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Kitchen Lighting Tips

Gone are the days when a single ceiling-mounted globe light illuminated the entire kitchen space with its trio of 100-watt bulbs, providing the stark aesthetic appeal of an operating room, was how the kitchen lighting was managed. Modern kitchens employ a lighting strategy, a plan which takes into conscious consideration all the tasks and requirements of today’s kitchens. This plan is typically developed at the onset of the kitchen design and begins by identifying particular ‘stations’ within the kitchen as well as important stylistic adaptations that need to be satisfied. The process of developing this strategy affords the designer very conclusive and fixed points in the kitchen–thereby establishing a firm foundation on which to build a highly functional and aesthetically true kitchen concept.

Divide and Conquer

In a basic kitchen schematic, there are only three stations identified in the kitchen that will be attended to in the lighting plan, and these are referred to as ‘The Three C’s’: Cut, Cook, Clean. Translated, this means that the lighting plan needs to address, with dedicated or adequate gross lighting, the areas where food is prepared, cooked and then where things are cleaned-up. This basic structure will be modified to include areas such as islands, desk area, or intimate seating area if these stations are incorporated into the kitchen. The intended theme of the kitchen will determine as to the type of lighting each of these stations is to receive, whether dedicated, discreet or capitalizing upon the ‘general’ lighting of the room. It’s also important to mention that these lighting decisions will incorporate particular consideration of any natural flow of sunlight present in the space as to avoid competing with natural sources which are much more desirable. Once these stations are adequately satisfied, the designer then moves toward the needs of unique and discretionary lighting as well as compiling the actual fixture selection plan.

Accentuate the Positive

Every kitchen possesses areas that ‘work’ better when a sound lighting plan has been developed and realized. The same would be true for areas that are set to be fitted with appropriate accent lighting arrangements. These are subtle lighting fixtures that are strategically placed to enhance a particular feature in a kitchen or to provide a dedicated service to an area that could be utilized without the necessity of illuminating the entire kitchen. These fixtures, of course, are to be supportive of the ‘station’ lighting and seek to accentuate an area rather than relying upon the ‘station’ lighting to address it appropriately.

A good example may be where a small, single ‘gallery’ fixture is directed to a particular area to highlight an ornate glass mosaic on the backsplash area above the stove; or a similar fixture used to direct attention to the resting area of the family’s kitchen heirlooms. While this may not necessarily be a lighting of function, it serves to personalize the kitchen space to the tastes and theme of the intended design. Another popular trend is the use of under-cabinet lighting fixtures that illuminate specific areas of the counter. These can be used as a means to highlight and accent certain unique features but, more often than not, they are there to provide a dedicated lighting source for a particular task associated within that space, accomplishing this without the need for general lighting sources.

Fashion in Fixtures

Now that all the hard work is completed and mapped appropriately, it’s time to get to the fun part of the lighting plan –decorating with light fixtures! If you happen to remember the lighting trend of the 70’s, track lighting, you’ll recall how incredibly simple it was to illuminate a kitchen–with all its stations and amenities–with a single source fixture. The track or tracks were set in place in the ceiling and modular lamp-like fixtures rode within the track and could be pointed to any advantage. As flexible and functional as this system seemed to be, it challenged designers because it, in fact, was so limited. The tracks were objectionable in that they were exposed lengths of steel that were ‘tacky’ in areas which were devoid of lamps. The lamps, themselves, were limited in finish and design–seemingly more appropriate for use in gallery lighting at a mall or art display. These fixtures were replaced with ‘can’ lighting systems whereby the somewhat sterile fixture was recessed into the ceiling. These became popular for general kitchen lighting needs as well as addressing particular stations; and were replete with a host of switches throughout the kitchen so that the ‘perfect’ lighting elements could be achieved. While still largely in use, they are taking a more supportive role in kitchen lighting as, like track lighting, there’s little ‘design’ to the fixtures.

The fixtures that are taking the kitchen design to new levels at this time are pendant lights–decorative fixtures that suspend down from the ceiling to address particular stations. The beauty of these fixtures is that they are available in an endless array of metal, glass and even wood finishes that bridge every imaginable kitchen theme, and accomplish this with such determined flair. It’s also common to find identical pendant fixtures in different sizes that allow for continuity in kitchen styling while addressing the unique requirements of different areas of the kitchen. Yes, gone are the days of that single globed light in the center of the kitchen ceiling!


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