A Recipe for Optimum Kitchen Lighting

by bkrigbaum@solagroup.com

In recent years, the kitchen has morphed into a multi-tasking room that not only serves as the family’s central gathering spot, but also performs as a dining area, homework station and casual entertaining space. For that reason, flexible and appropriate lighting are more critical than ever, according to the American Lighting Association (ALA), based in Dallas, TX.

“Because people are spending more time in their kitchens and using that area for so many different things, we need to be able to have lighting for every task and function,” observes Catherine Schlawin, an ALA Certified Lighting Consultant (CLC) and manager/Residential Lighting at Dominion Electric Supply Co., a chain of lighting showrooms in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area

So, what’s the best way to ensure the kitchen is adequately lit? According to the ALA, it’s all about “the power of three.”

“Use a minimum of three types of lighting – a central fixture, recessed and undercabinet – and put each on different switches or dimmers,” advises Joe Rey-Barreau, education consultant for the ALA and an associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design. “Having only one of these components creates a static, and often not functional, lighting effect.”

Schlawin agrees: “You can’t just do rows of recessed lighting in today’s large kitchens; that will make the space seem very flat and one-dimensional. You need a combination (i.e. recessed, undercabinet, toe-kick, cove lights) with at least one decorative element such as a drum shade in the breakfast nook or mini pendants over the island. People’s kitchens are often tied into a family room or Great Room, and they’re using that area for so many different things that they need to have lighting options for every situation,” she comments.

Schlawin is currently working with a builder to install a wireless lighting control system in a model home’s kitchen/nook/family room area. The homeowners will be able to change their lighting depending on their needs – selecting a certain amount of lighting when serving breakfast and lunch, then opting to change the mood during dinner or entertaining, and going to full brightness when doing tasks such as homework and cleaning.

The first step in devising an effective lighting plan is to analyze the functions of the kitchen and address the various activities that will be taking place there. “Dimmers in the kitchen are often not considered a high priority, but they can add dramatic impact,” Rey-Barreau says.

Lighting placement is also crucial. One common mistake with undercabinet fixtures is that the unit is placed against the wall. “Instead, placing it at the front of the cabinet allows the light to be distributed evenly over the area below,” Rey-Barreau explains. The ALA also advises installing recessed fixtures 30″ from the wall to illuminate the countertop without casting shadows.

Some of the fashionable materials in today’s kitchens create unique lighting challenges. Stainless steel appliances; quartz, granite, and glass countertops that have translucence; colored stained wood and painted cabinets, and natural stone can all be enhanced with lighting.

However, “Dark, bold colors or dense tile patterns will require a bit more light,” Dross explains. “If the backsplash has been changed from white to chocolate brown, the cabinet and task lighting might not be adequate. A room filled with bold paint, complex tile and turbulent countertop patterns needs something to surrender to the whole. The design of the accent lighting might need to be a bit more reserved to make the entire room work effectively.”


LED lighting is fast-becoming a more popular option for kitchens, with LED bulbs available as undercabinet fixtures and even recessed lighting. “LED has the same benefits of compact fluorescents, except that the bulbs last much longer,” Rey-Barreau states.

“At Dominion Electric, we’ve been embracing LED because the color can be fabulous, it’s often dimmable, and it’s so energy efficient while also being very tiny,” Schlawin says.

As an architect, Rey-Barreau is a huge believer in accent lighting. “It can truly make the difference between a space that is purely functional and one that is elegant,” he notes. One simple technique Rey-Barreau uses is to put LED strip lighting in the toe-kick of the base cabinets. “This is a good method for creating indirect lighting that is ideal for entertaining. LED strips can also be placed on top of the cabinets. If there is artwork on the walls, use either adjustable recessed lighting or small track monopoints to highlight it.”

According to Rey-Barreau, recent technological innovations have yielded even more choices for energy-conscious consumers. “Compact fluorescent lighting is an excellent option for many reasons,” he observes. “These bulbs are four times more efficient than incandescent or halogen. It is also important to know that the color of compact fluorescent bulbs is now equal to, or better than, incandescent.”

For design professionals who don’t feel their lighting IQ is up to par, ALA-member lighting showrooms can prove to be a valuable resource, demonstrating the various effects that can be achieved by using each type of lighting.

This article was provided courtesy of the American Lighting Association. For more ideas about kitchen lighting, visit www.AmericanLightingAssoc.com or call 800-BRIGHT-IDEAS (800-274-4484).

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