Let There Be Light: 4 Types of Kitchen Illumination

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By Michele Koh Morollo
By layering different types of lighting in your kitchen, you boost not only its functionality, but also its level of warmth and comfort.

Kitchens are a design playground for those of us who love making decisions—between selecting appliances, countertop materials, flooring, and cabinetry, there's already a lot to consider, but homeowners should make sure not to overlook kitchen lighting.

Choosing the right light fixtures can elevate your kitchen, turning it into an efficient workspace and social hub that you and your guests will want to spend more time in. Below, we run through four kinds of lighting to consider.

Ambient Lighting 

Ambient or general lighting is the main source of light in your kitchen, and it usually comes in the form of ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed lights, or track lights directed downwards. Such fixtures should spread light evenly across a large floor area. Ambient lights will help create a warm and inviting overall atmosphere in your kitchen. Also consider adding dimmers so you can control the intensity of light for different occasions, or as seasons change.  

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The owners of this storage-savvy apartment in New York, who are avid cooks, worked with a design duo and a contractor found on the site. To make the kitchen seem larger than it is, the team decided to place the largest cabinets and appliances near the entryway, with less clutter toward the window.

The owners of this storage-savvy apartment in New York, who are avid cooks, worked with a design duo and a contractor found on the site. To make the kitchen seem larger than it is, the team decided to place the largest cabinets and appliances near the entryway, with less clutter toward the window.

Task Lighting 

This type of lighting is focused on a specific area, usually your worktop, to ensure that you can safely and comfortably prepare meals. It is also sometimes installed inside a pantry, so you can see what you have on hand for dinner. Strip lights mounted underneath wall cabinets or cooker hoods, downlights in pantries or above an island counter, and large pendants above your worktop are good examples of task lighting. When choosing task lights, make sure they don't cast shadows over your work areas. Concealed LED strip lights are ideal, as they evenly illuminate most food preparation surfaces. 

Bunker Workshop used bright, red steel pegboard for the backsplash in this kitchen in Boston loft apartment in a former textile factory.

Bunker Workshop used bright, red steel pegboard for the backsplash in this kitchen in Boston loft apartment in a former textile factory.

Accent Lighting 

Used mainly to highlight particular sections or details in your kitchen, accent lights focus and draw attention to artwork, collectibles, or interesting architectural features within the kitchen. Uplight sconces, wall-mounted fixtures, and track lights are some types of accent lights  that can be used to add depth and dimension to kitchen nooks, or enhance the appearance of interesting backsplashes or cabinetry. 

Let There Be Light: 4 Types of Kitchen Illumination - Photo 3 of 4 -

Decorative Lighting 

This type of lighting is the icing on the cake, and will help define the style or mood of your kitchen concept. A decorative light in the form of a chandelier or pendant is often the statement piece that hangs above island counters in most open-concept kitchens. When selecting a decorative suspension lamp, make sure it’s appropriate for the scale of your kitchen and height of your ceilings. It's important that your decorative lamp does not dominate the space. Make sure the design and color of your lamp matches the overall concept of your kitchen, and that the bottom of the lamp is around 25 to 28 inches above your island top.   

The Mandayam–Vohra family gathers under one of Workstead’s signature three-arm chandeliers, shown here in its horizontal configuration.

The Mandayam–Vohra family gathers under one of Workstead’s signature three-arm chandeliers, shown here in its horizontal configuration.