How To's

How To Light A Kitchen Island

Expert tips on the best lighting fixtures for kitchen island modern lighting and where to place them.

The kitchen island is one of the hardest-working and most versatile spots in a home, employed for food prep, cooking, and family time. For advice on picking the right lighting for this area—as well as how and where to hang them—we turned to Shelley Wald, President of WAC Lighting, a leader in LED technology and creator of a vast range of modern lighting designs. Read on for her tips on bringing sparkle into your kitchen, and why layering lighting is key.

What should you keep in mind when you’re coming up with a lighting plan for your kitchen island?
Shelley Wald: You want to select lighting that will complement the range of functions performed here, from chopping vegetables, to reading recipes, to entertaining and family time. An optimal lighting plan provides the ability to control brightness for these various tasks, while enhancing the overall design and providing visual cues about the central importance of this space in the kitchen. Also, make sure you have dimmers so you can adjust the mood.

What lighting works best for illuminating kitchen islands?
SW: Pendants fit the bill for task and decorative needs, but people often go too small with them. Consider using two of these rather than one, and also think about a larger size to achieve a more upscale style. Clusters of smaller pendants—arranged in either a traditional line or clustered at various hanging heights—can create an impressive display perfectly scaled for the island. WAC’s Genesis 12 Light Mirrored Canopy Pendant is great for this application, and introduces a piece of art in your kitchen.

Genesis 12 Light Mirrored Canopy Pendant from WAC
Genesis 12 Light Mirrored Canopy Pendant from WAC Lighting

Pendants are clearly popular here, but what other design options should people consider?
SW: For longer and deeper counters, you can try one or more large and linear chandeliers, such as the Davos 45in Linear Suspension. Another approach is a cluster of LED Beauty Spots, which offer a low profile and a pop of glamour without interrupting the view.

Davos 45in Linear Suspension from Modern Forms

What about recessed lighting?
SW: If you don’t want anything hanging over your island, recessed lighting works perfectly. It offers a more concealed light source, while maintaining the appropriate illumination for all tasks. I recommend the Tesla High Output recessed down lights in 2- or 3.5-inch sizes.
However, it’s good to think of your lighting plan three-dimensionally, and ways to layer it. Recessed lighting will provide continuous illumination across the kitchen while helping to highlight any decorative fixtures over the island. If the pendants are shiny—such as the Roxy pendant, which creates sparkles with no glare—recessed lighting shows them at their best.

Roxy Quick Connect Pendant Light
Roxy Quick Connect Pendant Light from WAC Lighting

What about LEDs for kitchen island lighting?
SW:  I’m partial to LEDs, and with the technology providing directional illumination and higher lumen output decorative chandeliers and pendants can now be utilized over the kitchen island for task lighting. A favorite of mine from Modern Forms is the Soleil pendant.

Soleil 18in Pendant Light from Modern Forms
Soleil 18in Pendant Light from Modern Forms

What is the proper height to hang kitchen-island lighting and where do you position it?
SW:  The rule of thumb is to suspend it 28 to 34 inches above the island. As for positioning, centering the lighting is most common and offers even light distribution. If it’s not centered you have to be sure you have adequate lighting on the surface from other luminaires.

Any advice on picking the right bulbs, in terms of wattage, brightness, warmth versus coolness, and so on?
SW: LED luminaires are the most effective as they keep wattage at a minimum while delivering the high lumen output needed for task lighting. As a point of comparison, 50 incandescent watts is comparable to around 800 lumens of unshielded light from LEDs.

Line dwelLED Pendant Light by WAC Lighting
Line dwelLED Pendant Light by WAC Lighting

For a typical kitchen, you would go with a warmer color temperature such as 2700K-3500K, as this will create a more welcoming feel. If you have warm wood tones in your kitchen, go lower; for cooler colors, pick a bulb that’s higher in that range.

A great fixture for kitchens is WAC’s LINE collection, which uses advanced glare-free technology in 2700K and 3000K color temperature options. We’re offering a pendant option that we introduced on YLighting.

For More Advice + Inspiration

Sharon Choe

Sharon Choe

As a Merchandise Manager for YLiving by day, Sharon is driven to bring quality high-design products to her customers. By night, she’s an adventurous diner and avid home cook, who runs an underground supper club in San Francisco. Her long list of vices include French porcelain, cured meats, beautiful chairs, kitchen knives and planning weddings.

  • Megan Faulkner

    What types of lighting can you add if you have a cooktop in the island with a vent above it? Would you suggest to just use recessed lighting to illuminate the other sections of the island?

    • Stephanie Weldon

      Recessed lighting is definitely a great way to go. It
      provides great general lighting and a clean finished look. Alternatively you could also use track or
      monorail lighting, which will allow you to mix and match focused spot lights
      and general lighting. It will also allow you to incorporate some pendant lights
      if you also have a bar and seating on the other side of your island. There is a
      good post on here, How to Choose Track Lighting that might help you deciding if it is right
      for you. For larger kitchens, some people
      use a combination of recessed and track lighting. YLighting is definitely a
      great resource for checking out all of your options. They also have a very knowledgeable and
      helpful team of Product Specialist who can go over options with you too.

  • Edyta

    Should chandeliers be over middle of the island ? ( planning 2 big islands and 2 chandeliers over each island ) or could it be a litlle off? Is there a rule? Thank you

  • Kath

    I have two counter height islands both are 12 foot long, one with the sink and the other island to be used as an eating counter -one right in front of the other as you look into kitchen from living area. I want to put 2 pendant lights over each island – question should all lights be the same over both? There is also recessed lighting in the kitchen

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