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How to Light a Kitchen

San Francisco designer April Powers provides expert tips

For many people, the kitchen is the hub of the home these days. “That’s why it has to be functional, comfortable—and tied together with the right lighting,” says San Francisco–based interior designer April Powers. Here, Powers, whose contemporary yet timeless designs have been featured in publications such as Architectural Digest, offers pointers on how to create optimal lighting in the kitchen.

YLighting: What are some universal tips to keep in mind when lighting a kitchen?

April Powers: The kitchen has become about so much more than food prep; it’s inevitably where everyone will congregate when entertaining, so it’s important that the lighting is both task-oriented as well as ambient and friendly. Avoid anything overly bright. Also, all fixtures should be dimmable so the light can be adjusted to meet specific needs. And since so many kitchens are located directly off a great room, it’s nice to be able to lower the lighting levels once the food prep is done.

YL: What about placement of the lighting?

AP: It’s best to work with three levels of light in a kitchen: down lights (also called recessed), under-cabinet strip lighting, and hanging (or pendant) lighting. Wattages can vary based on the space, but typically, MR16 Halogens or LED lamps are used in the recessed fixtures, LEDs for strip lights, and incandescents for pendants. As for bulb color temperature, I usually opt for warm, golden tones.


Tom Dixon’s Pressed Glass Tube Pendant

YL: Why are down lights important?

AP: Recessed lighting in the ceiling is best for general room illumination and combats glare and shadows. I like the Tesla 2” High Output LED 0-30 degree Adjustable Reflector because it has a small aperture so you’re not punching an enormous hole in the ceiling. Recessed lights also work well in areas of circulation, like walkways, and the space between the island and kitchen sink. You can install them wherever you need them so they are good for task lighting, such as over sinks.


WAC Tesla 2 in. High Output LED Adjustable Recessed Light

YL: Which under-cabinet lighting do you like?

AP: For task lighting at countertops, I often use LED strip lights like the Ledra Orion Sabre from Bruck Lighting because LED lights stay cooler than incandescents. They’re mounted behind the fascia board at the front of the cabinet, so they’re hidden from view and not shining in anyone’s eyes, but the light is directed down on to the counter.



YL: How about pendants?

AP: They’re ideal over islands and dining areas to bring a warmer, more ambient light. They provide light at a lower level in the room than recessed ceiling fixtures, which allows for more balanced overall lighting and some stylistic and visual interest. I typically prefer for pendants to hang approximately 40 inches above the island or tabletop so they’re not in the sight line of the average person standing or sitting in the space.

A nice option over an island is Tom Dixon’s Pressed Glass Tube Pendant, which I like to use with clear bulbs. It offers a decorative accent and a softer, diffused light that filters through the hand-blown glass. A good option for the dining area is the Moooi Round Boon Pendant because the black shade will direct the light more specifically onto the table surface and the ceiling above. It creates a more moody effect than a typical fixture that glows from all sides.


Moooi Round Boon Pendant

YL: What if you’re lucky enough to have a light-flooded kitchen?

AP: If the room is well lit, add accent lighting for interest. One example is to float shelves at open cabinets, or cabinets with glass doors, and mount LED strip lights in the back of the shelves. This creates a wash of light at the back cabinet wall that highlights the objects on the shelves. Typically, you will want to leave approximately 2 to 2.5 inches of space between the back of the shelf and the back wall of the cabinet. Also, add a small wood stop or bumper at the back of the shelf to keep items on the shelves from being pushed into the light-strip gap. The Ledra Orion Sabre mentioned above works great for this.

YL: What’s the biggest mistake you see when it comes to kitchen lighting?

AP: Too many lights hanging from the ceiling. I typically tend towards having only one hanging-style fixture in the kitchen, whether it’s a pendant over an island or eating area, or a pot rack with integral down-lights over an island or cooking area. I usually prefer either/or—two competing hanging lights leave the ceiling plane feeling cluttered.

—Stephen Milioti

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