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Flip the Switch on Better Kitchen Lighting
Recessed lights, under-cabinet task lighting, pendants and a ceiling fan create multiple options in this kitchen by CurbAppealRenovations.

There’s ambiance, and then there are simply dark rooms. If your kitchen lighting has you reaching for a flashlight when you need to read the fine print in your cookbooks, it may be time to re-examine its luminosity.

The kitchen can be trickier to light than most other rooms because it’s both a workspace and a gathering place for family and friends. A central ceiling fixture and task lighting tucked under the cabinets may work in a small kitchen, but larger kitchens call for a blend of general, task and accent lighting.

When creating — or improving upon — a lighting plan for the kitchen, you should start by listing the many activities that occur in the space, from cooking to entertaining to kids’ homework. Lighting can be complex, so you may want to consult with a professional lighting designer to come up with the best plan for your space. The International Association of Lighting Designers’ website has a search function that can help you locate lighting pros in your area.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you consider your kitchen’s lighting.

Do the math

Design professionals often rely on a simple math formula to determine how much light a room needs. To do your own calculation, start by finding your kitchen’s square footage (length multiplied by width). A kitchen that’s 15 feet wide and 20 feet long covers 300 square feet. Next, multiply the square footage by 1.5 to determine what wattage is needed to properly illuminate the room (300 x 1.5 = 450 watts).

Those 450 watts apply to the entire room: overhead lighting, task lighting, accent lighting or ambient lighting. Just remember that this is a guideline. You don’t have to find fixtures or bulbs that add up to the exact wattage your calculation suggests.

Light in layers

Ambient fixtures provide overall lighting, creating a warm glow and softening shadows. This light can come from a ceiling fixture or lights placed above upper cabinets. Task lighting, often tucked under upper cabinets, illuminates workspaces.

Accent lighting — think adjustable recessed fixtures or those placed inside glass-front cabinets to illuminate dinnerware — adds depth and dimension to the kitchen. Decorative lighting, such as wall sconces or artsy pendant lights, adds sparkle.

Each of these layers of light should be operated separately, so you can mix and match to suit the mood or task.

Dim is in

Joe Rey-Barreau, education consultant for the American Lighting Association (ALA) and an associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design, suggests adding dimmers to kitchen lights. Dimmers will allow you the flexibility to adjust lighting to the task at hand — full output, for example, during food preparation and then softer lighting early in the morning or after dinner.

For maximum flexibility, each type of light should be controlled separately. That control can come via the old-school method of multiple light switches, or you can install a programmable wall box system for single room control with preset scenes. Want even more control? Consider a wireless system that can be reprogrammed from a laptop or smartphone.

Conserve energy

Just a couple of years ago, the only energy-efficient fixtures available for the kitchen were — to put it politely — pretty ugly. Today, stylish energy-efficient fixtures are available across every product category, from arts and crafts to contemporary.

Whether you decide to use fluorescents, compact fluorescents, light emitting diodes (LEDs) or halogen infrared coating (IRC) bulbs, it’s important to look for the Energy Star label when shopping for fixtures. In order to qualify for the Energy Star designation, the product must meet specific performance criteria for energy-efficient performance set by the U.S. Department of Energy.
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