It used to be that kitchens were places reserved solely for food preparation, off limits to guests and family members alike. Food was served at a set time in a separate room, and whatever magic went into making it was a mystery to the people eating it. But the modern American kitchen is a very different one. With our busy schedules, and a steadily increasing number of homes with both parents working, it can be hard to find time to share at all – let alone time to prep and cook big meals in isolation to preserve the big reveal at dinnertime. This shift is reflected in the changing style of kitchens, which are larger and more open, inviting family and friends to participate in food preparation, or simply sit and talk around a kitchen island while watching the cooks do their thing. Maybe the most important key to making the kitchen a hospitable place for guests and chefs a like, though, is the lighting.
Traditionally, kitchen lighting heavily favors utility, usually placing a single bright light or group of lights front and center in the middle of the ceiling. But to light the whole kitchen effectively, those lights have to be BRIGHT, and very bright lights washes out food and family alike, turning your kitchen into a glaring and inhospitable place. Instead, you want to mix several different types of gentler lights in different areas to get the most out of all of them. Sure, Recessed Lights around the perimeter of the ceiling are a good place to start (and better than a bank of fluorescent bulbs!), but to make the most of your kitchen, you’re going to have to go a little further.
Placing a chandelier or pendant light or other bar-style light over your kitchen island is a great way to add warm, inviting light to the place people are most likely to gather. You don’t want to hang the fixture too low (bumped heads are no fun), but it will feature prominently, so pick something that’s large enough to fill the space. The style you choose will go a long way toward setting the tone of your kitchen, but you want to make sure that it meshes with your existing decor, even (or especially) if you go for a really bold fixture, so it blends in instead of standing out awkwardly. For a country kitchen, a simple Metal Pendant Light like the one above will always look more natural than a chandelier. Even if the bulk of the lighting in the kitchen is coming from other sources, this is going to be the one getting the attention, and the one spotlighting the most important part of your kitchen – the people in it! – so this should get the most thought and attention in the design process.
While overhead lighting makes for a nice ambiance, under the cabinet lighting is vastly more useful when it comes to food preparation. Though you won’t be able to see the fixtures, a small horizontal Undercabinet Fixture will make sure your cabinets aren’t casting shadows on that vegetable you’re trying to chop. Even when you aren’t hard at work cooking, this type of lighting bring your counter tops out of the shadows, and can help highlight your kitchen accessories or even an artistic tile backsplash. And if you put them inside glass cabinets, they can illuminate your china or stemware and turn your storage space into an accent piece.
Though it might seem an odd place for them, wall sconces can work in the kitchen as well. Especially for a very large space, it can be difficult for central lights to reach all the way to the edges of the room, and sconces can help bring a homey, living room touch into the kitchen and make it a more inviting place for people to visit. In general, wall sconces, like these elegant Venus Sconce, should come in pairs and be mounted symmetrically on either side of a window, a piece of art, or a range hood like the one above to create a sense of balance.
You also want to find lights that match and compliment your decor, and each other. Look for pieces (like the Lantern Style Pendant in the photo above) that match your room in more subtle ways, echoing the architecture, furniture, or even the finishes in other parts of your kitchen – like your kitchen faucet or drawer pulls. This will help give the space unity and make it seem larger by drawing the eye smoothly between the different parts of the room.
The more different types of lights you layer, the richer and more complex the final effect will be – and don’t be afraid to overlap. Accent lights and track lighting can draw attention to specific features (architectural, artistic, textural, or otherwise), and intersecting pools of light can create beautiful shadows and depth, enhancing the grain of wood and giving a luster to your tile.
Maybe the most important thing, though, is that if you’re planning on installing a lot of different kinds of light, you want to pre-plan the lighting controls to be sure you have a way to manage all those lights. A Dimmer Switch is an excellent idea, preferably one for each group of lights (under cabinet, accent, recessed, chandeliers, sconces, etc). That will allow you to use only the lights you need, and give you a greater degree of control over the mood the lights set, as you’ll be able to change the brightness level between different types in different zones of your kitchen.
If you and your family and friends spend a lot of time in your kitchen, adding the right lighting can completely revitalize the area and make it a hundred times more hospitable. Just remember to slate lighting projects in order of importance: effective lighting (to light the room) first, then task lighting (to make kitchen prep easier), decorative or ambient lighting, and then finally smaller accents. If you can’t afford to do a major lighting project now, but know you ultimately want to install a lot of additional lights into your kitchen, make sure to do all the electrical work at once – it’s less expensive and less invasive that way, and you can always buy and install your lighting fixtures later.
What kind of lighting do you have in your kitchen? Do you spend a lot of time there cooking or hosting? Do you want to? Is there a particular problem area in your kitchen you’re looking to light? Let me know in the comments!