How to Light a Kitchen

Are you planning a brand new kitchen and looking for some kitchen lighting design tips? Maybe your kitchen lighting simply needs some upgrading and now is the time to look a little deeper into choosing kitchen lighting by understanding how a kitchen is best lit?

When it comes to kitchen lighting there’s a lot of things to get right. If you’re anything like me and my family it’s probably the most used room in the whole house. In this guide, we’re going to walk you through some of things you need to consider before designing your lighting in our how to light a kitchen guide.

The power of great lighting choices is incredible, it can make or break the functionality and enjoyment of a space. Please do not leave it to others to make all these important decisions, or at the very least learn more now so you can know for sure that your lighting design is right for your space.

So follow our quick and easy guide kitchen lighting guide to show you the most important topics you need to consider, with tips and example solutions to help you step towards the perfect kitchen lighting design for you and your space. 

Lighting a Kitchen Made Simple

The kitchen is the heart of the home and even more so when the space is open plan spreading into dining, lounge and living areas. The impact of your lighting choices, positions and control must be holistic and if you are not careful can get a bit complicated. So to save you from that we have simplified the process by directing you to the key lighting design decisions that have to be made – without the stress. 

Read this alongside our Best Kitchen Lighting in 2021: Buying Guide & Reviews and you will be making professional lighting design choices in no time!

How to plan your kitchen lighting

If you could employ a lighting designer to get the best out of your space they would first have to have a good understanding of the three dimensional space they are designing for and how the kitchen joinery fits into it. This is where you start. 

If you are designing from a plan of the new kitchen then you need to try and visualise what it will be like to stand in it, work and prepare food in it. It’s the same if you are modifying an existing space. Really know the new design and pretend to use it, noting down all the key areas that light will play an important role in. Particularly pay attention to whether any of these activities will need lighting even in the daytime, will your natural light provision be enough?

Each activity will determine the type of light that best suits its requirements throughout the different times of the day. For example, when chopping food you need a bright source of light. List your activities and let us match each one with the correct type of light. Read on for more.

Planning Your Kitchen Lighting Step By Step

You can benefit from how a lighting designer would plan your kitchen lighting by following our in depth process of decision making: A Design Guide to Lighting a Kitchen

Consider how to control your lighting

Deciding on how to control your lighting is also a key consideration to successful lighting design, especially if you are installing a brand new kitchen with the opportunity to create new circuits. 

It is helpful to think of using light in a space to be like painting a picture. Good lighting design paints with light to sculpt a space into lights and darks, highs and lows of light, strong and subtle contrasts. Obviously where we put each light fixture and how they are grouped together is very important but how the light is delivered by carefully considered control is equally so. This is where we could have the opportunity to create preset scenes of light according to the time of day or activity.

Lighting controls range from switches that turn a group of lights (a circuit) off and on and anything in between with the use of a dimmer. Be careful as a dimmed circuit of lighting needs to ensure the light fixtures and the product dimming them are compatible, so check your choices with your installer first. Dimmer switches come in a variety of choices, from smart lighting IP addressed lamps to rotary dimmers behind the wall plate. 

Follow our advise on choosing lighting controls: **(Link article)**

Types of Kitchen Lighting

Our professional design guide to kitchen lighting combines key lighting ingredients or types of actual light. It is worth taking the time to understand the definition of each type of light as it will enable you to begin to make your own informed lighting design choices and which light fixture to choose to create that light in your own project. This kitchen lighting guide empowers you to make these fundamental decisions for yourself.

Your kitchen lighting solution should include Task Lighting, Accent Lighting and Ambient Lighting. The names of each type are derived from the light they create and each one contributes to the solution that your listed kitchen orientated activities call for. It’s the right combinations of these solutions that make great design!

Read more on using these types of light: How to Layer with Light

Task Lighting

The definition of Task Lighting is a source of light focused on an area of activity that is bright enough to adequately undertake it.

… and there are many kitchen task lighting areas that need to be considered!

Understanding Brightness

Just how much light does a task activity need? Contrast between lights and darks is just as important as how much light is delivered – these areas need to feel brighter. Kitchen task lighting needs a luminance of approx 500lm at the point of work but that’s not a realistic practical measurement for you to implement. For residential applications, simply dedicate a source of light onto the area and ensure it is the brightest in the room.


Conveniently many worktops have kitchen cabinets or shelving above them, which is the ideal place to hide a source of light to provide a shadow free illumination directly onto the working surface. LED strip lighting in an aluminium extrusion is ideal where it can be hidden from view but watch out for shiny worktop reflections.

Under cupboard lights are designed for this very task, providing the ideal output for lighting the wall and worktop.

Recessed LED downlighters are a common task light onto a countertop, positioned in the ceiling approximately above the line of the counter edge to ensure you do not work in your own cast shadow.


Choosing cutlery usually from a drawer under a countertop should also be considered as a task orientated activity. This is usually done by the light spilling over from the countertop but it’s worth checking your drawer and light positions to make sure you do.

