How to choose the right kitchen lighting for your kitchen

Matt Wineera, AREINZ
Matt Wineera, AREINZ
Published on September 10, 2018

It’s hard enough coming up with a design that will work in the space you have allocated for your kitchen, let alone choosing the best tiles, taps and benchtop materials for the job. 

If you don’t get the kitchen lighting right, however, you’re likely to seriously regret it – kitchen lighting that’s too bright or dull, incorrectly placed, or too big or small in size is sure to irk you for years to come. 

 Get it right, however, and you’ll enjoy spending time in this important room of the house, and it will make life easier too. We’ve consulted the experts for their advice on what works, what doesn’t, and what to watch out for with your kitchen lighting.


Photo by Sabrina Mazzeo

Lighting design

 With so many colours, styles and lighting combinations from which to choose, it can be tricky to know where to start. You might love a design, but how will it look in your kitchen? And what if the light it gives off isn’t up to the task?

When it comes to pendant lighting, Dan Kitchens kitchen designer Vagn Madsen follows a few simple rules. “Don’t buy pendant lights without first checking the size by creating a mock-up,” Madsen advises. “That 50-centimetre-diameter pendant light might not sound big, but when placed in the room it could easily look enormous.” He suggests bringing a sample home, cutting out the shape in cardboard, or simply measuring it out with a tape measure in situ.  

Tip: Don’t choose a style of light that does not match the style of kitchen – it has the potential to be jarring.

 More Traditional Kitchens

 Having several sources of kitchen lighting in a kitchen allows you to adjust it as needed – an important consideration given that kitchens are often part of an open-plan zone.


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 The kitchen is a dynamic space used for different reasons throughout the day and evening, says Madsen. Someone sitting at the island to read the morning paper can benefit from the excellent illumination of a pendant light, for example, while turning on range hood lights, ceiling lights and wall cabinet lights makes it easier to prepare meals. Leaving the wall cabinet lights on softly enables people to navigate around the kitchen at night.

 In a layered kitchen lighting scheme, often recommended for kitchens, there are four different types of lighting: task lighting, ambient lighting, accent lighting and decorative lighting. Task lighting, such as strip lights under cabinets, down lights above an island bench or inside a pantry, allow you to prep, cook and clean up after meals easily and safely. 

 Ambient lighting, on the other hand, is more about creating a warm and welcoming feel in a room. Accent lights, such as track lights, uplights and wall sconces, highlight features in a kitchen, such as beautiful detailing or artwork, and decorative lighting can be something like a chandelier or a beautifully designed pendant that adds character and pizzaz to the space.


 Madsen advises planning the lighting before or during the design of the kitchen, rather than leaving it until the kitchen is complete. 


 “To implement some forms of kitchen lighting afterwards would be impossible (under-cabinet lighting, for instance), and others very messy (like adding a skylight),” he says. The more you can plan beforehand, the easier it is for electricians to install the kitchen lighting (not to mention cheaper), and the better the overall result.” 

Having said that, Madsen says it can be very hard to visualise how a room will look after renovating (unless you have photo-realistic CAD drawings). “Some aspects of kitchen lighting selection can be left to the very end, such as choice of pendant lighting or whether to go with cool or warm white lighting.” If budget is an issue, why not include the wiring for a spectacular pendant or other decorative lighting piece, but leave the purchase of the piece until your finances have recovered from the initial part of the build or renovation.


According to interior designer Sophie Seeger, ambient lighting is paramount when choosing kitchen lighting, because it sets the mood of the room and helps you create a welcoming environment in a place where family, friends and guests will often gather.

“If you have an eating nook or island bench in the kitchen, then ambient lighting adds another dimension,” Seeger says. “It is a good idea to consider task and general lighting; I think a kitchen lighting combination that offers a range of lighting and that is practical and not jarring is LED downlights, some under top cabinetry, and pendants with dimmers for ambience.”

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 The Kitchen Broker’s managing director Brian Patterson says there is a difference in the way light can create ambience. “Isolation of light centres can add dramatically to ambience and feel,” he says. “Lighting floating down glass, stone or tiles on a splashback that can be seen from outer entertaining areas, when all other lighting inside is off, can deliver an experience of style and elegance.”


 Dimmers allow you to control the intensity of kitchen lighting, and the more control you have over kitchen lighting the better. Not all lighting types are compatible with dimmers, however – fluorescent lighting, for example. Checking with the supplier is a must.

Keep in mind, that with dimmers installed for a layered kitchen lighting scheme, it can be very easy for other occupants of your home, as well as guests, to alter your perfectly balanced settings, throwing off the carefully curated look and feel of your kitchen. To avoid this – or at least easily recover from it – consider installing a smart lighting system with “scenes” that you can program, allowing you to reset the kitchen’s light layers to your preferences at the push of a button.


But should you choose white or yellow-toned light bulbs? 

If Madsen had to pick between the two, he says he’d choose warm white, which is a soft yellow-toned light. It has a few benefits with only one small drawback. “Warm white LED lights make you feel warm and comfortable while generating little heat,” he explains. “It’s an emotional effect that is subtle, but when compared to the starkness of cool white LED light, this effect becomes obvious.”

Research suggests that cool white light is in fact bad for you because it suppresses your melatonin production – the hormone controlling your sleep cycle. “On the downside, warm white LEDs are slightly less energy efficient than cool white LEDs,” Madsen says.

 Pendant lights


Photo by Aaron Huber

Choosing decorative pendant lighting to go over the island can be the most stressful for homeowners because a design can change the whole look and feel of a kitchen. 

Madsen advises to firstly make sure the size of the pendant suits the size of the room. “Too often we have seen pendant lights installed for kitchen lighting that are too large, gaining too much attention to the eye and dominating a space,” he says.

 But how high should you hang them above the benchtop? 

“As a general rule, we position the bottom of the pendant 60-70 centimetres above the benchtop surface,” Madsen says. This dimension can change, however, depending on the size of the pendant – smaller pendants can be positioned lower while larger can be placed higher. 

Tip: Madsen advises checking with your supplier that the pendant cord can be extended to suit the correct height above the benchtop. Keep in mind that it’s often harder to extend pendants hung by a chain.


 As for pendant design, Madsen says it pays to ask yourself these questions: Does the style of lighting match the style of kitchen? Does it pick up any of the colours, materials or texture present in my kitchen?


 The Kitchen Broker’s Brian Patterson says task lighting should be positioned not to throw shadows in the work centres. “This is achieved best by concealed LED strip lighting under overhead cabinets above the bench area,” Patterson says. “This achieves not only good light, but lovely even light that floods the bench area and evenly displays splashbacks and benchtops.”



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