A Kitchen Lighting Design Guide (Step by Step)

The question of how to light a kitchen demands a great answer. With so much invested into the kitchen financially as well as emotionally, we know how important this is for you. This is a design guide that will hold your hand throughout the process.

If you are learning more for your own home or for a property you are designing for, then you know that a good lighting scheme will greatly enhance the experience of living in the space. A kitchen’s design plays an incredibly important part to the appeal of a property and it’s subsequent market value; the lighting both hidden and as a feature can make or break the final outcome.

So whether for a new build kitchen or simple lighting refurbishment or addition, there are fundamental lighting design decisions that you can take from here and immediately benefit your solution.

Kitchen Lighting Design Guide

We are lighting designers and this is our kitchen lighting design guide to assist you in your process of decision making. This is a rationalised and simplified step by step process to beat overwhelm and get your kitchen lighting right first time. Also see How to Light a Kitchen

This guide will ask you many of the questions a designer would ask if you employed them, and then help you with the answers.

Kitchen Lighting Design Process for Beginners

All designs should start with brief and your own project is no exception. You must ask yourself some difficult questions and record your answers as you will benefit from referring back to your replies to keep you on course during the lighting design process.

Write your answers to these questions down:

Creating Aspirational Lighting

What are your aspirations for your new kitchen and how can the lighting enhance those ideas? 

For example, how important is a central feature pendant or is there artwork you want to bring focus on? 

Another example, apart from the lighting providing the light your need to perform all your tasks – how else do you see the lighting looking at night?

How to Create a Kitchen Lighting Brief

Think through how you will use the space for each activity and give that activity a name. This creates an itemised lighting brief you to design for. 

For example: Will you be eating or entertaining in the space? If so call that ‘Dining General’ and ‘Dining Mood’

Now collate all the facts about the space you are working in including the existing power and lighting circuit layout plans, the kitchen joinery drawings and visuals and a wider plan of the overall property if the space of the kitchen links or joins with it.

How to Start a Kitchen Lighting Design

Firstly ignore where any existing lighting may already be. The design at this stage should not be compromised by the constraints of practicality but allow yourself to honestly answer these following questions. It may result in an answer and design solution that is deemed important enough to invest in and take the more expensive harder route to include.

The Kitchen Lighting Design Process

This guide will journey through these key stages:

How to Know Where Kitchen Lighting is Needed

Identify Areas of Activity

Kitchen Task lighting ((link to How to Light a Kitchen)) is the description of the illumination required to successfully perform a specific task. Take a copy of your lighting plan and annotate where all the specific tasks will be carried out. For example, where will the food most likely be cut and prepared, where will hot drinks be made etc

List these tasks separately too so you tick them off later on once the lighting solution is found.

Identify Objects and Areas That Benefit From Being Lit

Kitchen Accent lighting (link to how to article) is the description of the lighting that adds a level of interest and enhances the space by being included. For example, a pair of wall lights, a lit row of shelves, artwork, a feature pendant.

Add to your drawings and list any objects or spaces that would benefit from being lit. This may not be completed at this stage but note down all the ones that seem obvious.

Identify if Other Areas Will be Affected by the Kitchen’s Lighting 

Always be mindful of light pollution, in other words the affects of your choices of lighting on other areas and people. Note where these potential areas are on the plan and on your list, so you can ensure they are catered for later on.

Identify if Sufficient Natural Day Light

Avoid a common kitchen lighting mistake by not providing enough light in the day. If you can actually be in the space during the day or you have already lived in it, see if there is an impression of brightness to the space without artificial lighting? All kitchens benefit from the feeling of daylight.

Identify the Types of Lighting Mood You Want to Create

This could be part of identifying your kitchen’s activities, for example to relax in the space then the required mood would be low – informal – comfortable. List the all the types of kitchen mood lighting you want to create.

How to Choose Where Kitchen Lighting Should be Placed 

Where to Place Kitchen Lighting?

We do not rush into choosing the actual light fixtures yet but need to answer where the best places are to position the light fixtures that will provide the light we have identified as needing. This process quickly refines the choices we have for when choosing the actual source of light as some perfect positions to install a light fixture may be impossible in reality.

Kitchen Task Lighting: Preparation Areas

On your sketch kitchen lighting plan, you will have annotated where the task activities are. Now identify and note where that light could actually come from. For example, kitchen counter tops will mostly need light well enough for preparation so will that light need to come from the ceiling or is there a wall cupboard above to hide a source? Does the cupboard have a lighting pelmet to hide a source of if more contemporary any lighting under a cupboard may need channelling into the underside of the cabinet? This is where you work through each work activity area and decide on how best to provide it’s light and note any constraints you need to consider when choosing the light fixture itself.

Kitchen Accent Lighting: Items of Interest 

Remember, we are not choosing the actual light yet, but how best to provide the light for each chosen item of interest. For example, would an artwork benefit from a recessed ceiling light or if the ceiling is high then an artwork wall light? If the fridge is a high specification and quite a showpiece that will benefit from being lit, will that light come from the ceiling and angled back towards the front? Think creatively about where your accent lighting is coming from.

