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Kitchen Lighting - Designing for the heart of the home

Jul 14, 2005 by to Lighting News

"No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like the kitchen best."

The old quote still holds true for today - the kitchen is the heart of a home. Whether you're preparing a meal, sitting down to dinner or gathering with friends, everyone will like your kitchen best when you create the perfect ambience for any occasion with a well-designed kitchen lighting scheme. When laying out your clients kitchen lighting, create an attractive and flexible design by incorporating multiple light levels for the room. Start with ambient lighting for general lighting for the whole room, add in specific lighting for tasks, and then use decorative lighting accents for the final touch.

Ambient Lighting
Ambient lighting creates overall brightness of your kitchen. In general, for comfortable light levels, a space requires 25 to 30 foot candles (a measurement of the intensity of light). Task lighting needs brighter lighting, approximately 50 to 75 foot candles. The size of the room will also affect the ambient lighting, requiring either brighter bulbs or additional fixtures as the space increases.

The ambient lighting should be bright enough to allow you to see into cabinets and drawers. Prevent a "scalloped" light effect when illuminating wall cabinets by keeping a minimum of 40 inches from the back wall to the center of a recessed light can. This distance gives minimal light scalloping on the front of a standard 12-inch cabinet depth.

Keep in mind that how bright your lighting appears will be affected by the color of the walls, as well as the finish on the cabinets and countertops. For instance, an all-white kitchen will need lower-intensity lighting than one with dark green walls and walnut-stained cabinetry. Also take into account the placement of windows and the doorways into other rooms, which will let in additional light sources.

Task Lighting
These days, kitchens are used for a wide variety of functions. Adding task lighting will highlight a specific area, making it more usable and flexible. Kitchen work areas, such as countertops, the sink and the stovetop, are easier to use with additional lighting. Eating areas, like the kitchen table or a breakfast bar, can be turned into a defined, intimate space within a larger room with well-placed lighting. Dark spaces in corners and beneath wall cabinets can easily be brightened with either under cabinet lighting or, with glass-fronted doors, within the cabinet itself.

Depending on the layout of the room and which areas you wish to highlight, a wide selection of task lighting options are available. Mini pendant lights can create both additional lighting and a design element when used for a countertop or kitchen island. Under cabinet lights make dark corners more usable throughout the kitchen, and usually function best when the fixture is pulled to the front of the cabinet edge, so the light is hitting the center of the countertop.

Creating variable task lighting with a dimmer switch is also effective, giving you the option of high light levels while working and a softer, warmer feel with the touch of a switch. This can be especially effective in smaller kitchens, where there isn't room for additional task lighting fixtures.

Decorative Lighting
Let your kitchen lighting be both functional and beautiful. Whether formal or casual, traditional or modern, an element of design can be added with an eye-catching, artistic fixture. A distinctive chandelier, colorful glass shades or a wrought iron fixture adds a designer flair and creates added interest to an otherwise ordinary room.

You may also wish to highlight the decorative architectural features of your kitchen design with lighting, such as a handmade tile backsplash, granite countertops or well-crafted cabinetry details. Kitchen lighting can also focus attention on items you wish to display, such as handmade pottery, a collection of blown glass or the paintings and photographs hung on the walls.

Color of Lighting
While deciding on the ambient, task and decorative lighting for your kitchen, remember the overall feel is also affected by the color of your lighting. For the kitchen, warm to neutral lighting (2,900-3,600 Kelvin ratings) is the best color temperature for general and task lighting, as well as for the presentation of food. Match the warm incandescent bulbs in recessed cans and pendants for a consistent look. Try to avoid mixing warm and cool lighting (3,600-5,500K), as this will create an unsettling visual effect instead of blending the room together as a whole.

No matter what the floor plan, every kitchen can benefit from well-designed lighting plan. The style, placement, amount and variety of lighting you choose will add interest and flexibility, creating the heart of your home and making it the room everyone will like the best.