If you are renovating or refreshing your kitchen this year, says Cynthia Rouse, “Perhaps the most important aspect of your project will be the decisions you make about lighting. It can dramatically influence the feel of a room, making it warm and inviting, cozy and comfortable, or cold and distant at the flip of a switch.”
Rouse, owner of Cynthia Rouse Interior Design and a lighting consultant for Guildwood Lighting and Fireside, recommends layering the lighting in a kitchen. There are three kinds of lighting you will need to consider – general, task, and accent – and a successful plan will involve all three.
Older homes might have just one light fixture in the centre of the kitchen, which creates a ‘cave’ effect says Rouse, because there is not enough reflective light on the ceilings and walls. It is better to have multiple lights which can be turned on or off, and brightened or dimmed, depending on what they are needed for.
Task lighting is usually installed over an island or counter, where you need good lighting while you work. Pendants, under-cabinet and track lighting are common choices for task lighting.
Track lighting can also be used to spotlight the stove, sink, pantry or other areas of the kitchen. And it can be used to direct the eye to a piece of art or to highlight a focal point, for example an architectural feature in an older home.
Accent lighting can add drama to a space. “By illuminating the top of the kitchen cabinets, adding under-counter lighting or hanging a coloured pendant over the kitchen island, you can create islands of light that bring the grain of the wood, the print of the wallpaper or the colour of a wall to life,” says Rouse.
When working with a lighting consultant, it is best to bring a floor plan that is drawn to scale, with the layout of cabinetry and existing electrical, and also to know the ceiling height. “It is important to plan your lighting even earlier than other decorating ideas, because there are frequently decisions that need to be made relative to the location and type of electrical outlet installation during construction,” says Rouse.
Each light will have its own switch and often its own dimmer, enabling you have light where and when you need it, and at the proper level of illumination. Rouse calls dimmers an inexpensive trick of the trade. They can be manipulated to create dimension or to set a special mood.
Once you have an idea of where you want to have lighting, you will need to decide on what kinds of fixtures to install. Do you want mini-pendants or one large fixture over the kitchen island? A chandelier or a cluster of pendants over the table? Are you interested in a decorative piece that will make a design statement? Do recessed cans for general lighting appeal to you?
One of the quickest and easiest ways to update a kitchen is to use drum-shaped hanging fixtures. The transitional design provides clean lines and is like a chameleon that adapts comfortably to traditional, modern or contemporary décor, says Rouse.
“Whether you decide to go with recessed cans, lamps, chandeliers or pendants, decorative lighting is probably the most important accessory you can buy,” says Rouse. Choosing unique, artistic fixtures is one of the major trends that Rouse has noticed. People are opting for clean and sleek but upscale, with brushed brass, oil rubbed bronze and satin nickel as popular finishes.
“Mini-pendants placed over islands are being replaced with larger decorative accents, and they frequently match or at least compliment the chandelier in the dining room, particularly if the rooms are close together,” says Rouse. The three-pendant configuration is disappearing, with a move to either larger and fewer (one or two, depending on the size of the island) or to a cluster of smaller but more pendants together.
Another trend Rouse notes is towards more energy efficient lighting choices. “These days people are greener than ever before. Lighting manufacturers are adapting their most popular designs to LED lighting, using warm light, which is closest to incandescent light, and ensuring the LED is dimmable,” says Rouse.
Although they have come down in price, the cost of LED bulbs continues to be a drawback for some consumers. As their popularity grows and technology matures however, the price of bulbs will continue to drop. Also, Rouse notes, it is not necessary to purchase fixtures made specifically for LEDs (which can be quite expensive); LED bulbs can be used in most regular housings. Most LEDs offer a 30,000-hour lifespan, compared to the 8,000-hour life of a traditional compact fluorescent lamp, she says, which you may want to consider when you are installing a chandelier, recessed lighting, or other fixtures in hard to reach places.
Rouse recommends hanging pendants 30 inches above the island or counter top in a kitchen with an eight-foot ceiling. For higher ceilings, add one inch for each additional foot of height, to a maximum of 32 inches. Any higher, and the light will dissipate too much, she says.
“Give lighting as much consideration as other decorating decisions,” says Rouse. Create a master plan of how you want the finished kitchen to look. Think about how and when you use this space. Is it a place where children do their homework? Where you entertain guests? What kind of general lighting, task lighting and accent lighting will you need for each purpose? What kinds of fixtures will best suit your kitchen?
Fixtures can influence the look and feel of a room as much as a piece of artwork, says Rouse. “No matter what your budget, opt for timeless materials like hand-forged iron, bronze and glass over their plastic counterparts. Timeless designs in top materials will always look right and can become family heirlooms.”
NATALIE NOVAK is a happily transplanted northerner who enjoys living in and writing about London.