Although lighting is important everywhere in the home, perhaps no space deserves as much consideration as the kitchen. As a hub for cooking, entertaining and even working, kitchen lighting ideas are key to achieving the perfect brightness and mood no matter what the task.
The right lighting can completely transform a room, so finding the right lighting to match your other kitchen ideas should be a priority. Experts agree that the best time to decide on a new lighting scheme is at the planning stage, as you're signing off your kitchen drawings. Leave it until later, and it could become an afterthought, with limited possibilities.
Kitchen lighting ideas
'Lighting a kitchen should never be an afterthought and should be considered at the onset of the design process,' says Sanjit Bahra, founder of Design Plus Light (opens in new tab). 'The lighting needs to be thought about in context with the kitchen finishes and cabinets.'
'The wiring needs to be installed at the start of a project so that the lighting is integral to the whole kitchen installation. My rule of thumb is that the lighting to a kitchen should really be planned at the same time as the plumbing.'
With levels of brightness dramatically altering mood and feel, it's important to invest in kitchen lighting ideas which provide good task lighting, as well as creating the ideal ambience. A good kitchen lighting scheme needs at least two elements: bright, shadow-free, task light for safe cooking and preparation. Along with atmospheric illumination to create mood, highlight architectural features and make the room feel less functional.
1. Work your high ceilings
If you have high ceilings, a pair of feature pendants will draw the eye. This will make the space feel even larger and create a real sense of purpose. Reflective metallic shades will bounce daylight around the room, too.
'Keep the pendants an equal distance apart from each other to promote a sense of symmetry,' advises Tom Howley, design director of Tom Howley Kitchens (opens in new tab). 'Also, keep each end pendant about 6 inches inside the edge of the island. You don’t want pendant lighting to hang too low. You need to ensure adequate clearance above taps, or for clearance purposes if you use your island for dining. It’s also important to make sure it’s at a practical height so that you can use the space efficiently.'
2. Mix and match
You don't have to have matching shades - mixing and matching can create a fun and playful look. Switch up shapes, colours, or both, but do keep some continuity between them. For example, a similar shaped element on each.
For a more subtle approach, choose three matching pendants in varying shades of the same colourway. When you think about how to plan kitchen lighting, do think outside the box and use this as an opportunity to express your personality.
3. Light an extension
Lighting an extension should be considered before you start construction. After all, the last thing you want is to realise you need extra lighting but have no wiring or sockets where you need them. While side returns of course add a lot of light during the day, you do need to think about the appearance of the space come evening.
A good solution is to integrate wall lights which will blend in when not switched on. Choose a rounded bulb for overall light, or a directional one for more focused lighting.
4. Make a statement
Kitchen lighting ideas aren't just about practicalities - it's important to have some fun. Choose a statement pendant for a dramatic focal point. If possible, position directly above your island or kitchen table so it can aid in task lighting, too. This isn't just for large kitchens, either. Small kitchen ideas can equally benefit from statement lighting moments.
5. Be flexible
Your needs for lighting in a kitchen will change frequently. Make life that bit easier by choosing an adjustable lighting system. For example, pendants which can be easily raised or lowered depending on what level of brightness is required.
This is also usual for adjusting the sight lines. 'If you have a stunning view from a window or enjoy social gatherings in your kitchen, make sure pendant lighting doesn’t hang so low that it blocks any views – you don’t want to spend your dinner party talking to an attractive lampshade,' notes Tom Howley.
6. Measure up
There are a few rules of thumb which can take your pendant lighting to the next level. 'Pendants should hang 12-20 inches below an 8-foot ceiling,' advises Tom Howley. For each additional foot of ceiling height, add 3 inches. For example, for a 9-foot ceiling, the pendant should hang 15-23 inches below.'
'Sets of three work really well together and ensure that the full length of the island can be illuminated,' adds Tom.
'It is recommended to incorporate pendant lights that are easily dimmable,' says David Amos, CEO at Amos Lighting + Home (opens in new tab). 'This is so you can reduce the brightness down when you have completed a task, allowing for a relaxed environment to socialise in.'
7. Take control of your kitchen lighting scheme
With so many different light sources at your disposal and with different functions to cater for, it is wise to consider a flexible control system rather than a simple on/off switch. 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.
8. Illuminate under cabinets
'Getting the lighting right in your kitchen can mean it can easily switch from home office to cooking haven and, on occasion, a dancefloor' explains Chris Webb, Kitchen Category Manager at B&Q (opens in new tab).
'One design feature that has proved popular with our customers is integrated cabinet lighting, such as our Tasuke range. These lights replace the base of the wall cabinets and provide light inside and below the cabinet and use motion control to switch on and off. This means there are no messy wires or unhygienic switches.'
9. Perfect your scheme with overhead pendant lights
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, so the island can function as a bright area for working, or a place to gather with friends with softer, low-level lighting.
10. Embrace alternative lighting designs
While pendant lights remain the more popular style choice for kitchens, there's a growing trend for incorporating more statement lighting designs. Think those which you're more likely to find dressing living rooms. As open-plan kitchen spaces become more common place this fusion between decor styles opens up a world of possibility to have fun with statement chandeliers and Sputnik-style globe lights.
Use the more statement style to act as a central light source, over dining areas and islands. Then add more directional task lighting via spotlights and downlighters over countertops and cooking areas.
11. Consider the mix of materials
'You need to take the style of your kitchen into consideration' advises Richard Moore, Design Director at Martin Moore (opens in new tab). 'A room with glazed cupboards, large windows, glass splashbacks and so on, is the perfect setting for a traditional or contemporary chandelier to add real sparkle. At the other end of the spectrum, calm minimalist spaces require bold architectural lighting.'
