Proper kitchen lighting isn’t just about creating an Instagram-perfect environment for food photos. Illumination contributes a great deal to the safety and enjoyment of a space but, when it comes to kitchen design, lighting sometimes gets treated as an afterthought. It shouldn’t, according to Gary Pomerantz, a designer with Muskoka Cabinet Company. “As soon as you’ve figured out the layout, you need to focus on lighting, in the context of how you plan to use your kitchen and how task, ambient, and accent lighting can support that. Good lighting makes a space look and function so much better; you’ll appreciate having invested in it,” he explains.
Task lighting is focused on helping you see well in the kitchen’s various work areas, so you can safely chop ingredients, for example. Ideal for this purpose are puck or strip lights mounted under cabinets, to cast bright, even light over the countertops without creating shadows.
Light emitting diode (LED) bulbs are recommended for task lighting and are available in various shades of white, with warm or soft being the most popular. LEDs provide excellent illumination plus they are long-lasting and extremely energy efficient. “Make sure you put in enough of them to get the right intensity of light,” Gary advises.
Ambient—also called mood—lighting is intended to brighten the overall room. Most often this is achieved with pot lights in the ceiling, sometimes supplemented by pendant lights over an island or table. As with task lighting, make sure they are properly placed and spaced. There is a fine line between too few and too many, so Gary recommends considering the overall visual look as well as the brightness.
Accent lighting, which can overlap with ambient, involves lights placed strategically to highlight a focal point or something of visual interest. An example would be lighting inside a glass-fronted cupboard, or a spotlight directed at a floating shelf holding decorative elements. Accent lighting can be particularly effective in an open plan layout, where the kitchen can be seen from other areas of the house.
Jennifer Cross, Director of Residential Developments with FLUX Lighting, agrees that it is important to budget properly for kitchen lighting. “While decorative lighting is impactful and fun to choose, foundational lighting is of equal importance and deserves just as much focus.” Like Gary, she cautions that because electrical work happens at the beginning of a kitchen build or rebuild, it’s important to establish a lighting plan early because your options will be logistically limited if you leave it to the end.
She recommends thinking in terms of layers of light to ensure surfaces are thoroughly and evenly illuminated. “Kitchens have become such multifunctional spaces that it’s important to have the ability to vary the lighting throughout the day and evening. Figure out your foundational or task lighting first and buy the best quality you can afford—you may need fewer lights this way,” she says. “Then move on to decorative elements like a grouping of three large pendants or even one oversized fixture above the island for that punch of drama.” She adds that statement lighting is like jewellery for the kitchen, adding warmth, softness, and flair to a space that otherwise contains a lot of hard surfaces.
Jennifer also recommends putting lights on different switches and having everything on dimmers so you can change light levels to adjust the mood of the room. “A well-lit space feels good to be in. Lighting can energize you and having the ability to control it properly can help you transition through different phases of your day.”