CKBR: Lighting

by Kacey Larsen

When selecting lighting systems for use in a kitchen or bathroom, be sure to ask what the client will need in terms of ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. Insufficient, poorly placed or excess light fixtures can have a negative impact on an otherwise great room. Let’s review a few definitions so we have a common frame of reference.

General lighting (also called ambient lighting): Lighting that radiates a comfortable level of brightness, enabling one to see and walk about safely. This is also referred to as a basic form of lighting that replaces sunlight. It can be achieved with chandeliers, ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lights, and lanterns outside the home.

Task lighting: Lighting that is focused on a specific task such as reading, grooming or cooking is called task lighting. Task lighting should be bright enough to prevent eyestrain, and can be accomplished with track and recessed lighting as well as pendant lighting.

Accent lighting: A decorative form of lighting that spotlights treasured objects—such as paintings and houseplants—or highlights the texture of a wall, drapery or outdoor garden. This type of lighting is usually provided by track, recessed or wall-mounted fixtures.


Lighting fixtures can generally be classified as recessed, ceiling-mounted, wall-mounted or architectural.

Recessed fixtures

Recessed fixtures direct light downward or toward a wall. The light can be distributed in a narrow or broad pattern, provide a spot or diffused focus as well as ambient, wall washing or accent lighting.

Some issues to consider when selecting recessed fixtures:

Ensure the light source cannot be seen from normal lines of sight.

Use halogen PAR incandescent lamps when providing accent or task lighting.

Don’t place fixtures on dark ceilings; it will make them appear bright and cause more glare.

When lighting a task, place the fixture to the side and slightly in front of the task.

To avoid harsh scalloping on the walls when installing down-light fixtures, place them at least 2 feet from the wall.

Ceiling-mounted fixtures

Ceiling-mounted fixtures attach directly to the ceiling or to a ceiling track. These fixtures are used to provide ambient lighting only. They may also provide supplemental ambient lighting near a task area. To minimize glare, be sure the lamps are at least 6 feet 8 inches above the floor.

Wall-mounted fixtures or sconces

As the name implies, such fixtures mount directly to a wall. They can produce direct, indirect or diffused lighting, and they are useful in lighting hallways, dining rooms, living rooms and more. Conceal the lamps with the use of opaque or semi-translucent lenses.

Kitchen Lighting


Adequate ambient light can be attained with the use of a single fluorescent/LED, several recessed LED lights or a fluorescent luminous ceiling. This lighting can be indirect—aimed to bounce off pale walls or the ceiling and then into the room.


The kitchen table may need task lighting as well as decorative lighting. In this case, the use of a fixture with a down-light as part of the chandelier could provide the needed task light. You could also use recessed lighting above the table. In a room with an 8-foot ceiling, hanging table lights are generally placed 25 to 30 inches above the table. This distance should be increased by 3 inches for every additional foot of ceiling height. When using pendant fixtures over a table, ensure that the fixtures are smaller in diameter than the table.

Bathroom Lighting

The vanity

The goal of lighting the vanity is to create a light pattern that provides even lighting of the face. Avoiding shadows under the eyes, nose and chin is a must. The best way to light a vanity to avoid shadows is with cross-lighting. It provides even lighting side-to-side and top-to-bottom. The preferred method of cross-lighting is to install a vertical row of lights on each side of the mirror. These lights can be several LED lights, a strip LED or fluorescent, or a single wall sconce.

The center of the light fixture should be placed at eye level, usually 60 to 64 inches off the floor. The distance the client will typically stand from the mirror normally determines light-fixture separation. If the user will stand 22 inches from the mirror, the fixtures should be separated by 30 inches; if the user will be closer to the mirror—as would be the case with a seated vanity—then the fixtures should be separated by 22 inches. If the vanity is placed in an alcove or between tall cabinets, one method to provide cross-lighting is with lighting mounted on the side cabinets. For an indirect effect, consider using a lighted mirror.

General bath lighting

While the task area at the vanity is the most critical to light correctly, the bathroom as a whole needs adequate light as well. In the past, the typical installation was a single ceiling fixture with a white opal diffuser that projected a few inches below the ceiling, but these fixtures are bright, glaring and produce unpleasant shadows. Multiple fixtures that are flush or recessed into the ceiling are good options. Recessed fixtures reduce glare, even with high-wattage bulbs. |QR

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