In most homes the kitchen has the honour of being both the heart of the home and the most multifunctional room in the house. The right lighting is essential to both these appropriations and ultimately means the difference between a space that is merely functional and one that is fun to be in.

How to light a kitchen

It is important for kitchen lights to be decorative and ambient while sufficiently illuminating key work areas such as the stove and work surface. Experts at Eurolux highlight the five main types of lighting to consider for a kitchen.

Central lighting

A single, central light fitting is the most conventional way of lighting a kitchen. The advantage of having just one light is that it is easy to clean, especially in a kitchen where lighting fittings tend to get dirty quickly because of the steam and dust in the space. An extractor fan helps to remove some of the dirt from the air, making this a worthy investment in every kitchen. Central light fittings in glass or Perspex with glossy fittings work well in kitchens with extractor fans but are best avoided in kitchens without because of the dirt that accumulates on the fittings. Fluorescent fittings or downlighters are an effective alternative in this case. Downlighters also work because they can be positioned above work surfaces and angled as needed, as opposed to a single central fitting that will cast a shadow on the work surface as the light source will be behind you when you face it.

Track lighting

Track lighting is a popular option for the kitchen, with a similar effect to downlighters but with much lower installation costs. Track lights are installed on a flexible cable, which means they can be directed at any angle, except for a curve. They're wonderfully versatile because they can be installed from room to room, as well as across ceilings of varying heights and down walls or columns. The light fittings are then attached onto the track wherever they are needed. It may be necessary to opt for a spotlight above the main work surface and select an interesting pendant for above the breakfast nook.

Under-counter lighting

The softness of under-counter lighting is great for creating ambience in the kitchen. It is especially ideal if the kitchen is used for entertaining or next to an entertainment space where a bright shining kitchen light may be too harsh. If function is the first priority here then opt for a fluorescent light that will give a cool, broad pool of light. Downlighters, on the other hand, offer warm, ambient light for an appealing atmosphere. Do note though that downlighters generate heat so can't be installed underneath cupboards that contain perishables.

Pantry and scullery lighting

Dark pantries and sculleries just won't do. As two of the most functional and practical areas of the kitchen it is important to have sufficient light. Here it is best to opt for a bright light, though not something too harsh. Spotlights are a great option for these spaces as they can easily be directed to shine where they are needed at a given time. The ideal combination of lights for the kitchen is determined by the main function of the space, though it is important to strike the right balance between function and ambience.

Kitchen lighting from an architect’s perspective

Lighting in Design spoke to award-winning Johannesburg-based Robert Serman from

Robert Serman Architects about the role lighting plays in kitchens.

Do you believe that kitchen lighting is given necessary attention?

RS: The kitchen is the space in a home that arguably requires the most practical lighting and, in general, I believe it’s something that gets overlooked. As kitchens have transitioned from being hidden from view to the focal point in an open plan arrangement, perhaps the aesthetic aspects of lighting have been dealt with, but often not the practical ones.

As an architect, what are the fundamentals when it comes to lighting a kitchen?

RS: I believe one should aim for a balance between ambient lighting and functional lighting. In terms of functional lighting, for me, having bright light directly above the surface you are preparing food on is essential. However, I would generally introduce a more decorative fixture above the kitchen island. This type of fitting not only assists in integrating the kitchen into the living area, but it’s also the kind of light that once dinner is prepared and ready to serve, you dim and instantly create a more atmospheric mood.

Have you noticed any new lighting trends in terms of kitchen lighting?

RS: As innovation in the LED sector has developed, and fittings have become thinner and smaller, there are now numerous opportunities to integrate LED strip lighting into the kitchen cabinetry. From a functional perspective, lights discreetly tucked into the bottom of a wall-mount cupboard or even the base of a shelf can provide good quality light to work under. Similarly, the same type of fitting can be installed just above kickplate level and casts an interesting ambient glow at floor level. It takes a bit more forethought, but the results are worth the effort.


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