Foolproof Lighting Design Tips for Kitchens

Lighting Feature of Violet pendants in Modern Farmhouse kitchen

What is the difference between a nice kitchen and a fabulous one? Well the lighting design, of course. 

What is the first thing you notice when you walk into a well designed space? For most of us, it is the feeling you get. That feeling most often is created with light. Lighting sets the mood and creates the ambiance. Just like hardware is jewelry for cabinets, lighting is jewelry for your home. Lets look at some lighting design tips for your kitchen.

Lighting design is one of the most important elements in your kitchen

White Modern Farm House kitchen with layers of light. Sharon L Sherman, Thyme & Place Design, Kitchen Designer NJ, Bathroom Designer NJ

Both task and ambient lighting is used to illuminate this kitchen

There are 2 different types of lighting every kitchen must have. Ambient lighting is the general overall lighting in the room. Task provides illumination for specific things like slicing and dicing. Both are important is layering light for your kitchen. Layering these types of lighting should always be part of the lighting design of your kitchen

Ambient lighting: Generally created with recessed light fixtures or “cans”. A quick and easy rule of thumb is to take the height of your ceiling and divide by two. A 8′ ceiling would call for a spacing of 4′ between lights. A 10′ ceiling would have 5′. Remember that this is just a general rule of thumb. Many things can influence this rule especially the location of beams, pipes or ducting in the ceiling.  Try to stay 3′ away from corner to avoid shadows. 

Avoid the Swiss Cheese Ceiling

Too many lights is also a bad idea. The ceiling can start to look like swiss cheese. Many clients want to for go recessed lights for just this reason. Choose your light fixtures carefully. The lamp (light bulb) should not be too deep in the fixtures as you will loose “spread” (this is the cone of light falling from the fixture to the floor) which reduces the amount of light each recessed fixture can provide. 

Task and Ambient Lighting. How, when and where:

Lighting the interior of cabinets for ambient lighting

Purchase the Magro light here

Ambient lighting can also be added inside the cabinets. Yep, that beautiful glow added to the inside of a glass door cabinet is considered ambient light. This is a great lighting design tip. 

Task Lighting: Provides focused lighting for specific functions.

Whether you are slicing proteins, dicing veggies or washing glasses, you need focused lighting to see the color of the the food you are working with and for safety reasons so you don’t cut yourself. Directed lighting, whether coming from pendants above or the very valuable and most important undercabinet lighting, should be a must have in any kitchen design plan. In todays world of kitchen design, under cabinet lighting is best held to the front of the wall cabinet so it fully illuminates the counter tops below.

How to install pendant lights

If you are using pendants to illuminate an island or peninsula here are some tips for locations and hanging heights for the optimal lighting impact.

  • Decorative lighting over islands or peninsulas should be hung between 30″ -36″ above the counter top surface.
  • If you are using multiple pendants allow approximately 30″ between fixtures. If they are smaller in size, you can go a bit closer together but it depends on the fixture.
  • Make sure they are not too close to the edge of the counter top or you will bang you head.

If you are using linear fixtures use careful consideration of the type and size  of the fixture you are specifying. Consider the size of the island or peninsula and use the 2/3 rule.  If you have a 72″ (6′) island the fixture should be no bigger than 48″ (4′). If you have a really long island you might want to use 2 smaller light fixtures.

Lighting tables and dining surfaces

Just like island fixtures, lights should be set at 30″ -36″ above the table surface. If you are using a rectangular or square table, your fixture should be at least 6″ narrower than the width of the table. For example a 36″ wide table would have a 24″ wide fixture max. If you have a round table that is 48″ you would use a light fixture between 24″ and 36″ in diameter or roughly 1/2 to 3/4 the size of the table.


Thyme & Place Design, Sharon L Sherman, Kitchen Designer NJ, Bathroom Designer NJ

Soft table lighting from a linen shade on this fixture called a drum pendant

Last but not least is the lamp i.e. the light bulb. Check the manufacturers suggestion for the wattage for your fixture. Most have it right on a label on the fixture. Next is the type of lamp. Different fixtures use different bases such as Edison, candelabra etc. When I have a fixture with a shade, clear lamps are fine. If the lamp is not covered I like to use a diffused glass lamp, it reduces the glare and I don’t have to see the filament or the diode.

Lamps (the professional name for the light bulb)

Understanding LED lamps

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. It is a very different system than the old incandescent bulb. The newer LEDs can be dimmed and the color of the light can be changed for different scenes. You can control the color of these lamps from your phone.  For my designs I like to use a 3000K ( 3000 is the temperature of the color of the light on a Kelvin scale.) This provides a nice true color light which shows the materials in the kitchen correctly but also gives good light to work under. The higher the number the more like daylight (blue hue) the color of the light will become. So if you are working and need some energy, that is the best color to employ.  The lower the number the yellower the light which is perfect to wind down and get ready for sleep. Green is calming and good for concentration.  A traditional incandescent lamp is in the 2700K temperature range. 

Dimmers are another nice feature. It allows you to control the light and the ambiance of the fixture. There are also remote control dimmers or you can just ask Alexa to turn down the wattage. You can also control the “color” of the lights in the room with “smart bulbs”

Chromatherapy AKA color therapy

Mental health has become a matter of wellness in todays home designs. Chromatherapy or color therapy is playing an important role in how we think, feel and interact with others. Colors can trigger hunger pangs, evoke feelings of calm and relaxation. Using these smart bulbs have become more and more common. The whiter the color of the light, the better for slicing and dicing but a softer warmer color would definitely change the mood for a dinner party or cocktail hour.

Lets Review

  • Lighting is one of the most important elements in your kitchen
  • Ambient lighting: Generally created with recessed light fixtures or “cans”.
  • Task lighting: Can be both undercabinet lighting and pendant lighting.
  • Consider the sizes of islands, peninsulas and table sizes will determine the size of the light fixtures you use. 
  • Smart lamp bulbs can change the mood of the room by changing the color of the light
  • Chromatherapy plays an important role in mental health and wellness.
  • Kelvin is the  temperature measurement of the color of the light bulb.

Loving the “Violet” lights shown in the cover photo? here is a link.




Sharon L Sherman ASID CID CKD  founder of Thyme & Place Design, Thymeless Home Decor and Thymeless Well Being is a business owner, designer and Reiki Master located in New Jersey.

Her award-winning designs and editorial comments have been featured in Kitchen & Bath Design News, Woman’s Day, Country Decorating, Design NJ, New Jersey Home Magazine, 201 Magazine, The Best of Bergen, Savvy Living, The Vue, The Record, The Star Ledger, Bergen Magazine and Aspire as well as several books.

Her Blog “Tips for the Trade” has appeared in digital form on, and She has also appeared on HGTV’s My Big Amazing Renovation and episodes of House Smarts with Lou Manfredini.  


This post contains affiliate links for products I have used. I may be compensated if you purchase any of these items at no additional cost to you. 





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Sharon sherman

My award-winning designs haven been featured in multiple magazines, industry publications and on television. That’s nice affirmation, to be sure.

But perhaps the greatest accolade I’ve received is the repeat engagements with so many clients, project after project, year after year.

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