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Matching Kitchen Lighting to Tasks

When considering lighting in your kitchen remodel it helps to keep the tasks you will perform in a given area in mind. Lighting falls into three categories: ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. Today’s kitchens use a variety of lighting types to illuminate and accent.

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Visit a lighting store showroom or a kitchen design center to get an overview of the different types of lighting. Bring along a snapshot of your current kitchen as well as the dimensions of your kitchen when shopping for lighting. This info will help the sales associate suggest the right lights for your kitchen.

Even though there are three types of lighting, that doesn’t mean that a single light fixture will fall into only one of the categories. Many fixtures can perform two or even all three lighting functions. It just depends on where it’s installed.

  • Ambient lighting: Ambient lighting is a combination of natural light (daylight) and high overhead light fixtures, such as ceiling-mounted, track, or recessed (can) lights. In a larger kitchen, you may be able to get by with one large, centrally positioned ceiling fixture, which provides much of the overhead light for the entire kitchen. Combine that light with a few smaller lights near the wall and ceiling and your overhead lighting needs should be adequately met. If you have a smaller kitchen, you may find that two or three smaller ceiling fixtures provide adequate light.

    If you use incandescent light, 2 to 2.5 watts of incandescent lighting per square foot is a good amount; use 1 to 2 watts of fluorescent lighting per square foot. You can do the math before you head out to the light shop. Then all you’ll need to do is add up the wattage from all the fixtures you’ve chosen to see whether you’re providing adequate illumination.

    Indirect lighting is another useful form of ambient lighting that hides the light source from view but still spreads the light itself in the room. Bouncing light off the walls and ceilings is another form of ambient lighting.

  • Task lighting: Task lighting provides extra light where you’re working. For instance, task lighting might be used over the sink, around the range, along countertops, and in eating areas. Several types of light fixtures provide task lighting:

    • Under-cabinet lights are great for illuminating countertops.

    • Small wall- or ceiling-mounted fixtures can provide task lighting over the sink, eating areas, or an island.

      For areas without cabinets mounted directly above, a wall fixture mounted about 24 inches above the surface works well. Just be sure that the fixture has a shielding glass or the light will be too bright and actually distract you.

    • A range hood or microwave oven light provides task lighting over the range.

    • Hanging or pendant lights are most often used over an eating space or table, or over a center island.

    • Recessed can lights can be positioned directly above a work area. You can use spotlight bulbs that have a tightly focused beam for more pinpoint lighting. Use one 60- or 75-watt bulb for every 20 inches of countertop.

  • Accent lighting: Accent lighting is more decorative than functional, because you use it to spotlight or accent a specific item. You don’t have to use accent lighting all the time, only when you want the item to be illuminated. If you do have accent light in the kitchen, however, it will provide additional ambient light when it’s on.

    For accents, use the brightest light available. The beam should be three to four times more powerful than general lighting. Low-voltage halogen lights work well for this, because their beam is very intense.

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