Kitchen designs are moving past the highly specialized spaces of yesterday and into the more universal designs of tomorrow. It therefore follows that kitchen lighting layouts should move forward as well.
Here is a quick guide on choosing, mixing, and matching the different types of lighting solutions to come up with the perfect lighting layout for your universal design kitchen.
Types of lighting
The very first thing to remember when lighting a kitchen is that there should be enough light to comfortably do whatever it is you plan on doing. As such, take the mantra “up, down, and all around” to heart.
Powerful light sources like T5 fluorescents or LED lights are most suited for up lighting since they help to create brighter ceilings that spread the light around the entire room. Combined with natural light, up lights can significantly increase overall light levels in a room.
Up lights are most commonly seen in recessed coves that cover the top perimeter of a room. As long as they don’t reach the ceiling, kitchen cabinets can also be used to hold and conceal up lights.
Whereas up lighting involves light sources that shine upwards, down lighting (as you can guess from the name) is lighting that shines down on a given space. These can include everything from that single incandescent bulb that all horror movie basements seem to have to the powerful and flexible task lights located under modern kitchen cabinets.
If down lighting is your only available option, the placement and quantity of the light fixtures can make or break a space in terms of light levels. Task lights, for example, are best placed under kitchen cabinets and above work zones. When they’re in front of you, they can properly illuminate the task at hand. You wouldn’t want them to be located behind you, where they can instead create shadows and possibly cause an accident.
On the matter of the light sources themselves, warm and bright Xenon and LED lights are most recommended for down lighting. Low-voltage halogen lights are similarly bright and can be more cost-effective, but they can also run hot. Diffusers or lenses on the light fixtures themselves will help distribute light and keep hot spots on kitchen counters to a minimum.
Morning, afternoon, the middle of the night — there are no hard-set times for when kitchens are in use. As such, it is important that your kitchen is well-lit no matter what time of day it is. This is where all-around lighting comes into play.
General lighting and natural light fall under all-around lighting. General lighting, sometimes called decorative lighting, is usually the main lighting source in any given space. The main consideration is that it should be bright enough to properly illuminate your kitchen by itself.
Since every kitchen is basically unique, all-around lighting is usually the most difficult to give advice on. A good rule of thumb is to use either recessed down lights, fluorescent lights, a ceiling pendant, or a combination of all three.
Reflective ceilings work best at increasing light levels, but glare can be an unwelcome side effect. Select building products with matte finishes that still reflect light yet keep glare to a minimum at the same time.
Aside from ceilings, countertops are also common culprits. Stone countertops that are specifically honed to reduce light reflection and glare will prove very useful. Non-reflective countertop materials such as soapstone and concrete are also popular alternatives.
Flexible and adjustable lighting
Flexibility is one of universal design’s main foundations. As such, the lighting in a universal design kitchen needs to be flexible as well.
Mixing and matching the different lighting types to allow for a wide range of activities to be comfortably performed in the kitchen is the first step. Installing similarly flexible lighting controls is the next.
Task lights that provide just enough illumination for one member of the household may be a white hot glare for someone else, so lighting that can be adjusted, aimed, or whose intensity can be adjusted as needed is a plus.
This can easily be accomplished by installing wall dimmer units or line dimmers. For more ease of use and accessibility, especially for those with limited hand strength or dexterity, you can use lighted rockers, toggles, or touch-sensitive switches for your dimmer units.
Light switch placement is another important consideration. All light switches should be accessible and easy to find. Place them approximately 36” from the floor. Also avoid placing switches behind the countertop on the back wall. Certain light switches can also be integrated into base cabinets.