Island Counters

The kitchen island task lighting is better from recessed LED downlights focused onto the middle but with enough of a spread from a wide enough beam width to cover the whole island. Use downlighters to supplement any feature pendant lighting you may use as you cannot guarantee its output will be enough to act as a task light.

Kitchen Sink

Light the kitchen sink in the same way as a countertop, ensuring you have a light source that will not cast your own shadow across it. With very high ceilings sink areas may need to be lit more closely from a wall spotlight.

Cooker and Hob

The cooking of food over this hot area needs excellent lighting for a comfortable experience. Extractor hoods above the cooker usually have a light source that is controlled locally at the point of use, but check that out to make sure. A 3000K colour temperature is ideal. **LINK**

Feature and Accent lighting

The definition of accent lighting is lighting that provides interest and even a feature light such as a pendant or decorative ceiling light. This layer of light is so important as it provides pockets of light that promote greater contrast between light and dark – a lighting design tip you should strive for! Accent lighting comes from smaller sources of light like wall lighting, lighting in shelving, lighting artwork etc

Mood lighting

Mood lighting can be the combination of accent lights without other lighting circuits being on. This lower level of light is chosen for relaxing in and should be planned for in all kitchens.

Toe Kick & Plinth Lighting

Miniature sources of light in LED allow some kitchens to hide this linear source along the top of the toe kick panel. Some options are mounted in them providing small sources of floor washing. This is an excellent addition to a kitchen lighting scheme providing a physically low source of light.

Above Cabinet Lighting

Uplighting from above wall mounted cabinets offers the opportunity to illuminate the ceiling with a soft source of light for a true accent light. Hidden sources of linear light include LED tape in either white or coloured light. Combined with under cabinet lighting, this is an important dramatic choice we always try to include.

Accent Lighting Inside Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets with glass doors usually have items that lend themselves to being lit from above. Usually wine and drinking glass, bottles, treasured china or even ornaments – light the inside from a small source and let the light bounce around creating another pocket of light.

Artwork Lighting

Lighting artwork and pictures provides an opportunity for a focused point of interest. Artwork comes alive when lit well. Light from LED recessed downlighters or dedicated artwork wall lights. Keep this on a separate circuit.

Ambient Lighting

The definition of ambient lighting is the general illumination of lighting in a room. You could think of ambient lighting as the light that joins all the other types of light up. Turning the ambient lighting on at the same time as the accent and task will increase the overall level of brightness and should come from sources of light that can provide a wider more general spread of light.

Recessed Lighting

LED recessed downlight ambient lighting positions are to be chosen where this source is not already providing other types of light and the space would otherwise be dark without them. Think of using them to fill in the gaps when the space needs to be at its brightest. Do not be tempted to line them up in grids but positon them only where the light is needed.

Above Cabinet Lighting

The top of the wall cabinets provide a perfect place to uplight onto the ceiling from as long as there is at least 300mm and preferably more. Use a high output source such as fluorescent or LED tubes or LED strip, and this source of light provides an incredible in filling of light. 

A lighting design tip is to use this method of lighting to supplement daylight during the day as well – see Ambient Lighting below.

Flush Mounts

A flush mount ceiling light is an option for when you would prefer recessed downlights but do not have a cavity behind the ceiling. This is a downlighting lighting solution for solid ceilings. The ceiling would need to be high enough to stylistically take a group of flush or surface mounted light fixtures and remember the power still needs to get to the light.

Decorative flush and semi-flush mounted ceiling lights offer the opportunity to introduce a more decorative fixture and soften a kitchens hard surface orientated aesthetic.

Chandeliers and Kitchen Pendant Lighting

If possible any space that can accommodate a feature chandelier or group of pendants certainly should. Positioned over your island or kitchen dining table, a grouping of pendants will create some general ambient lighting as well as become an incredible focal point to the space. Best kept on a dimmable circuit so the output of light can be adapted to suit those more social moments of life. 

Linear Suspension Lighting

Linear pendants suit those longer tables and kitchen islands particularly in high ceiling spaces that deserve a centre piece. The clean lined aesthetic really suit the modern interior.

Natural Light

Unless we are involved with altering the structure of the space, the amount of daylight on offer is a fixed quantity, so we need to harness it as much as possible. Shinier surfaces will reflect all light more efficiently so consider that when specifying your kitchen worktops and cabinets. Read more about that in our Reflectance article.

Supplementary lighting to daylight will be required during the day in the deep parts of a space that does not have immediate access to windows. As already discussed we recommend uplighting from any possible wall cabinets onto the ceiling to reflect the light back down into the room, you will be surprised at how often you will use this circuit to freshen the space. 


I’m sure you will agree that kitchen lighting design calls upon all your skills as a home designer and you need to all the ideas and tips you can muster to prepare yourself. Further reading can be found here:

Don’t forget that for a simplified but more in depth process of decision making to kitchen lighting design decisions, do take a look at our step by step guide: A Design Guide to Lighting a Kitchen

12 Top Tips to Better Kitchen Lighting is our proven selection of professional tips and guides – a great place to start.

Andrew Orange , the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.