How to: Lighting a kitchen

Good lighting is crucial to a successful kitchen scheme and needs to be planned right from the start.

Appliances

When thinking about your perfect kitchen, you may have considered the cabinets, the appliances, worktops, flooring and colour scheme, but have you given much thought to lighting your kitchen?

It’s something that is often overlooked when we plan the purchase of a new design but get it right, and you’ll instantly benefit from a brighter, more efficient space that’s a pleasure to work in.

Lighting is naturally space-enhancing and can make rooms of all shapes and sizes feel bigger and brighter. When it comes to lighting a new kitchen, it’s more important than ever to plan ahead during the early stages of the design, as all electrics and fittings need to be installed before any plastering, decorating and fitting of the kitchen itself can take place.

Take your time to consider your needs at this early stage and you can avoid mistakes, which would be costly to rectify later on. Wherever possible, try to budget as much for your kitchen lighting as you would your flooring. It’s just as important and can make or break a design.

Consider each zone in the kitchen in turn and identify the best type of lighting for each area – directional and functional or dimmable to create a more relaxed atmosphere? You should have strong task lights over all the preparation and cooking areas, as well as the sink, along with general lighting and feature lights, too. Think of it as a layered effect with each light serving a separate function.

Bouncing light off surfaces is also a good way of increasing light in the kitchen and the effect of lighting on glass or highly polished granite worktops can be spectacular. You should also ensure that any plasterwork or finish around the tiles is up to scratch however, as any imperfections will show up.

Think of the room as a director looks at a stage set. Lighting should not be fixed, but flexible enough to create a number of different effects, depending on the time of day or night and the mood you wish to create. Look at the room from different angles and at different times of the day. Effects can be achieved by using uplighters, downlights, spotlights, shelf lights and accent lights.

Decide if you want to hide the fittings or make a feature of them and discuss everything with your electrician and retailer well in advance of any decorative work. Technology is constantly changing, so ask what is available and shop around.

Always use a qualified electrician for advice and to carry out the work. Bear in mind that government legislation has changed recently in a bid to phase out the old, incandescent bulbs. At the moment, manufacturers cannot place any 60W clear incandescent lamps on the market. From September 2012, they will not be able to sell any remaining clear 40W and 25W bulbs. You’ll now find that stores sell energy saving bulbs instead, which last up to ten times longer and save money on electricity bills, too. Other energy savers include halogens and LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes).

These are the starting point in the planning and design process and it’s essential that there is sufficient illumination to work comfortably and safely. It’s particularly important if worktops and splashbacks are made from a dark material, such as black granite, and it also helps to make working areas feel more spacious.

You’ll need direct lighting where any kitchen prep is going to take place – worktops, sink and hob – to ensure that all chopping and cooking is done safely, without shadows. Look for recessed or semi-recessed fittings, as exposed light fittings will collect grease and grime more easily. Under-cabinet lighting is one of the best solutions with LEDs offering excellent illumination and energy efficiency. Try to place them at 50cm-60cm intervals for best results.

You could consider illuminating drawers and cabinets to make it easier to find that elusive palette knife. Sensors allow the cabinet or drawer to instantly light up when opened, while string lights in larder units are especially useful.

Perfect for making a feature out of your favourite pieces, decorative lighting can be installed in glass-fronted cabinets and beneath or behind open shelving to highlight glassware or cookery books. You can even have light strips installed beneath the perimeter of an island worktop for a touch of wow factor after dark.

In a kitchen with a dining table or breakfast bar it’s important to combine adequate lighting for eating with softer lights for after-dinner conversation. Use a row of eye-catching pendants overhead to make a statement and team with table lamps and wall lights for a soft, warm glow.

If the kitchen is a multifunctional space with a strong living element, such as an open plan kitchen-diner-living area, then the kitchen has to create the right atmosphere for different activities – reading, relaxing, watching TV or catching up on paperwork. Layered lighting can help to link these areas or create distinct zones.

Aesthetically, mood lighting can change the ambience of the kitchen from practical preparation space to chill-out or entertainment area. Introduce plinth lights around an island unit or breakfast bar for impact after dark or consider colour-changing LEDs to change mood and atmosphere at the flick of a switch.

When planning a lighting scheme, don’t overlook the amount of natural light coming into the room, as this should be balanced with the artificial light to achieve the optimum levels. Look at the room during different times of day and even during different seasons, too, if time allows.

You should also consider the light-reflective qualities of certain materials such as polished granite worktops, which can appear super-sparkly when light is reflected off its surface. Ask about dimmers wherever possible or having different lights set on the same system, so you can turn on all the mood lighting for instance with just one switch.