Today’s kitchens are more than just places to prepare meals. In addition to its primary food function, this room ranks as the heart of the home and center of family activity“The kitchen has become the hub of the house,” says Barry Levett, owner and president of House of Lights in Mayfield Heights, OH. “Families today truly live in the kitchen. Kids study there; parents pay the bills and write checks there; everyone reads the morning paper in the kitchen; families eat their meals there.”

Such multi-tasking kitchens demand equally versatile lighting. Gone are the days when a single 100-watt fixture centered in the kitchen’s ceiling was sufficient.

“I see people every day who are saddled with one light in the middle of the kitchen,” says Dan Blitzer, consulting director of education for the American Lighting Association. “This means that everywhere around the perimeter, where most of the work is done, is done in one’s own shadow. To make matters worse, the fixture is usually undersized, and we all need more light as we get older.

“Fortunately, kitchen lighting has gone through quite an evolution in the last few years—not only in the type and design, but also in the areas in which it is placed,” he adds.

The right recipe for lighting your kitchen depends on the size and complexity of the room. 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.

“Lights have specific functions, whether it’s to accent a specific area, create general ambience, focus on a task or wash a wall,” says Monty Gilbertson, CLC, manager and buyer for Lighting Design by Wettsteins in Lacrosse, WI. “You are seeing all types incorporated into the kitchen.”

Determine what you want the lights to do. “Lighting can be decorative or functional,” says Steve Birdwell, CLC, salesperson for Bay Lighting & Design in San Francisco, CA. “It’s hard to find fixtures that do both.

Functional fixtures will provide well-diffused general lighting perfect for moving about the room safely, peering inside drawers and cabinets, and performing chores. While large, surface fluorescents have been popular in the past, the latest looks revolve around recessed lights and low voltage, industrial styles, often with a metal finish.

Recessed downlights assure even illumination. Install them over the stove and sink areas to create adequate task lighting for cooking and cleaning.

“When you add new lights over the sink or stove, the whole areas comes alive,” says Levett. “Those are the areas the where Mr. and Ms. Consumer spends lots of her time.

The kitchen table is another family focal point. A decorative pendant, operating with a dimmer control, will provide sufficient lighting.

“People want to make a statement by hanging a pendant, then backing it up with task lighting at the counter,” says Gilbertson. “Today, there are options to suit every design style.”

Pendant lighting also rates raves installed over islands or peninsulas. “Light over the island is not only functional, but beautiful,” says Dent. “Even people who use recessed lights throughout the kitchen can introduce some color and style over the island. I personally prefer several smaller pendants.”

Consider a decorative fixture with three lights. “A trio over an island provides good light,” says Levett. “It breaks up the kitchen but you can still see through it.”

The top trends in decorative finishes include wrought iron, often in rust or other earth tones. Painted finishes are also popular. Colored glass bypasses plain white in popularity. Pewter and satin nickel finishes replace the basic brass look.

“Pewter has exploded, whether the look is traditional or contemporary,” says Birdwell. “It is the hottest trend in kitchen lighting decor.”

No matter which light style you choose, be sure to light all corners of the kitchen. “Lights have beam spreads,” says Gilbertson. “You want to position your lighting so that the light spills into all the areas of your kitchen. If you are spending the money on nice cabinets, for example, you want to make sure they are lit properly. If not, the light actually create gray shadow areas.”

Lighting the spaces above and below the cabinets has become more important than ever. Available in slim, energy-efficient designs such as miniature track lights or low-voltage linear systems, under- and overcabinet lighting quickly and easily lights up counter tops and accents ceilings.

“Under-counter lights have gone from option to necessity, with the advent of larger kitchens,” says Blitzer. “Halogen gives good color rendition and the ability to dim, with none of the humming and swirling of fluorescent.”

Over cabinet lighting emphasizes tall ceilings. “Today, many cabinets don’t go all the way to the ceiling,” says Levett. “By adding light above them, the result is a more spacious feeling.”

Halogens offer consumers a whiter, more accentuating light. “Halogen provides great drama in the kitchen,” says Levett. “Used undercabinet, it electrifies the look of granite and marble countertops. It even makes food look better.

“The big deal years ago was to have fluorescent undercabinet lights,” he adds. “Now the consumer has a myriad of choices and the quality of lighting options is extraordinary.”

The kitchen “office” or workspace is the latest trend in need of good lighting. Sometimes these are desk areas for paying bills or copying recipes. More often than not, however, they include a computer.

“Computer workspaces in the kitchen introduce a new twist,” says Dent. “Remember that the computer itself is illuminated, so you need to light the paperwork, not the computer itself.”

Every kitchen is individual and task lighting here depends on cabinet layout and computer location. Too much light can wash out the screen.

“Consider a fluorescent task light for the computer,” says Birdwell. “Be sure to cover the key board and work materials.”

Halogen undercabinet lighting offers another option. “Sometimes, there is not enough space for a wall light or a table top lamp in this workspace,” says Levett. “But a small halogen desk lamp might work well, putting the light where you need it.”

No matter how many lights you install in your kitchen, the experts recommend circuiting them separately so the lighting is zoned. This allows you to create ambience by mixing the various lights you turn on.

“Lights above the cabinets should be soft and low-voltage,” suggests Gilbertson. “The light over the sink should have its own switch. Same with the lights over the island and those over counters. You will be pleased with the results.”

Visit your local American Lighting Association showroom to view the variety of light fixture styles, sizes and shapes available for creating the perfect kitchen.

Top Tips for Lighting Your Kitchen

Creating the best lighting design for your kitchen is like cooking a great meal. You have to have the right recipe and the proper ingredients.

To make sure you cook up the best lighting scheme for your kitchen, use a lighting professional. “There are many ways to light a kitchen, some better than others,” says Monty Gilbertson, CLC, manager and buyer for Lighting Design by Wettsteins in Lacrosse, WI. “That’s why you need a lighting specialist—to help with location, style, and whether or not to add dimmers. There are a lot of things an expert can bring to the party and make any room in the house more livable.”

The biggest mistake is not having a good mix of lighting that meets your needs. “When you talk to someone who doesn’t really know what’s new in the business, you may end up with only recessed can lighting,” says Barry Levett, owner and president of House of Lights in Mayfield Heights, OH. “Recessed lighting is great for creating a blanket of light, but not for bringing light specifically to where you need it.”

Sometimes too much of a good thing can be too much. “I have seen people not sure about what to do with their lighting keep adding recessed lights, instead of mixing the various lighting types,” says Steve Birdwell, CLC, salesperson for Bay Lighting & Design in San Francisco, CA. “The result is that they kill the room with too much light.”

When visiting a lighting showroom, be prepared. Bring a picture of your kitchen, if possible or at least know your kitchen dimensions. How tall is the ceiling? Where are the doors? How much space is there between the cabinets and the ceiling? How much space is there between the cabinets and the countertop?

If you are building a new kitchen, bring in a layout. “With new construction, we sometimes hear “This isn’t exactly how the kitchen will be but it’s close.” says Gilbertson. “But we need to know where everything will be—counters, cabinets. It’s critical to where you put the lights.”

If you are planning to update an existing kitchen, tell the lighting expert how much deconstruction you want to do. “If you are tearing the ceiling out, that is important to know because then we can add recessed lighting,” says Gilbertson. “If you don’t want to destroy the ceiling, then we have to go a different way with mounting installations.”

Consider asking the lighting professionals to make a house call. “Sometimes it’s easier when you see the physical space,” says Gilbertson.

Once you have the plan in place, use the same color bulbs throughout the kitchen so that the tone of the floor, counters and cabinets will all be the same intensity.