Modern kitchen lighting ideas - 10 ways to balance task and mood lighting beautifully

Here are some of the best ways to use the fabulous styles, shapes, colours and materials on offer

When choosing modern kitchen lighting ideas, it's tempting to just go for those you like the look of. Yet kitchen lighting has to function well too.

Not only do your lights have to be sufficiently bright in areas for prepping and cooking, you need to be able to soften it too, especially if you also use the space for dining. Finding a good balance between task and mood lighting is the key to a successful lighting scheme.

'All too often kitchen lighting is an afterthought,' says Marketa Rypacek, Managing Director, Industville. 'But it should be considered at the initial planning stage. Don’t wait until the cabinetry and appliances are in place. The position of your lights may affect where sockets and cables are situated and it’s much harder to alter these things further down the line.'  

Modern kitchen lighting ideas

Of course, it's not just about the lights either. The right bulbs will make a huge difference to their effectiveness to your modern kitchen lighting ideas. ‘If you want to mimic daylight and prefer cooler tones, for instance in a kitchen, bulbs with a higher kelvin value, usually 4000-5000K, work well in spaces that require task lighting,’ says Rohan Blacker, founder, Pooky.

1. Mix pendants and adjustable track lights

white kitchen with grey worktop and dining table

(Image credit: Future PLC / Colin Poole)

Take into account your ceiling height and any awkward angles or beams when choosing your kitchen lighting ideas. In this case consider a mix of functional track lights and eye-catching pendants.

'Embracing the full range of lighting sources available from pendants and wall lights to recessed and track lighting will allow you to create a space that is both practical and atmospheric,' says Marketa Rypacek, Managing Director, Industville (opens in new tab)

'Hanging pendant lights above an island is a great way to create a statement in your kitchen. Not only are pendant lights attractive, but they also provide functionality for tasks such as reading recipes and food preparation.'

2. Choose complementary fixtures

kitchen with dark wall and dining table

(Image credit: Future PLC / Colin Poole)

Create cohesion with complementary fixtures from the same 'design family' for your ceiling and walls. Choosing the same shape, such as these gorgeous globe lights over the bar and above the dining table, but varying the glass finish adds interest while maintaining continuity in the overall scheme. There are practical benefits in opting for a variety of glass finishes too.

‘For warm, ambient lighting, frosted or opal bulbs are best,' says Maisie Stocking, Dyke & Dean (opens in new tab). 'The frosted or opal finish on them reduces the glare without reducing the brightness.’

3. Switch the mood with low hanging pendants

kitchen with bar area and hanging lights

(Image credit: Future PLC / Neale Smith)

When planning modern kitchen lighting ideas it's important to decide the purpose of the space before selecting your lighting and think about the type of illumination you will need all year round. Is it a counter that has to double up as a preparation and social space? If so, you will need task and accent lighting, stylish low hanging pendant lights are a no-brainer for kitchen island lighting ideas, but also include some spot lights alongside.

That way it will be bright enough when cooking in the winter, but you'll be able to switch the mood when the clearing up is done and you want to create a more convivial space.

‘Pendant lighting in the kitchen is a trend that’s here to stay,' says Peter Legg, Lead Designer, Där Lighting (opens in new tab). 'A row of pendants helps frame the space and designate areas for different purposes, from food prep to social dining, they are a visual curtain.'

4. Go for dimmable options

kitchen with worktop and dining table

(Image credit: Future Plc / Rachel Smith)

Spotlights have become increasingly sophisticated. Not only do most now run on LED, which is far more energy-efficient than the old halogen bulbs, the latest are available with a spectrum of dimmable colour temperature options. Some spotlights even include audio, so if you're a stickler for clear surfaces or hoping to make any small kitchen lighting ideas work extra hard, you can do away with a speaker.

'Spotlights offer a cleaner, more streamlined lighting solution,' says Morten Warren, founder of Zuma (opens in new tab). 'The light can be taken from warm to cool (and vice versa) with colour temperatures ranging from 2800k to 4800k, plus 100 increments of dimming, allowing users to adjust the brightness and intensity of their lights incredibly smoothly. We can also combine high-performance lighting with high-fidelity audio into a compact and easy-to-install ceiling downlight.'

5. Add impact with a colourful statement light

kitchen with dining table

(Image credit: Future PLC / David Brittain)

The homes that really know how to plan kitchen lighting well understand that a statement light is a perfect way to create interest in a room, even when the light is switched off. Consider your lighting as a piece of art or sculpture, like a design-led finishing touch.

'Sculptural and wow-factor lighting is likely to take centre stage with emphasis on oversized designs featuring interesting shapes, texture, or colour to provide a stylish focal point,' says Marketa Rypacek, Managing Director, Industville.

'We are seeing a shift toward more sculptural lighting, the use of mixed materials, and more abstract shapes. People are craving individuality in their homes through unique lighting choices. Don’t be afraid to go big. It takes a little bravery, but you can afford to use larger lights than you might think.'

