PC through the home’s WiFi allowing you to adjust the colour, brightness and type of beam that’s emitted.

    How to get the perfect fit

    If buying off the shelf, always employ a qualified electrician to ensure a safe and well-fitted installation. For best results, consult an interior designer or a specialist lighting designer who will have a vast knowledge of the many fixtures and fittings on offer, and how to get the best out of them. Most kitchen companies, including high-street brands, offer a professional lighting design service as part of the installation package.

    Know the different types of kitchen lighting

    Task lighting

    Task lighting refers to the brightest lights, which target the main working areas such as worktops, cooker and sink.

    Under-cupboard spots fitted directly above the hob, sink and chopping board will ensure bright, focused task lighting; make sure you position them as close to the front edge of the cupboard as possible, otherwise you’ll illuminate the back of the worktop only.

    There are lots of variations to choose from: Small, compact fluorescents or LED under-cupboard downlighters are slim enough to be recessed into the bottom of overhead units. Flexible LED strip lighting mounted on the underside of cupboards is another option. Or, ceiling-mounted lights, flush-fitted for a streamlined, modern look, with directional spots and the right beam width to create a focused light are a practical alternative.

    Mood lighting

    For wider mood lighting, start by looking at how much natural light comes into your kitchen, noting the number of windows and the direction in which they face. If the kitchen is multifunctional with a strong living element, it’s worth considering ambient illumination such as dimmable wall lights and eyeball lights (which can be moved around), as well as decorative systems, like shelf or feature lights.

    A rise-and-fall fixture above the table can be pulled down for a cosy candlelit supper or raised for everyday meals and other activities. If possible, make sure your lights are controlled separately so you can create different moods at the flick of a switch.

    To create mood lighting in relaxing zones, try wall lights and washers, which add a subtle form of background illumination. For high ceilings, uplighters on top of the kitchen cabinets will enhance the general light, while reducing the number of downlights you’ll need.

    Feature and accent lighting

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    Image credit: Fiona Walker-Arnott

    Another layer to your scheme can be accent or feature lighting that guides the eye and creates points of interest around the room – it also adds to the overall light level when combined with just ambient lighting such as a pendant over a table (see below).

    Accent lighting might consist of lighting on shelving, in cupboards or in niches. Lights built into the plinth of a central island or a single run of units gives a gentle wash of light across the floor to make the cabinetry look like it’s floating, while a run of LED lights under the rim of an island worktop makes this is an inviting space to be drawn to, especially if there are bar stools here.

    Feature lighting can refer to the fitting itself, which makes a statement whether on or off, or any interesting lighting, such as colour-changing systems, sparkling plinth lights or in-cupboard illumination, that adds an extra dimension but is not absolutely essential.


    A series of beautiful pendant lights or a fabulous single statement piece above a dining table will help differentiate the dining space from the kitchen’s work zones. Styles range from old-school, industrial shapes in shiny, on-trend copper, to striking ceramics in translucent hues.

    Hang pendants low over the table for a feeling of intimacy or position them high over kitchen islands. This not only provides a great source of light, it also adds interest, breaking up the austere lines of cabinets.

    For added flexibility, try fitting pendants with a dimmer switch. Your island can then have a double role as a bright area for working, or a place to gather with friends with softer, low-level lighting.

    Natural light

    More inspo! Kitchen lighting ideas

    Don’t underestimate the benefits of natural light in your kitchen. Skylights, French doors and windows will help flood your kitchen with daylight. This will then bounce off surfaces, giving you a bright and functional space for your practical room.

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