Today's kitchens are more than just places to prepare meals. In addition to its primary food function, this room ranks as the heart of the home and center of family activity.
"The kitchen has become the hub of the house," says Barry Levett, of Mayfield Heights, OH. "Families today truly live in the kitchen. Kids study there; parents pay the bills and write checks; everyone reads the morning paper in the kitchen; families eat their meals there."
Such multi-tasking kitchens demand equally versatile lighting. Gone are the days when a single 100-watt fixture centered in the kitchen's ceiling was sufficient. "I see people every day who are saddled with one light in the middle of the kitchen," says Geoff Dent, president of Dent Electrical Supply in Danbury, CT. "This means that everywhere around the perimeter, where most of the work is done, is done in one's own shadow. To make matters worse, the fixture is usually undersized, and we all need more light as we get older."
"Fortunately, kitchen lighting has gone through quite an evolution in the last few years - not only in the type and design, but also in the areas in which it is placed," he adds.
The right recipe for lighting your kitchen depends on the size and complexity of the room. Small kitchens may require only a central ceiling fixture and task lighting tucked under a cabinet. More elaborate kitchens will demand a blend of general, task and accent lighting.
"Lights have specific functions, whether it's to accent a specific area, create general ambience, focus on a task or wash a wall," says Monty Gilbertson, CLC. "You are seeing all types incorporated into the kitchen."
Determine what you want the lights to do. "Lighting can be decorative or functional," says Steve Birdwell, CLC. "It's hard to find fixtures that do both. Functional fixtures will provide well-diffused general lighting perfect for moving about the room safely, peering inside drawers and cabinets, and performing chores. While large, surface fluorescents have been popular in the past, the latest looks revolve around recessed lights and low voltage, industrial styles, often with a metal finish."
"Recessed downlights assure even illumination. Install them over the stove and sink areas to create adequate task lighting for cooking and cleaning. "When you add new lights over the sink or stove, the whole areas comes alive," says Levett.
The kitchen table is another family focal point. A decorative pendant, operating with a dimmer control, will provide sufficient lighting.
Pendant lighting also rates raves installed over islands or peninsulas. "Light over the island is not only functional, but beautiful," says Dent. "Even people who use recessed lights throughout the kitchen can introduce some color and style over the island. I personally prefer several smaller pendants."
Consider a decorative fixture with three lights. A trio over an island provides good light, breaking up the kitchen while still seeing through it.
The top trends in decorative finishes include wrought iron, often in rust or other earth tones. Painted finishes are also popular. Colored glass bypasses plain white in popularity. Pewter and satin nickel finishes replace the basic brass look.
Lighting the spaces above and below the cabinets has become more important than ever. Available in slim, energy-efficient designs such as miniature track lights or low-voltage linear systems, under- and overcabinet lighting quickly and easily lights up counter tops and accents ceilings. "Under-counter lights have gone from option to necessity, with the advent of larger kitchens," says Dent. "Halogen gives good color rendition and the ability to dim, with none of the humming and swirling of fluorescent."
Halogens offer consumers a whiter, more accentuating light. "Halogen provides great drama in the kitchen," says Levett. "Used undercabinet, it electrifies the look of granite and marble countertops. It even makes food look better.
Every kitchen is individual and task lighting here depends on cabinet layout and computer location. Too much light can wash out the screen. "Consider a fluorescent task light for the computer," says Birdwell. "Be sure to cover the key board and work materials."
Halogen undercabinet lighting offers another option. "Sometimes, there is not enough space for a wall light or a table top lamp in this workspace," says Levett. "But a small halogen desk lamp might work well, putting the light where you need it."
No matter how many lights you install in your kitchen, the experts recommend circuiting them separately so the lighting is zoned. This allows you to create ambience by mixing the various lights you turn on. "Lights above the cabinets should be soft and low-voltage," suggests Gilbertson. "The light over the sink should have its own switch. Same with the lights over the island and those over counters. You will be pleased with the results."