How to Light a Kitchen: A Step By Step Guide

Lighting a Kitchen Made Simple

If you are planning a new kitchen and investing considerably into your home, then you just have to get the kitchen lighting right and this is an ideal time.

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Good lighting will make or break a room during the darker times the space is used and that is not just at night. If you live in a northern hemisphere country as we do here in the UK, bright daylight penetration into a space is reserved for those rare moments the sun is allowed to be out – so here supplementary lighting to assist the daylight is often really beneficial. 

I’m Andrew Orange and as an experienced lighting designer I have created this guide on how to choose kitchen lighting for beginners, to assist you to maximise the potential of your interior space by making the right lighting choices.

How to plan kitchen lighting

Kitchen Lighting Design Questions You Should Be Asked

If you were our client we would sit down together and create the brief,  the essence of what is to be achieved. This would result in you answering a multitude of questions which can be categorised into 3 main areas:

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We then design the solution to work within the constraints of the space and the design of the kitchen itself.

You need to ask yourself this questions as you are now client and designer!

Lighting Design for Beginners

Lets begin your kitchen lighting layout…

If you have a kitchen layout it would be beneficial to have the plan in front of you and any elevational drawings or visuals to hand too. I like to use different coloured highlighter pens to mark up drawings, so have something like this to hand too.

How to choose kitchen lighting - 4 step kitchen lighting design guide

When choosing the lighting for a kitchen, one of our main objectives is NOT to overlight the space, We can choose lots of lighting that’s not the problem, we just cannot have them all on at the same time! 

So to simplify a kitchen lighting layout, we’re going to break the process down into 4 steps.

WHERE are the areas that light is needed?


Kitchen Lighting Placement

We will simplify this part too into 4 categories that all need your answer.

Where are the areas that you will work on?

On your new kitchen plan, choose a coloured pen and mark out where you will prepare food, cook, wash up, make drinks etc. Anywhere where a more concentrated level of light will be.

Where is the main source of general light needed?

Now this might seem too general as you may want light everywhere in the kitchen on most occasions, but depending on your interior space and preference – mark up the plan with where you would want to have light when you need it to be at its brightest.

Where can you introduce some decorative or detailed lighting to bring interest?

Good lighting schemes are ones where we can introduce some detail. Think about whether there is a space crying out for a decorative element. 

A common kitchen decorative light is the drop pendant in a row of three, but as good as that can look, do not opt for them unnecessarily. Is there are wall spaces that could benefit from some lighting? Are there glass shelves that would benefit from lighting? Is the floor under a bar a dingy space that should be lit?

With LED lighting being so small and powerful, just think about where light can be hidden to best effect? 

Where can you create supplementary daylighting?

This is a lighting detail and opportunity that is often overlooked. Consider your space and how well daylight can fill it. 

If on a very bright day the space is too bright, then on an overcast and dark days you will probably be ok with no lighting on in daylight hours. If in any doubt then I suggest we investigate looking into a supplementary daylight effect.

WHERE will the light that is needed come from?


Kitchen Lighting Layout

Back to the plan, and lets work through each of the areas we need light to be in from Step 1 and decide where the light will be coming from.

Working and Preparation Areas

Most likely the majority of the counter and work tops will need this level of light so we are looking at positioning lighting under wall cupboards, in extractor hoods, in the ceiling over a sink or over a counter top without cupboards. Annotate your plan to where your light source has options to come from. 

This is an obvious step but very necessary especially when planning ahead of installation where the power for the lighting will need to be positioned before the kitchen is installed. Methodically going through this process will help weed out problematic positions where a typical solution will not work.

For example, a space with a high ceiling or a solid ceiling cannot rely upon a downlighter to throw it’s light onto the area in question. For example, you may have to plan in a wall spotlight or rely upon reflecting light back down into the position instead?

General Kitchen Lighting Layout

Look at where you have chosen the general brighter illumination to be and consider the best method to achieve it. Hopefully as you have read this far you will not be just racking up rows of downlighters in a grid, but do choose the ceiling as the source if that is the best way to do so and we will decide on the type of light fixture later on.

Decorative Lighting & Lighting Detail

Do not worry about the light fixture itself yet but now look at the detail of where we should be positioning our source to achieve the best type of light we want. We may have to change our plans at the next stage if impossible to do. Mark up your plan with this detail over the coloured highlighter.

Glass shelving would be best lit from the top of the cupboard, where solid shelves would need light under each of them. 

Supplementing Kitchen Daylight

We want to bounce light into our kitchen space, just like daylight naturally does. We see unfiltered sunlight cast direct shadows and is strong enough to track as time passes, but daylight is the diffused light that just fills the space. 

We can do this from hidden spaces, such as over wall cupboards onto the ceiling.

What TYPE of light will best do the job?


How to choose kitchen lighting

As we are simplifying this whole process, we will not get into too much detail about artificial lighting fixtures here. What you need to do is work into each of the 4 areas of where light is needed and choose the best source.

A couple of examples are:

Downlighters for lighting a counter top as there isn’t anywhere else to hide a light and it has to be directly down. Consider it’s position and make sure that it’s beam is not casting a shadow over your work area. Make sure the beam width is wide enough and the light powerful enough to provide enough light. 

LED strip under counters or in shelving. This typically is bought in 5 metre (16ft) reels and can be cut down into smaller lengths. Always best mounted in aluminium extrusions as the metal helps dissipate the small amount of heat that is created, extending the strips longevity.

What CONTROL do you want?


How to control kitchen lighting

Here we are deciding upon how do you want each group of light fixture to come on – ie the circuits of power that will be needed. As you are probably not the installer we are not concerned about how the circuit is running to the lights, but just how they are grouped.

Grouping lighting into ‘scenes’ is your choice if how you see the lighting being balanced throughout the different times of the day and how the kitchen will be used in those times.

Control also means how you would want each of those lighting circuits to behave and how.

Do you want to be able to dim any of the lighting circuits or can some be just switched off and on. If you do want to dim any then the choice of light fixture may need to change.

What type of switch will do the controlling? 

Conclusion: What other lighting questions are there?

I hope this simplified guide has been beneficial but I am aware that you may have more questions than answers at first as you grow in confidence and knowledge – leaping from just choosing lighting to designing with light.

Online Kitchen Lighting Design Resources

Try our partnering website containing quick and easy to understand lighting tips, ideas and guides designed for the beginner to make informed lighting choices of their own.

How to Light a Kitchen A broader guide to show how to light the busiest room of the house.

Best Kitchen Lighting: Buying Guide & Reviews Our guide to simplify your choices with our kitchen lighting recommendations.

Andrew Orange, the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.