Here’s a good article on kitchen lighting by Hadley Keller for House Beautiful.
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More than any other room in the house, a kitchen needs thoughtfully considered lighting. And not just one lonely schoolhouse-style pendant above the island. “A good kitchen needs several types of light,” explains designer Jean Stoffer, who put this theory into practice in the home of House Beautiful’s editorial director, Jo Saltz, who just completed a gut renovation of her own New Jersey kitchen.
As we all know—whether you’re an avid cook or someone who only breaks out a cutting board to cut the crusts off their sandwich—a kitchen needs to be pleasant to inhabit but also functional. That’s the whole point! That means you need lighting that looks good and helps you get all your cooking/cleaning/crafting/whatever else you do in there done. As Stoffer sees it, every kitchen needs four types of lighting to achieve this.
When you think of a sun-drenched room, that’s the kind of all-over light Stoffer likes to start with in a kitchen. Her approach is two-pronged: The first step is to determine what natural light your kitchen gets, then to fill in the gaps with artificial light. At the Saltzes’ home, the kitchen gets abundant natural light in the morning, but once the sun goes down, Stoffer pointed out, they’d need to replace that glow with all-over light from fixtures. Since the family knew they’d be splurging on more decorative lighting (more on that below), they installed simple, builder-grade can lights from Home Depot in the ceiling to get this glow.
2. Task lighting
“People love the look of that ambient light, but when you’re using the kitchen, you need it to be like a laboratory so you can read that recipe,” says Stoffer. This is where task lighting comes in. Task lighting is what it sounds like: lights intended for specific tasks. So at a counter where you often read recipes, you might install under-cabinet lights to better see these. Or in a dim corner that has great counter space for chopping, consider a sconce that casts light down. Stoffer installed one sconce (she opted for the Anderson by Thomas O’Brien) over each window to illuminate the space below when the sun has gone down—”so I don’t cut off a finger,” Saltz points out.
3. Pendant lights
Pendant lights, popular choices for over a kitchen island, can function as somewhat of a bridge between task and ambient light. For the Saltz kitchen, Stoffer opted for a Circa light by Peter Bristol that emits a soft, all-around glow, making it ideal as a less harsh ambient light. (Plus, the LED bulbs are built right into the fixture—so no bulbs to change!) She hung three along the 10-foot kitchen island, just above eye level so they don’t get in the way of family interactions.
4. Decorative lighting
Beyond pure functionality, lighting is about beauty, too! In the Saltz kitchen, Stoffer opted for a couple mini flush-mounts by Kelly Wearstler in the range alcove, providing personality in the otherwise fairly neutral design scheme. “They just bring a little bit of bling,” says Stoffer. This kind of accent could also come by way of table or desk lamps, if your counter space allows for it. “It’s kind of like the accessory that makes the outfit,” says Saltz.
Lesson learned? “You really do need a lot of different kinds of light in the kitchen,” says Saltz. Now you know!