Base your lighting choice to reflect the materials within your chosen kitchen surfaces.
12. Light up with LEDs
Offering a wealth of lighting opportunities, Light-Emmitting Diodes (LEDs) are frequently used in modern kitchen design. Their low heat emission makes them extremely energy efficien. They're also ideal for areas that require little maintenance or are awkward to replace such as recessed ceiling lights or floor uplighters. LEDs are smaller and easier to conceal than fluorescents, won’t flicker when turned on and take no time at all warm up to full brightness.
'LEDs are most certainly the future when it comes to lighting the kitchen,' declares Michael Linsky, managing director of Sensio (opens in new tab). 'When compared to outdated alternatives they are more cost effective, because although the initial outlay may be higher, energy bills are reduced.'
13. Work from the ground up
Think about the whole room when considering lighting, floor to ceiling. Adding profile lighting to the bottom of kitchen cabinets or an island can serve purely to add ambience. But given how creating ambience is a key role of lighting in any room, this style of lighting goes a long way to transform the feel of a kitchen space.
'If you want to really make a statement with your kitchen island, perhaps the boldest form of accent lighting is LED profile lighting,' advises Hayley Simmons at Magnet (opens in new tab). 'Sitting below the worksurface, profile lighting brings bags of ambiance to a contemporary kitchen and is perfect for those that love to host and entertain.'
14. Take on task lighting
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.
John Cullen Lighting (opens in new tab) recommends small, compact fluorescents or LED under-cupboard downlighters that 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.
15. Think about height
The perfect height of lights depends on two factors: the height of the people living in the house and the height of the ceilings. Wall lights work well in a small kitchen, especially ones with little natural light. Give a modern kitchen an industrial twist with a stainless steel or brass light fixture.
16. Take your kitchen space into consideration
Working in a kitchen with only a central light fitting means that you are standing with your back to the light and in your own shadow wherever you are in the room. A matt white ceiling and light coloured upper walls make any lighting system more effective by reflecting the light and spreading it more evenly, which also creates an illusion of space.
17. Repurpose the same style to match
Create a cohesive style with your kitchen lighting ideas by keeping the design uniformed. Seek a style of lighting that offers focal overhead pendants alongside matching wall lights. Matching the style will help to enhance the flow of the layout, where no one zone will standout from the other.
Opt for dimmable switches or set up a smart control to have the option to sync the brightness, for total unison.
18. Highlight features
Use overhead lights to set the scene for display areas within your kitchen. Simple LED spotlights would work best, meaning they are more energy efficient and will last longer. This simple kitchen lighting idea is perfect for recess spaces that lend themselves naturally to display decorative objects.
Float glass shelves within he space to benefit more storage space – while allowing the light to cascade down through the glass to each level.
19. Use your favourite colour
Warm colours or industrial looking fittings have previously been popular for pendants but we are now seeing a move towards bolder, colour choices such as red, yellow and green. Customers want to add a splash of colour to the kitchen, which is nowadays thought of more as a hub for socialising. Match the style of your light fittings to your kitchen.
Interesting light fittings will stop your kitchen looking overly clinical. Prismatic glass and bone china work wonderfully in country style kitchens, metallic pendants give an industrial flavour and brightly- painted pendants bring an often-needed pop of colour.
What type of lighting is best for a kitchen?
Kitchen lighting ideas vary, being dependant on size and needs. First look at the areas of your kitchen and think about the activities that will happen in each space – to determine which kind of lighting each area requires.
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. 'The kitchen area needs direct task lighting for food preparation,' says Sanjit Bahra, founder of Design Plus Light.
'Task areas where you work, read or prepare food should be 3 times brighter than general lighting. The general rule is for lighting to be located over prep and cooking areas, sinks and cabinet surfaces. It is a practical way to look at kitchen lighting and avoids relying on a grid of lights in the ceiling, which often misses essential areas.'
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. 'We always recommend wiring the kitchen lighting on a number of dimmable circuits so that different mood settings can be achieved,' says Sanjit. 'The light levels required in multifunctional kitchen spaces will vary greatly depending on the usage and time of day.
Open-plan kitchens with a dining area or those with a breakfast bar need a combination of adequate lighting for eating, with softer lighting for after-dinner conversation. Ambient night lighting especially in the evenings creates a magical feel for entertaining guests.'
You may want to seek advice from a lighting expert or interior designer who will have a vast knowledge of the different sources of light, the many fixtures and fittings on offer, as well as today's hi-tech control systems. Always employ a qualified electrician to ensure a safe and well-fitted installation. Experts say it is crucial to think about the key areas that need lighting rather than working around grids and symmetry.
What's trending in kitchen lighting?
What's trending for kitchen lighting is smart functionality. The modern home allows the user to tailor their lighting to their mood. As we use our kitchens more and more, they become as much of a social space as a functional cooking area. Therefore the ability to dim and lower the brightness becomes a key aspect of good kitchen lighting.
Martin Moore’s Design Director, Richard Moore explains, ‘Currently, there is a focus on character lighting; large pendant lights above the island are very popular, helping to introduce colour and a decorative touch to the kitchen. In lofty rooms, pendant lighting help to draw the focus downwards towards the island.'
Tamara was Ideal Home's Digital Editor before joining the Woman & Home team in 2022. She has spent the last 15 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, both now at Future PLC. It’s with these award wining interiors teams that she's honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing. Tamara is always ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors trends – and is great at seeking out designer dupes on the high street.
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