How To Properly Light a Kitchen

updated Mar 11, 2020
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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

The kitchen: it’s the laboratory of the home, where we “work” to create meals for ourselves and those we live with. Conversely, it’s also often the social hub of the home, where friends gather at parties or even where you might like to hang out solo, just reading a book or listening to the radio. With these dual purposes in mind, it’s often tricky to strike the right lighting balance. Here’s how to get it right:

Last week I talked about properly lighting a living room, and today I’m going to tackle the kitchen, with the same end goal in mind: to have a fully functional space with sufficient amounts of general, task and accent lighting.

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)


In a kitchen, it’s important to have enough general lighting. A single overhead pendant can work in a small room, but it’s even better when supplemented by pot lights or track lighting; here of all places, it’s important to see what you’re doing and avoid eye strain.

(Image credit: Aria & Jason’s Austin Oasis)


Task lighting in the kitchen primarily translates into having sufficient lighting on work surfaces, at a low enough level to be useful. Under-counter spotlights or tracks are tried and true, but with the current trend toward fewer upper cabinets and a more open-looking space, you’ve got to get creative. Wall-mounted desk-style lights are a fun and practical option, as is a row of smaller, low-hanging pendants along a countertop.


Accent lighting in the kitchen is primarily used to highlight the architectural features of the space and is often decorative; for example, internal lighting within glass-fronted cupboards, LED strip lighting along the base of an island, or a wall-hung neon sign saying “EAT.” This type of lighting in inviting and enhances the ambiance of the space, particularly at night or when the other lighting types aren’t in use.

A Note on Lighting Islands

Keep in mind that when you have a central island in your kitchen, the lighting above it will need to contribute to at least two, if not all of these lighting types. It is general lighting because it’s in the center of the room, task if you use the island as a workspace, and accent if you gather around it as a social hub when not working. One large attractive pendent, or a group of smaller ones, should cover all bases if hung at the right level and is dimmable.

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