How To's, Resources + FAQs

How To Light A Kitchen

Just like a healthy balanced breakfast, your kitchen requires the right balance of lighting to get you on the right track to accomplish the day’s tasks.

From homework to list-making to actual meal-prep and cooking, the kitchen is a veritable workhorse in the home. And the proper lighting mix—recessed downlighting, island-highlighting pendants, under-cabinet LEDs—will make sure it’s fit for all of those uses.

With this guide, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of the best modern kitchen lighting fixtures.

Let There Be Lights

The Three Types of Lighting You Need to Know About: Ambient, Task and Accent

1. Ambient: This will be your main source of light—whether in addition to natural light or to fill in for lack of it. You want to cast as much of it as evenly as possible from your ceiling. You can do so with a combination of (but not limited to) chandeliers, pendant lights, recessed lighting, and flushmounts.

2. Task: While ambient lighting is used to enable you to navigate throughout the kitchen, it often leaves shadows in areas that require more focus. With the help of task lighting, work surfaces, and cabinetry are properly illuminated so you can safely prepare meals, read recipes, and easily spot ingredients on a shelf. Common kitchen task lighting options include strip lights and puck lights.

3. Accent: Consider these flourishes the cherry on top of your well-designed kitchen: toe kick lights, cabinet lights, and any other light that might accentuate your favorite elements. They also might cross over into ambient and task lighting as well.

Illuminate Key Lighting Areas

Over your island, under your cabinets, and more ways to layer light in your kitchen

Image via @destinationeichler

Over Your Island: Task or Ambient Lighting

Depending on whether your island has an integrated cooktop/workspace or is more for hanging out, you’ll want to light accordingly.

For task-oriented islands (food prep, recipe reading), try for a mix of recessed downlighting and hanging lights. But for ambient hang-out islands (like counter seating), something as simple as mini-pendants will do: Pendants should be placed at least 30-32 inches apart and 30-36 inches above the island, with at least six inches from edge of island.

Option One: Pendants. When it comes to installing your pendants, as a general rule of thumb, a set of two pendant lights installed over a kitchen island should be at least 30 inches from the center of the island and have 30-32 inches between the countertop and the bottom of the pendant. A set of three pendant lights should be just as high up, spaced apart evenly, and be at least six inches from the edge of the island.

Another Option: Linear Suspension Lighting
Linear suspension lights work well in the kitchen especially if you have higher ceilings and can hang one at least 40” above your countertop.

Under-Cabinet Lighting: For Tasks and Accents

A little bit task lighting, a little bit accent and a whole lot more than just a design frill

While ambient lighting is used to navigate throughout the kitchen, it often leaves shadows under cabinets, in areas that require more focus. With the help of undercabinet task lighting, work surfaces and cabinetry are properly illuminated so you can safely prepare meals, read recipes, and easily spot ingredients on a shelf.

Undercabinet Lighting - Small Kitchen Lighting Ideas | Ylighting
adorne 27″ Modular Track From Legrand Adorne

Good to know: A great sales or support person can help you ensure the size, material, and brightness of a particular fixture is exactly what you need, or even map out a whole lighting scheme. Common kitchen under-cabinet lighting options include:
  • Strip Lights: Versatile and great for illuminating a cabinet’s interior, especially low cabinets that hardly receive any ambient lighting. LED strip lights are also used under the cabinet to fully illuminate counter spaces.
  • Puck Lights: Round and oval, puck lights are great mood lights and can be used to illuminate countertops in the form of a scallop, spot or pool of light.

Focus on the Ceiling: Ambient Lighting Where You Need It Most

The higher and brighter, the better to fill your kitchen with light

Option One: Recessed downlighting. Recessed downlighting is the sine qua non of ambient kitchen lighting. In a smaller kitchen, you might get away with one larger flushmount ceiling light smack dab in the center of your kitchen, but modern kitchen recessed lighting will give you a more customized lighting scheme. You want to splash the light evenly throughout your kitchen, with an emphasis on lighting high-use areas, so grid out the lights in straight lines along the axis of your counters. And if you’re worried about going too bright, add dimmers to give you control in a range of lighting scenarios.

READ MORE » Learn more about recessed lighting in our handy guide: How to Choose Recessed Lighting: Proper Sizing, Spacing and Downlighting Techniques

Another Option: Flushmount or semi-flushmount lighting, as we mentioned, works better when you don’t have as large a space to light. And, unlike recessed lights that are hidden in the ceiling, these lights give you the option to add more stylistic touches to your kitchen.

Add Accent Lighting to Improve Your Kitchen Lighting Design

The grace notes of a well-designed kitchen

The right placement of accent lights can really help emphasize your favorite elements. Common kitchen accent lights include:

  • Recessed: This type of refined, out-of-the-way lighting can go anywhere. But it is particularly important when you want to illuminate areas of visual interest like open shelves and glass cabinets.
  • Over cabinet: Placed between the cabinet and ceiling, overcabinet lights add a dramatic touch to your kitchen. Created in a similar fashion to undercabinet lighting, overcabinet lighting can provide even illumination to accent decor and architecture.
  • Toekick Lights: A great way to distinguish kitchens and to illuminate a pathway. Toe lighting is produced via rope lights or LED tape.

Focusing on the right layers will help you make the most of the space in your kitchen and enjoy every meal from breakfast to midnight snacks. Need some ideas? Discover inspiration in our kitchen lighting ideas.


For more kitchen lighting ideas, follow our favorites on Pinterest:

Tags: ,
Team Y

Team Y

Each YLighting article is backed by the authority of the highest rated service team in the industry. Our design experts are ALA-certified (American Lighting Association) and have an average of 10+ years in the interior design, architectural lighting and home renovation industry. Chat on-line or give us a call toll-free.

Use #YintheWild to show us your modern space. VIEW GALLERY