6. Identify key working areas

white kitchen with worktop

(Image credit: Ledbury Studio)

A mix of task and accent lighting is the best kitchen lighting layout, but if you're opting for spotlights, make sure you're discriminate about where they are placed. 'Avoid installing downlights or spotlights in a classic grid formation,' says Charlie Smallbone, founder of Ledbury Studio (opens in new tab).

'Instead, identify the key working areas of your kitchen and make sure they’re well lit. In this kitchen a row of directional downlights is perfectly placed to illuminate the worktop where most of the prep takes place. Note that the downlights are regularly spaced to ensure an even spread of light. Too many downlights can make a ceiling look very messy.'

7. Marry different materials

kitchen with pink cupboard

(Image credit: Future PLC / James French)

Instead of accenting a colour in your kitchen scheme, choose a metallic tone to accent. If you've opted for a warm metal, such as brass, for your hardware and handles, it can look gorgeous repeated on your light fixtures.

'Raw materials, especially high-quality metals, are as popular as ever,' says Marketa Rypacek, Industville. 'Handcrafted lighting, made using raw materials, not only enhances the look and feel of a natural design scheme, but is also a durable option that is made to last.'

8. Add ambience with under shelf strip lighting

kitchen with white cupboard and hanging lights

(Image credit: Harvey Jones)

Don't limit yourself to the ceiling and walls when it comes to lighting your kitchen. Cabinets and shelves make a great place to add task or mood lighting. 'It’s easy to concentrate on the lighting outside of your cabinets, but new kitchens offer more ‘showmanship’,' says Emma Cowburn, senior kitchen designer at Harvey Jones (opens in new tab).

'Cabinet door sensors with dimmable LED strips will slowly rise to full brightness when you open the doors to your larder, giving a sense of quality. Outside of cabinets an often-overlooked lighting suggestion is to have lights on top of the tall and wall cabinetry. This accentuates the height of your room, and makes your kitchen look grander.

'The biggest plus in my opinion is the evening ambience. When you turn off the ceiling lights, the kitchen can become a dark corner of your open plan space. Some subtle up lights above the cabinets help make your whole room feel more inviting and calmer for the evening wind down.'

9. Layer your lights on different circuits

kitchen with blue cabinets

(Image credit: Future PLC / Colin Poole)

Think about the areas of lighting you will want on or off, or bright or low at different times. 'Well-lit worktops are an absolute must. Regardless of the size of your kitchen, they ensure a safe working environment,' says Charlie Smallbone, Ledbury Studio. 'One of the most effective ways of achieving this is to install dimmable lights on the underside of wall cabinets or shelves.

'This creates an even wash of shadow-free light across your worktop. And is ideal alongside overhead lighting when preparing a meal or used alone when you want to create a cosy, intimate atmosphere.

'Most importantly, put the dimmers on a separate circuit to your perimeter lights for flexibility. A practical option is to have three circuits: one for downlights, another for pendant lights and a final circuit for additional lighting such as cabinet or niche lighting. However, if your kitchen is particularly large, you may need more.'

10. Harness natural light

kitchen with grey cupboard and cabinets

(Image credit: Future PLC / Richard Gadsby)

One of the most cost-effective and joyful ways to illuminate your kitchen is by harnessing natural light. The benefits of natural light on our health and wellbeing have been proven time again. Outside of the initial installation cost of adding roof lights, daylight is free.

'Installing roof lights is a way to avoid upstaging a striking pendant suspended over an island unit or dining table,' says Charlie Smallbone, founder, Ledbury Studio. 'If you’re concerned that your roof light will look like a black hole at night, consider installing lighting around it.' 

What kind of lighting should I choose for a modern kitchen?

'It's important to invest in quality lighting,' says Marketa Rypacek, Managing Director, Industville.  'The material the lights are made from make a big difference, so avoid plastic finishes as these will devalue the whole look of the kitchen. Choose handcrafted, high-quality fixtures that will bring an extra touch of luxury and add some texture to the space too.'

Lighting accounts for roughly 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Switching to LED lighting in your home could reduce the energy you use by up to 85% and over 1,400 million tons of C02 collectively. 'LEDs require less power than traditional bulbs and the less energy you use, the better it is for the environment and your bills,' says Mark Sait, Founder of Save Money Cut Carbon.

What's the best modern lighting for a kitchen island?

'I advise customers to consider a cluster of several smaller pendants either arranged in a traditional line or various heights. As this will create an impressive and interesting display,' says Marketa.

Jacky Parker

Jacky Parker is a freelance interiors & lifestyle journalist, specialising in modern interiors, design and eco living. She has written for Future’s interior magazines and websites including Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home for over fifteen years, both as a freelance contributor and inhouse, with stints as Acting Digital Editor, Livingetc and Acting Style Content Editor, Country Homes & Interiors. Her work also features in national and international publications including Sunday Times Style, Telegraph Stella, The Guardian, Grand Designs, House Beautiful and more. With years of experience in the industry Jacky is privy to the insider view and the go-to places for interior inspiration and design-savvy décor.