For lighting in the center of the ceiling, a large, surface fluorescent provides the most light for the least cost. Look for fixtures with the ENERGY STAR label. These fixtures are the most energy-efficient, and they use fluorescent bulbs that are rated very high in color rendering, which means that colors and people will look their best. General lighting can also be achieved with either recessed lighting or a central, decorative chandelier. Recessed lighting is best placed around the perimeter of the room and approximately 30" away from the wall. Chandeliers can be used in addition to other lighting in the space. In the kitchen, it is best to use chandeliers with semi-transparent glass shades instead of fabric shades because the glass is much easier to clean.
Undercabinet lighting will quickly and easily illuminate your countertops. It is available in a variety of choices, including slim, energy-efficient fluorescents, miniature track lights and low-voltage linear systems. Place undercabinet fixtures at the front of your cabinet – not against the wall – so the light will be distributed evenly over the area below. Also, consider putting your undercabinet lighting on a dimmer separate from other lighting in your kitchen. The different levels of light can add depth and dramatic impact to your space, and dimming is an easy way to save energy.
Over the sink or range, recessed downlights assure even illumination. Install them to create adequate task lighting for cooking, baking and scouring pots and pans. Today's recessed fixtures are available with a variety of trims, including metallic, so you can add a bit of flair as well as function. Plus, not all recessed fixtures are round! Square downlights have gained popularity with homeowners searching for a unique design look. An alternative to recessed lights is a track or rail system, which may be preferable if you are remodeling and do not have easy access to the space above the kitchen.
Lighting over the kitchen table is multipurpose – used for dining, homework, hobbies or family business. A decorative pendant will provide sufficient task lighting while also adding a touch of style and personality to your space. Mount pendant fixtures 30" above the table top. If your table is round, the fixture should ideally be 12" narrower than the diameter of the table. For square and rectangular tables, choose a fixture that is 12" narrower than the smallest side. Consider installing a dimming system so you can lower the light for ambiance during dining and entertaining.
Island counters and breakfast bars demand a combination of task and general lighting. A very good solution is to add a group of miniature pendants. Mount each pendant so that the bottom of the shade is approximately 66" above the floor so it is possible to look across the room below the pendants. If the shades are not very deep and there is seating at the kitchen island or peninsula, install the pendants a few inches lower (60" above the floor). In general, you should install one pendant for every two feet of counter space and try to use an odd number of pendants to create better balance. Thin, narrow pendants, however, might look more pleasing with the addition of one or two extra fixtures.
Cabinets provide excellent opportunities for a layer of accent lighting in the kitchen. If your cabinets have glass fronts, consider installing a low-voltage linear system or LED downlights or strips inside to highlight your china or collectibles. Add lighting to the spaces above and below your cabinets to give a more upscale look and create the illusion of more space. A variety of light sources can be used to illuminate these cove and toe-kick spaces, including LED strips. Be sure to place the light source as far away from the wall as possible to provide the most even illumination.
Today's kitchen, the center of family activity, wins hands-down as the modern home's busiest room. Lighting requirements depend on the size and complexity of the kitchen space. While the kitchen is primarily a work area, it may also be used for dining or as a gathering place for family and friends. Small kitchens may require only a central ceiling fixture and task lighting tucked under a cabinet. More elaborate kitchens will demand a blend of general, task and accent lighting.