The Light Stuff: Taking a Layered Approach to Lighting in the Kitchen

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The Light Stuff: Taking a Layered Approach to Lighting in the Kitchen

You have ample amounts of cabinetry in a finish that you love. You’ve upgraded your appliances. You ditched the laminate countertops and flooring, and had them replaced with better quality materials that you spent hours carefully selecting. Yet your kitchen still feels slightly off somehow.

If you like everything in your kitchen, but don’t enjoy spending time there – even though you actually enjoy cooking – it may just be that the room isn’t being seen in its best light… literally.

Unlike in our parents’ – or grandparents’ – day, the kitchen is no longer reserved just for cooking. It’s where we gather for family meals and spend time with friends. So while previous generations were happy with lighting that allowed them to get the job done, a couple of ceiling-mounted fixtures simply don’t cut it anymore.

Think about the lighting in your living room. In addition to ceiling lighting, you probably have lamps sprinkled around the space, with a good reading lamp placed near your favorite chair. You may also have wall sconces mounted on either side of the fireplace or between windows. The lighting, placed throughout the room and at various levels, makes the space feel warm and inviting.

Design professionals often refer to the concept of using a mix of light fixtures set at a variety of levels as “layered lighting,” and it’s an approach that works just as beautifully in the kitchen as it does the living room.

Ceiling-Mounted Lighting

The top level in the lighting plan of kitchen is literally at the top: the ceiling. Recessed ceiling lights work well at evenly illuminating the entire room. Because holes need to be cut into the ceiling to install them, retrofitting your existing kitchen with them will mean a bit of construction. Flush-mounted fixtures, which are mounted on the ceiling rather than in it, are another option.

In this kitchen, designed by The Kitchen Company, recessed ceiling lights evenly illuminate the space and accentuate the cathedral ceiling.

Pendant Lights

With a center island now on the wish list of so many homeowners, as both a food prep area and spot for casual family meals, pendant lights are now the norm in many kitchens. Not only do they provide task lighting for cooking, they cast a cozy glow over the island, perfect for dining and entertaining. For pendant lights, dimmers are a must!

With a sink and multiple chairs, this oversized center island does double duty as a prep area and place to dine and entertain. Twin pendant lights add both task lighting and ambiance. Kitchen design by Supply New England Kitchen & Bath Galleries.

Task Lighting

While using lighting to make your kitchen feel inviting is important, it’s crucial that you also consider the utilitarian aspect of the kitchen when devising your lighting plan. You do still need to cook. Rely on only ceiling lights, and you’ll end up with shadows over the countertops and range. Task lighting to the rescue.

Under-cabinet lighting, which illuminates the countertops below, is a great source of task lighting. In a space where there are no upper cabinets, such as over the sink, wall sconces work well. As with pendant lights, dimmers are a great addition to task lighting.

Caption: Under-cabinet lights make this kitchen, designed by Lee Kimball, feel bright and add task lighting. Photo via

Whether you’re looking to enhance your existing kitchen, or considering a full kitchen remodel, a thoughtful lighting plan is a key aspect in creating a space that functions well and looks stunning.

Top photo: Kitchen design by Paul Reidt of Kochman Reidt + Haigh Cabinetmakers