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What’s the best lighting for kitchens?

What's the best lighting for kitchens?
Westend61/Getty Images
What's the best lighting for kitchens?
Westend61/Getty Images

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Your kitchen is a unique room within your house. You have to be concerned with form as well as function, with aesthetics and purpose. This can make lighting a kitchen a particular challenge. There are different styles of lighting, different fixtures and bulbs to consider, and different locations that need to be illuminated.

It might sound like a lot, but don’t worry. We’re going to help you navigate the secrets of kitchen lighting.

What are the types of kitchen lights?

There are four different types of lighting that you may want in your kitchen, depending on what you’re seeking to accomplish. It’s important to understand these types of lighting so you can pick the right fixtures and locations to accomplish the intended effect.

Ambient kitchen lighting

Ambient lighting, sometimes called general lighting, is going to be the primary source of light in the room. It illuminates the majority of the space, serving as the sort of general-purpose lighting that allows you to see the overall room. You can accomplish ambient light naturally with big windows or glass doors that invite in sunlight, but you can also create this look with specific fixtures.

Ambient lighting fixtures include:

  • Floor lamps
  • Track lighting
  • Recessed fixtures
  • Ceiling-mounted lights

Kitchen accent lighting

Accent lighting is much narrower, typically calling attention to a specific area. It can be used to highlight a piece of art or bounce off a particularly interesting bit of architecture. Accent lights  can also be used to make a room appear bigger by drawing attention to certain areas.

Accent lighting fixtures:

  • Under-cabinet lighting
  • Picture lights
  • Sconces

Kitchen task lighting

In the kitchen, task lighting is important. These lights bring additional illumination to sections of the kitchen where you’re going to work. Whether it’s prepping food, scrubbing dishes, or cleaning up corner, you’ll want lights that let you to spotlight a specific area; often, they’re higher-intensity or sharper so you can zero in on the task at hand.

Task lighting fixtures:

  • Pendant lighting
  • Under-cabinet lighting
  • Range hood lighting
  • Portable lamps

Kitchen decorative lighting

Decorative lighting is similar to accent lighting in that it draws attention to an area, but it can also draw attention to itself. A decorative light can be a conversation piece as well as something that adds light to the kitchen, but you’ll want to be careful to make sure it fits the space and doesn’t make room feel small or crowded.

Decorative lighting fixtures:

  • Chandeliers
  • Lamps

Where should kitchen lights go?

Because of its nature as both a room to show off and a room to work in, the kitchen can be difficult to light. You won’t want floor lamps or other fixtures that take up valuable kitchen space, and you’ll want fixtures that can both fill the room and help to highlight specific areas. Here are some of the common areas where you may place your kitchen lights.

Ceiling lighting

The best way to utilize space and provide full room ambient lighting is with ceiling lights. They are capable of filling the room and having light bounce off the walls in a way that illuminates the whole space.

Cabinet lighting

Cabinet lighting, whether it is under the cabinets or above them, helps to illuminate the areas where you’re storing your food and utensils. Under-cabinet lighting is also useful for lighting countertops when located above these areas.

Bars and islands lighting

If you have a bar or island, you may want to light them with task lighting options. This may be an overhead or smaller lights on the area.

Range lighting

Your kitchen range will typically have a space for a light under the hood, which helps to illuminate the surface of the oven while cooking.

Sink lighting

Your sink will also typically have an area overhead for a smaller light that highlights the area and allows you to use the sink without lighting up the whole room.

Table lighting

If your kitchen has room to be an eat-in, an accent light may help to highlight the table or counter. Consider a fixture that is separate from the ambient lighting so you can highlight this area and deemphasize the rest of the space while you are eating; it can also be a softer light.

Trends in kitchen lights

Kitchen lighting is one of the more common areas of emphasis during remodels, according to the 2022 U.S. Houzz Kitchen Trends Study, which found that more than three in four people redo their lights when they renovate the kitchen. This provides an opportunity to capitalize on some of the latest trends and innovations in lighting.

The study found that pendant lights and under-cabinet lights are growing increasingly popular in recent years. Energy-efficient lights are also popular, as are smart bulbs that allow you to control the level of lights and ambiance with more precision than your standard lighting fixture.

Written by
AJ Dellinger
Contributing writer
AJ Dellinger is a contributing writer for Bankrate. AJ writes about auto loans and real estate.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor