Gone are the days when you expected your kitchen to be lighted by one fixture in the center of the ceiling. A single glaring light overlooking the entire room doesn’t do much for your kitchen’s look or functionality. In fact, lighting designers featured by HGTV.com recommend making use of four layers of interior lighting: ambient, task, accent, and decorative. Randall Whitehead, a San Francisco lighting designer and author of Residential Lighting: A Practical Guide says the most effective lighting for the kitchen involves a blend of all four layers.
Ambient lighting, or general illumination that has no visible source and comes from all directions in a room, is often overlooked in kitchens, according to Whitehead. “This indirect lighting is what I like to call the humanizing ingredient to any lighting design,” he told HGTV. “It softens the lines and shadows on people’s faces and creates a warm inviting glow in the room.”
Task lighting is just what it sounds like – lighting that illuminates spaces designed for specific tasks. Task lighting is a critical element of kitchen design because areas used for chopping, mixing, and cooking must be illuminated properly for the benefit of the cook; you don’t want shadows falling over critical work areas.
Joe Rey-Barreau, director of education for the American Lighting Association, tells HGTV that important locations for task lighting in the kitchen include underneath overhead cabinets and above the kitchen island — although any area used for cooking tasks or for reading recipes will benefit from task lighting. He suggests that the pantry is well served by bright, focused lighting.
Popular choices for task lighting include strip lights and long linear bulbs. Under-cabinet lights can provide excellent illumination for counter areas, and can double to provide soft ambient lighting if attached to a dimmer switch. According to ThisOldHouse.com, under-cabinet lighting is readily available at lighting stores and home centers, and there are a variety of options. If you don’t like the light cast by common fluorescent bulbs, you might like halogen bulbs, which provide a bright, white light and are a third more efficient than incandescent bulbs (though not quite as eco-friendly as fluorescent lights).
Accent lighting, according to Wisegeek.com, highlights “key objects and focal points in the home or surrounding landscape.” Used less often for lighting in the kitchen, accent lighting is now getting more attention. Many kitchens have become gathering places for family and guests, and décor has taken on a greater role. Whitehead sometimes uses lighting inside glass cabinets to highlight china and glassware, for example. Track lighting, up-lighters, directional eyeball lights and wall sconces are all considered accent fixtures.
Decorative lighting is possibly the last priority in the kitchen, in the sense that lighting additions such as hanging pendants and chandeliers can be expensive and should be used only when they make sense in the space. One option for renovators on a budget: install the infrastructure that will support decorative lighting. Then you can purchase the right fixture when finances allow.
The lighting layers in your kitchen should be flexible; install dimmers and switches that will allow you to control needed fixtures and adjust required light, and consider implementing zones that include lights on specific dimmers. Some households even make use of a “scene” integration system that has pre-settings for the entire room (such as “food preparation” or “dining”).
When you’re considering lighting design for your kitchen, think about energy efficiency. Not only will you save money with energy-efficient lighting, you’ll be contributing to the global effort to preserve natural resources. The first phase of the Energy Independence and Security Act, which includes an overhaul of the way lighting is manufactured and sold in the United States, is being implemented as of January this year. To read more about how the EISA impacts the availability of light bulbs for your home, visit Lightopedia.com.
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