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How to Choose the Right Kitchen Lighting

June 11, 2021
Bright white kitchen at Caliterra by Brookfield Residential in Dripping Springs, TX

What every kitchen needs, as much as sharp kitchen knives or quality cookware, is great light. A well-thought-out lighting scheme will deliver the right brightness levels where you need it as well as create an inviting ambiance. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a light fixture that does it all: illuminates under the cabinets, provides light over the island, adds drama, and sets the mood. A good kitchen should not only be stylish, but also functional (that’s the whole point!) and this can be accomplished with four different types of lighting.

So how do you choose the right lighting for your kitchen? We’ll walk you through it:

Bright white kitchen at Canyon Pass by Brookfield Residential in Lakeway, TX

Start with overhead lighting

1. Ambient Lighting

No matter the size of your kitchen, good lighting starts with ambient lighting. This will be your main source of light. Figure out what natural light your kitchen gets during the day, then fill in the gaps with artificial lights. Once the sun goes down, you’ll need to replace that glow with all-over light from fixtures. This is a gentler light that fills the room and you’ll want to cast as much of it as evenly as possible from your ceiling. This can be accomplished with recessed lighting or ceiling flush mounts.

Layer in support lighting

No single layer of light can stand alone. How many dining rooms have you seen where it’s one chandelier over the table and that’s it? You can’t see Aunt Edna at the other end of the table because she’s lost in this supernova of illumination. You need to brighten the spaces around your overhead lighting and highlight specific areas with support lighting – the lighting that makes your space functional.

2. Task Lighting

Under cabinet lighting in the kitchens of Brookfield Residential homes

This is exactly as it sounds – lights intended for specific tasks. Imagine yourself in the kitchen; think about what you normally do and where you do it. At the counter where you read your recipes and chop your veggies, you may want under-cabinet lights so you can see better. If your sink is in front of a window in the kitchen, you may want a sconce that casts light downward so once the sun has set you can ensure those dishes are really clean. In the pantry, you’ll want overhead lighting so you can see what goods are stocked on the shelves. Task lighting is designed to brighten the shadows left by ambient lighting alone. There are some great options including strip lights that fully illuminate the counter space or puck lights that emit a spot or pool of light.

3. Pendant Lights

Glass pendant lighting at Terracina by Brookfield Residential in San Marcos, CA

These are a good middle ground between task and ambient light while providing depth and dimension to the space. In general, the longer your kitchen island and the higher your ceiling, the larger your pendant can be. Depending on the size of your island, choose between two and three pendant lights to keep the look balanced. It’s key that the arrangement be well proportioned and visually unified. Pendant lights are a great way to carry your décor style from the rest of the home into the kitchen. Whether it’s rustic farmhouse, striking and modern, or bold and industrial, whatever your style may be, with a large selection of materials and finishes, your options are almost endless.

4. Decorative Accents

Rustic chandelier in a white kitchen at a Brookfield Residential home in Southern California

This is the final layer in your overall lighting scheme and where you can have some fun and incorporate decorative fixtures to let your personal style shine. Think bold chandeliers and striking linear suspensions – something to add drama to the space and bring attention to the fixture. Since this is often the most expensive part of your lighting design scheme, you can always install the infrastructure – the junction box and/or recessed box into the ceiling – and purchase the actual fixture down the road when your budget allows.

Configure and customize

You’ve shopped all the décor websites, fallen in love with a fixture, have it delivered, and, uh oh, it’s way too small for the space. Before you place an order, consider how the fixture will fit in your kitchen. Whether you’re going for an oversized statement piece or a streamlined trio of pendants, measuring your space accurately is key. As a general rule of thumb, pendant lights installed over a kitchen island should have 30-36 inches between the countertop and the bottom of the pendant (you don’t want them hanging in front of your guests’ faces). Allow 26-30 inches between multiple pendants and 12 inches from the edge of the island to the light fixture. Depending on the size of your room and kitchen island, some adjustments may be necessary. Test out your measurements by hanging a piece of paper or balloon from a string taped to the ceiling. As silly as it looks, it will help you to visualize how much space the fixture will take up and the right distance it should be from the floor, counter workspace, or kitchen island.

Kitchen details at Marigold by Brookfield Residential in Ontario Ranch, CA

Find the right finish

With today’s open concept floor plans, your kitchen lighting is important in how it relates to the surrounding rooms. You want it to be complementary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use the same fixture throughout your home. Instead, focus on coordinating the finishes to create a cohesive feel. The finish you choose really sets the tone of your style – brass adds warmth, oil-rubbed bronze brings contrast, polished chrome and nickel are classic choices if you’re looking for a more streamlined, contemporary look, or you can mix it up with something fun like a rose gold or polished copper. If you want a more eclectic look by mixing finishes, it’s easier on the eyes if you choose one finish for your cabinet hardware and another finish for all your lighting.

Warm white kitchen by Brookfield Residential at Cranston Riverstone in Calgary, AB

Set the mood

You’ve found the perfect lighting for your kitchen and are ready to have a space that is cozy, stylish, and functional. Don’t botch all your hard work by using whatever lightbulb you find at Target – take some time to figure out what color temperature makes the most sense in each spot. Cooler bubs help with visibility whereas warmer bulbs give off that cozy, casual vibe you find in lounges and restaurants. Ideally, lighting should mimic the sun and change over the course of the day and that is most easily accomplished with dimmers.

Kitchen details at Haciendas by Brookfield Residential in Chula Vista, CA

Your kitchen is the heart of the home and it should be a place that feels welcoming, stylish, and functional. It should be a place that can transition from the homework hub for your kids to the perfect spot for hosting guests and lighting is a great way to set the tone. When you’re ready to find the best place to call home, Brookfield Residential is ready to help.

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