Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

A Guide to Kitchen Remodeling Materials


Kitchen Lighting
Dramatic down-lights bring this kitchen to life and make the cook's work easier, too.

You'd think a room in which sharp knives and boiling liquids are used would get serious attention when it comes to visibility, but lighting is often one of the last considerations in kitchen design. In too many kitchens, a central ceiling fixture leaves the cook working in his/her own shadow, for example. Others feature enough fixtures but not enough wattage.

One of the challenges is that poor lighting is hard for the average person to detect; the kitchen just may not "feel right." If your family didn't tend to congregate in your old kitchen, look at this renovation as a chance to see the space in a whole new light. A lighting plan for your kitchen requires the same elements as for any other room.

You'll need the right mix of ambient (overall) lighting to illuminate the space; task lighting to provide illumination for specific activities; mood lighting to create atmosphere; and accent lighting to draw attention to special collections or artwork. If yours is a multipurpose kitchen that opens to adjacent rooms, it's especially important for light to adapt to a wide variety of situations: cooking, dining, entertaining, or just relaxing in softly lit repose while life goes on in a neighboring space.

What's required? More variety in light fixtures, both decorative and concealed; and dimmers (rheostats) on every light switch. In addition to ceiling-mounted fixtures, many people choose to install strip lights under every upper cupboard that has a work surface counter below. The effect is dramatic as well as very practical. Here's a look at the wonderful world of kitchen lighting:

Kitchen Lighting Types

Fluorescent lighting tubes, a favorite during the post-WWII era of "kitchens-as-sanitary-labs," fell out of favor in later decades. Fluorescent lamps (the replaceable bulbs or tubes) are costlier to buy than incandescent bulbs, but they cost significantly less to operate, which is why they're still used so extensively in commercial settings. Fluorescent fixtures are energy efficient, throwing off much less heat than halogen or incandescent bulbs, but the resultant light is cool, too. The effect may be "cold," with a blue-green cast that's at odds with the warm, hospitable ambience you'd like for a kitchen. Recent improvements have made more natural, "warm white" fluorescent lighting available.

Incandescent bulbs, the most common residential lighting source, impart a warmer, more yellow light but, at the same time, heat up the room more. These bulbs are widely available and come in a broad range of wattages, tints, and sizes to fit virtually any style of lighting fixture, whether it's traditional or contemporary.

Halogen lights, the most recent de-velopment, create intensely bright, sunshine-quality light from a relatively small bulb source. Halogen bulbs are costly, however, and must be used with great care. Because they generate such intense heat, these bulbs pose a greater fire hazard than other lighting types and should not be used near kitchen curtains or where they may come into contact with plastic materials.

Contemporary and retro-style kitchens take naturally to fluorescent lights, including whimsical neon-colored options. Traditional-style kitchens fit easily with warm incandescent light, and all styles are at home with halogen, which most closely mimics daylight.

Kitchen Lighting Fixtures

The options are practically limitless. Contemporary fixtures in chrome and colored glass are often simple and Space Age inspired, hanging like jewels in the functional space. Traditional fixtures go beyond the ubiquitous stained-glass pendant lamp to include classical sconces, green glass-and-brass banker's lamps, white hobnailed milkglass shades, and more.

Halophane lamps, evolved from vintage warehouse fixtures, bridge traditional and modern looks; their ribbed-glass globes create a soft light with a chic profile. To supplement bigger fixtures, hanging halogen lamps, which use tiny, low-voltage bulbs, make big lighting possible with very unobtrusive fixtures. For contemporary-style kitchens, track lights with incandescent or halogen bulbs combine spotlights with floodlights and let you aim the light wherever you choose.

Recessed spotlights or floodlights are the most unobtrusive choice and provide excellent ambient and task lighting, but they are costlier to install because they require cutting holes in the ceiling. If they're an option, recessed lights may be your best bet if your goal is today's light levels with yesterday's charm.

In the next section, we'll move onto the part of your kitchen that suffers the most wear and tear: the floor.


More to Explore