The Importance Of Kitchen Lighting
If there’s one room in the house that is almost notorious for the amount of money that people spend on kitting it out, it has to be the kitchen. And there’s a good reason that so many folk spend so much money: for most of us the kitchen is the center of household life, the very heart of the home.
The kitchen is also, almost by definition, the room that gets most utilized both during daylight hours and well into the evening, so it’s clearly a space where getting the lighting right is absolutely critical. After all, why pour so much time, money and effort into getting the just right kitchen units and flooring etc only to have it all resemble a particularly dreary railway waiting room thanks to poor lighting?
Kitchen lights have evolved almost beyond recognition from the bad old days when it seemed that most every kitchen sported an obligatory fluorescent strip or several as central kitchen ceiling lighting (an especially nasty trend that is unfortunately still with us in some kitchens to this day).
Nowadays you can pick from kitchen track lighting systems, recessed spots, wall lights, lights under, over and inside cabinets, retractable kitchen pendant lights and also control selected lighting elements with dimmer switches.
The problem still is choice; only this time it’s not lack of choice that’s the issue, but almost having too much.
The Main Types Of Kitchen Lighting
Any decent modern kitchen design guide will very much take into account the multipurpose nature of today’s kitchens to produce a lighting solution that both functions and looks great on different levels.
Most contemporary kitchen lighting ideas draw upon two key principles: first understanding the various lighting requirements of a kitchen, secondly grouping lights according to each of these requirements, and lastly combining these lighting groups in different ways to create a range of effects suitable for many purposes.
The main lighting groups for kitchens draw on much the same design principles found in classic home lighting ideas, namely: task, ambient and mood lighting. Incidentally “mood lighting” is a term that covers aspects of what are otherwise known as feature, decorative and/or accent lighting. Also, there are no hard and fast rules about what fits into which category – some types of lighting will naturally fall into more than one camp.
Task lighting is essential for the stages involved in preparing food (the underlying purpose of a kitchen after all) while ambient light, aside from helping you avoid bashing into things in the gloom, plays an important role in supporting other lighting types.
Ambient light should provide a general all-over illumination that is fairly soft and unobtrusive. Effectively it sets a background light level that other forms of lighting use as a base. This is best illustrated by considering two extremes. In the first case an absence of ambient light would mean that other lighting would seem overly bright (against a largely dark background) yet ironically not bright enough to properly illuminate the room. In the second, over-bright ambient light would just wash out whatever other lighting was present – you simply wouldn’t notice it.
Task lighting is pretty much what it sounds like; it should be directed at an area that requires ample light so you can, for example, see what you’re chopping (hopefully not your fingers), cooking and eventually eating. Since performing a task is mostly synonymous with using your hands, task lighting should be in front of you (so you don’t cast your own shadow onto the space) and above what you are working with, but also in such as way as to not get in your eyes or otherwise cause reflective glare.
Mood lighting is what you use to create atmosphere in a room and to give it a personality. It frequently serves little purpose other than making the space look attractive. In a kitchen this is often achieved with hanging pendant lights, carefully positioned spotlights and, since the advent of LED, accent lighting (as a general rule, you want static light fixtures that can’t be knocked over or will get in the way).
Developing practical kitchen lighting ideas rests on much the same basic principle as that underpinning general interior lighting design: a good mix of lighting types (see above) plus the wherewithal to adjust the relative balance between them.
This is in fact no more complicated than ensuring that each group of lights is assigned to its own switch (and preferably a dimmer switch). It can also be helpful to further sub-divide according to location (for example being able to independently control lighting for a central kitchen island, or a dining area at one end of the kitchen).
Coordinated lighting is also about matching light fittings not only to each other but ensuring that they harmonize with the other features, fittings and furniture in the room. Look at the existing decor style – is it traditional or modern? This tells you immediately whether say a classic Tiffany lamp might fit right in or look out of place. Next… kitchen island lighting.