Kitchen Decorative Feature Lighting 

Here we consider what lighting positions will benefit from decorative lighting, such as hung pendants or wall lights? We are still choosing how the light will reach our identified areas, for example decorative lighting can add to the general ambient lighting requirement. Kitchen island pendant lighting may be the choice to assist in task lighting, if so is there an ideal place to drop the cables? 

Here we can depart from just where light is coming from to where the space can benefit from a decorative element – without deciding on what it actually is yet.

Kitchen Daylight Supplement

If we have identified that the space needs supplementary light in the daytime just to brighten the kitchen in the darker months of the year, then here we consider where that light can come from. Daylight rather than direct sunlight, relies upon bouncing off surfaces indirectly – it just arrives around us! We want to find a space such as over a wall cabinet, to hide a source and throw light into the kitchen by reflecting the light off of the ceiling.

How to Choose the Right Type of Kitchen Lighting

How to Choose Kitchen Lighting

After identifying where the kitchen lighting is needed and then where the source of light is best positioned, you now have the brief to decide upon which actual light fixture will best provide your solution. Work through every identified area and list which types of light fixture will give you what you need. This is the stage that the detailed specification is built.

To help you choose the right lighting for your project: Best Kitchen Lighting: Buying Guide and Reviews

Kitchen Lighting Examples

Recessed LED downlighters are a common choice for a kitchen as it’s a powerful source of light and suitable as task, accent and ambient lighting. Choosing LED recessed downlights as a task light over worktops carefully positioned not to cast shadows from the user over the workspace by aligning the fixture along the edge of the counter top with a medium to wide beam width.

As accent lighting a LED recessed downlight’s light can be reflected down a wall or onto artwork or across the doors of the wall cabinets. As ambient lighting they contribute to the overall lumen levels and can be a circuit used to inject extra light. We do not recommend simply lighting the floor with downlighters, but stick to the identified areas that together build a patchwork of sources.

How to Choose Lighting Control for a Kitchen

To recap, if you have followed this guide you will now have a plan of your kitchen with your annotations of where you want the light to be, where the light fixtures will be positioned and a list of choices of what each light will be. Now is the time to group these choices so you can control how they come on.

Where to Start Choosing Kitchen Lighting Control

You can decide on how to choose your lighting controls for your kitchen by seeing which of these methods suit your project:

Traditional lighting creates a circuit of the same type of light so you can switch that group of lights off and on from the wall or dim them together. 

Digital controls take these circuits or groups of fixtures and control them from remote dimmer racks that allow you to create ‘scenes’ of lighting – preset lighting choices that are assigned to a button or channel on an app.

Smart lighting is increasingly popular and allows the types of light fixture that are available to be IP addressed and controlled via wifi. Bluetooth lighting controls are increasingly popular commercially and can be used in the home too.

Your choice of control depends on how sophisticated and expensive you want to make it.

How to Control Kitchen Lighting

Successful kitchen lighting is dependent on how thorough you have planned how the space will be used and how the lighting from this space will affect the surrounding area. Let’s start with the basic requirements of High – Medium – Low levels of light. 

Take your lighting plan and group your choices of light fixture by how you want to add and subtract that group to create the various levels of light. Generally you will group the same type of light fixture together such as all the ceiling recessed downlights, the wall lights together etc. Do not mix lighting technologies if dimming as you may encounter compatibility issues.

Kitchen Lighting Level Choices

Using the generalised names of how the light is being used it could break down as:

The lighting circuits within these groups are added or subtracted by turning a circuit on or off or dimming it. How that is done is your choice.

How to Create a Lighting Mood

Now is the time to see if your choice of lighting moods for your kitchen lighting have been catered for. Go back to your list of desired lighting moods and write down how you intend to build that mood from your choice of circuits. For example:

Relaxed Mood Lighting = Low Level Lighting = accent lighting only

Relaxed Dining Mood Lighting = accent lighting + task light over eating area

Entertaining Mood Lighting = accent lighting + coloured accent circuit

If you have a mood lighting scenario not obviously met by the groupings of circuits, then now is the time to create it. It may mean you need to break the groups of light fixtures down into more circuits so you have more control.

How to Set Up Kitchen Lighting Scene Setting

You can take your choices of mood into preset lighting ‘scenes’, as if your room is set like a stage for a particular scene. 

Kitchen Lighting scene setting is where your choice of moods are preset into a digital lighting control package. Preset lighting scenes can most crudely be your familiarity of what switches to use at a certain time. It will usually be your choices of circuit balancing all assigned to a name or number or particular button, so when you want it the system creates the lighting mood as you have previously commissioned.

Lighting control is easily done in the home with smart lighting packages such as Philips Hue.

Creating an Aspiration Lighting Design?

It is time to stand back from all your hard work and check to see if your design has met the very reason you began this lighting design step by step process. Your aspirations for the kitchen’s aesthetic and overall functionality can be checked to see if they have answered the kitchen lighting brief you made at the beginning of this kitchen lighting project.

For even more ideas and tips: 12 Top Tips to Better Kitchen Lighting

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.