Lighting your kitchen is another important component of the perfect kitchen; it can make it pop or flop...seriously!   It can add more drama than any tile, stone or schmaltzy cabinetry too.

You've probably been in hundreds of kitchens and never wondered why one was more interesting or felt better than the other...

OK, OK, I'll tell you why.... GOOD LIGHTING makes or breaks a kitchen!

Oddly enough, the kind of lighting in a kitchen that makes it well lit, cozy or sexy isn't particularly expensive; it's just knowing how to do it.... that's why I'm here...

The kitchen above has every possible type of lighting. It's such an over the top kitchen it almost looks like a daytime soap opera set.

Let's consider the primary places we need to light first: 
  • Main work areas
  • Stove-top 
  • Sink area
  • Stairs or passages
After that, convenience lighting:
  • Shadowy areas where appliances or the phone may be
  • Lighting additional work areas
  • Illumination of cabinets and closets when you may need more light to see
Finally "Wishlist Lighting:
  • Cool fixture(s) over the island
  • Cove lighting around the room
  • Under-cabinet lighting(!)
  • Cabinet interior lighting
  • Table lamps
  • Artwork or specialty pieces spot-lit

  • Able see what your cooking (or opening) in your kitchen
  • Next is to be able to move about easily
  • Give the kitchen the ability to be bright and happy or moody and sexy and still see wtf you're doing
  • Avoid glare and over-lit areas
  • Avoid shadows 

Recessed lighting has been used less lately; more surface mounts and pendant fixtures are being seen more and more.  This doesn't mean that recessed lighting is out, it just means that for now (the trend) is to use more conspicuous lighting.  If using recessed lighting as primary lighting make sure you have calculated the ceiling height with the output of your fixture (you don't want a 4" fixture with a 50 watt bulb wayyy up on a 20' high ceiling, the room will look dingy. A lighting expert can help you with that.
Halogen lighting is the best for a kitchen; it's a clear white light and  infinitely dim-able.  Specific fixtures will allow the light to be directed to "wash" or "spot" a specific area. They are available with many styles of apertures.

Do not make the mistake and over-light the room creating a racquetball court and an inferno of excess heat.

This is heinous, in too many ways! Too many crappy 8" diameter recessed lights for general illumination, then those $20 pendants over the bar.... I love the hot-spots from the TWO under-cabinet lights by the sink too.

This above is perfectly done.  Recessed to give general illumination; under cabinet to light the work-space; lanterns above the island for ambiance.

These kitchens above have recessed fixtures for general illumination, but not too many. They're all also complimented with other sources of light.

These kitchens above have used recessed light in a limited quantity in specific work locations, which is best.


Is the most important light in the kitchen; it directly lights the work-space and doesn't hit you in the eye.

This is what you don't want, a glaring fluorescent fixture right in your face!!
The best under-cabinet lighting is Xenon. It's infinitely dim-able so it's great "up bright" for working, or dimmed down for a cocktail party where you can see but its not too bright.

Xenon in my own kitchen on high and dimmed down
Under cabinet lighting should always have a "light rail" around the bottom of the cabinets to obscure the fixture.

A light rail applied to the bottom of the cabinet to obscure the light source.


A innovative application using new technology of inexpensive and cool-operating LED lights. These are installed inside drawers and cabinets. Not inexpensive...


These fixtures should be used only where they will handle a specific need, or accentuate or designate a specific space. They'll look like shit if they're all over the room - like it's raining pendants... Also, in my own "broken record" way....try not to get too trendy...
These fixtures have been "all the rage" for the last 5 - 12 may want to consider that before you go plop down $800 to $3,000 for one...






They can offer an old-fashioned, charming early 20th century look.

(That even makes me giggle to say "track lighting")

This 1980's invention is still soooo out.  It's only used for homes you're renting or on ceilings you can't get wires through, like old houses or apartment buildings.  It's the most unflattering light for people and creates spooky shadows.  Americans interpret darkness (in a kitchen or bath) as unclean.

These rooms above have used track lighting in very discreet ways:

Top left: This modern kitchen has designed a trough in the ceiling in which the tracks are installed. In the center of the room are track heads on "drop stems" (clearly not a cooks kitchen).

Top Right:  A kitchen Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) designed. It has small track heads on a cable system with flood lamps to fill the kitchen with light.

Lower Left:  A cathedral ceiling, which has no crawl-space above to install any kind of lighting uses surface mounted track heads. 

Lower Right: A 17th century country home in Belgium where the super-small halogen track heads were hidden behind the ancient beams not disturbing the integrity of the building or floors above.


Yes, you can have Glass, Onyx, Thassos or Corian counter-tops under-lit!   It doesn't light up the room, it's just a subtle accent.  This is a beautiful application for certain top materials, but it's not for every kitchen as scratches will show when lit.

Onyx: Kinda looks like a brain scan doesn't it? 

Onyx and Corian above.

Textured glass above with bullnose edge.


A wonderful way to make a small or dark kitchen bright and cheerful, it also eliminates the need for lights during the day. Natural light, whether from overhead or through generously proportioned windows is one of the best assets a kitchen can have. With newer technology in insulating skylights, the heat factor isn't an issue anymore.


These four killer kitchens each have a different updated country feeling. The sconces above the work areas adds to the rural feeling without being corny.


This isn't one of my favorite ways to light a room as I think it leans toward a commercial feeling. However, it can be special if used wisely for design purposes; eg: creating the feeling of a higher ceiling or brightening up a dark room naturally.

As you can see, lamps in a kitchen are not always traditional; they offer a friendly, soft light in the evenings.  Every kitchen needs a cozying element.