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Light Up Your Kitchen and See the Difference

By Steven V. Philips –

You easily could lose a finger, if not your arm, in the shadows of many kitchens. Good lighting is often the missing component and this is the room where you use sharp instruments! Ever see the shadowless lights in an operating room? Well, maybe a chopped salad isn’t brain surgery (for me it would be), but a carrot could look like your finger if you’re standing in your shadow. So when you’re doing, or re-doing, your kitchen, get lit. And not on the cooking sherry like your mother-in-law does.

Professional kitchen designers usually (he said optimistically), plan the lighting as they design the kitchen. On the other hand, most builders don’t. OK, some don’t. So sue me. But if you’ve got a chance to add/change some things in that new, or remodeled, kitchen, pay attention here.

If you want to sound vaguely knowledgeable – a person of design expertise and sophistication when you shop? Roll these words off your tongue for creditability. Ambient light is overall light from a light source you see, or it may be indirect. Task light shines directly onto the work area. Accent light is spotted directly on that Van Gogh you have over the dining table or the Urdu Pomegranate Sculpture on your island, as I know you have those. All of these types of lighting come into play in a properly illuminated kitchen.

Ambient: Fluorescent tubes are the cheap and quick way. Unattractive fixtures, unflattering light (and a dated look) so sign me up for this loveliness NOT. You can slightly hedge the flat, boring look by using warm hue tubes and hiding them behind low valances on top of cabinets. Then the light is bounced off the ceiling, not your startlingly hypnotic eyeballs. These bulbs have probably 10,000 hours of usable light until they start to dim.

And kids, if you must have a kitchen ceiling fan, don’t buy one with any stupid lights on the bottom unless you’re lighting scenes for a low budget movie set in a fourth floor, cold-water, walk-up tenement and want to show cold glare and harshness. (Wanna know how I really feel?) In recessed ceiling cans use a coil shaped CFL. I know its shape is especially lovely if you like soft ice cream cones, but these have a bulb life of 6,000 hours, and using 15 watts here is equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent. This
really helps lower the power bills even with your trust fund. Plus these come in a dimmable version. Just remember that cans focus light down in a more distinct pattern of pools of light. And note!!, these are x-nay for proper counter task lighting unless you like to do finger puppet shadow figures of talking food to entertain your guests.

Whatever ambient source you choose, make sure you can light your way in and out of the room by having switches for these fixtures at all entry points. And with a dimmer.

Task: Area One requiring task lighting is the counter. Warm fluorescents, Xenon bulbs (10,000 hours) or the just arriving, and still expensive (but 60,000 hour life) LEDs? Pay your money and light your light. Shield them from giving your face that ruddy glow of your mother-in-law with a valance and, if possible, be able to dim them. (Light reflected from a glass backsplash = very nice and if you light from behind bravo, you genius!) Over an island, pendant drop lights need down-focused bulbs so it’s probably going to be halogen or Xenon, preferably the latter for cooler running and longer bulb life. And LED’s are on the way.

Accent: Halogen or Xenon bulbs. LEDs are a-coming for here too. It’s fine to use the Internet for research but nothing beats seeing fixtures and results in person.

  • Over a dining table, set pendants at 30 inches above the surface so you can see across the table and not cut your head, requiring stitches.
  • Pendants over an island should be 66 inches from the floor, also for a sight line, with one pendant for every 2 linear feet of counter.
  • You can also use LEDs as indirect lights above the cabinets. Also as toe-kick illumination to flood the floor, but then train your dog to lap up the errant crumbs, as this will highlight them!

Speaking of economy, 48 LEDs will use less than 6 watts, and generate no  heat, so this is the future of lighting. And fast arriving. Shine on, homeowners.

2 Responses to “Light Up Your Kitchen and See the Difference”

  1. Eleanor Sage says:

    Once again, Mr. Philips offers some real time, wise advice. I certainly would like to contract him to come to my house and straighten out some of my lighting problems, plus several other problems I’m having…..

  2. Hank says:

    I like how are you thinking…and I must confess I’m totally addicted to your articles!

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