Kitchen Lighting

Lighting in the kitchen is an important aspect of the design andhas a number of functions to perform. Lighting functions can bedivided into a number of distinct categories.

General or Ambient Lighting

Ambient, or general lighting, is the overall lighting that fills a space,thereby reducing contrast and lighting vertical and horizontalsurfaces. The most common form of general lighting is naturallight, which is complemented with artificial lighting (which canbe recessed or ceiling-mounted) during night-time hours. Ceilingheight, together with the number of skylights and windows, playsa key role in determining how much artificial lighting is required.

General lighting units are usually placed 1.5m-1m apart andbulbs equivalent to 100w are the most popular for kitchens. As ageneral rule of thumb, the higher the ceiling, the closer the lightsshould be placed. For ambient kitchen lighting, fluorescent lightingis well suited for the job as it provides broad, even illumination.Fluorescents are also efficient and can be dimmed. As LED andcompact fluorescent lighting improves, designers will have otheroptions to complement general lighting.

Task Lighting

Task lighting, as the name suggests, is needed toprovide light where tasks are performed. The mainareas of a kitchen that require the most attention totask lighting are the cooking, food preparation andclean-up zones.Task lighting should be good-quality, bright,shadowless light that is situated above counters,sink areas, cooking zones, tables and the like. It isideal to have the fitting close to the area which itneeds to light.

The most common task light sourceis a down light. These are often small-diameter lightsthat are recessed into the cupboard above or ceilingand provide a natural white light.

Damco Kitchens Task
Accent Lighting

Accent lighting is used to make an iteminto a special feature and can be a partof the mood lighting plan. Accent lightwill draw the eye, so it should beused to lure attention to an object orparticular part of the kitchen. A particularlybright splashback, for example, canbenefit from accent light that highlights itsposition as a special feature within the kitchen.

Decorative Lighting

Decorative lighting refers to inclusionssuch as chandeliers or light art. The itemis included as a decorative piece ratherthan functional, although its light canbe used to enhance mood. Consult thelighting designer if this type of light fittingis required as you will need to ensurethat it does not conflict (say, by creatingshadows) with other lighting in the room.

Kinetic Lighting

Kinetic light refers to light sources that arenot stable and might flicker or move, suchas a candle or transitional light. Thesecan be used to great effect in a kitchen,particularly at night where a softer and gentler light can be used after the meal isserved and there is no longer a need forgeneral or task lighting. Strip LEDs areoften used along kickboards or at the topedge of cabinets to create this type of lightand today’s technology means the light cantransition through a colour spectrum, whichcan look spectacular.

Mood Lighting

No longer simply about functionality andtask-oriented illumination, mood lighting hasfound its way into modern Australian kitchendesign, following the European trend. Manymanufacturers have introduced products thatspecifically apply to this concept. Lights havebecome smaller, more elegant, economical andeven easier to mount, making it easier for kitchendesigners to incorporate them into their designs.Reflecting the latest European light designs,strip and spot lights, low-voltage halogen lights,and flush- and surface-mounted LEDs are nowfeatured in cabinets, shelves, niches and plinths.

Light Types

Natural Light

As the name suggests, natural lightcomes from sources such as windows, skylights,glass sliding doors, stacker doors etc. Most kitchenstoday have at least some access to natural light and,because of the open-plan nature of most homes, itis fairly uncommon to come across a kitchen with noexternal windows or doors in the adjoining spaces.Because natural light waxes and wanes during the dayand evening, and will be at varying strengths at differenttimes of the year, it cannot be relied on as the only lightsource in the kitchen. However, clever lighting design canmake the most of what natural light is available and make work within the overall lighting plan for the room.


LED is an acronym for light emittingdiodes and refers to the action of the electronswhich release photons when turned on. A highlyflexible and adaptable piece of equipment, LEDis now more commonly used in the home tocreate mood or highlight features of the kitchen.LEDs can be used for task and ambient lightingand is a great way to introduce colour into akitchen design. As they are almost maintenancefree, you should expect to obtain around100,000 hours of use from LED lights. Oneof the most energy-efficient lighting options,LEDs is a great option you are environmentallyconscious. As designers becomemore adept at including LEDs into theirdesigns, we are likely to see the incorporationexpand to different areas of the home includingwardrobes, bedrooms, home theatres, stairsand the like. LEDs can be installed undercountertops, around toe kicks, behind glasspanels and a host of other interesting places.On any kitchen project, a licensed electricianmust carry out all electrical work and all suchwork is to be undertaken in accordance withthe Australian Standard (AS/NZS 3000— Electrical installations), state and localgovernment regulations.


New-generation fluorescentlights are an extremely energy-efficient, long-lasting source of light. Compact versions canbe mounted into the traditional incandescent,bayonet and screw-in fittings. The compactfluorescent may last up to 16,000 hours (anincandescent light will have a life of up to 1000hours). Fluorescent globes have an equivalentbrightness to an incandescent globe, so youcan still achieve the same lighting levels.Fluorescents are available in cool and warmtones. The tone can have a significant impact onthe quality of the light, so it is important to choosethe right tone for the right location. Compactfluorescent lamps are good in down lights and area particularly good source of light in the kitchenas well as being a great energy-efficient option.


These two terms are often interchanged and refer to small diameter lights that you will see in recessedlight fittings. Halogens require transformers tochange standard 240-volt power to 12 volts. They are specifically designed for task lightingbut commonly misused as general lighting.Halogen or dichroic lights are best used incombination with fluorescent or incandescentlights to achieve a general ambience.


Incandescent lights have beenthe traditional light source used in Australianhomes for many years but have been phasedout for most common household applications.Bulbs come with either bayonet or Edison screwfittings and are available in 10-, 15-, 25-, 40-,60-, 75- and 100-watt options in either clear orpearl (frosted). Incandescent lights run off a 240-volt source and can usually be dimmed.

Design Tips
  • Think outside the square — the ceiling or wallscan be turned into light zones that can be turnedoff and on by sensors
  • Strip lighting under overhead units, for example,is a great solution (whether you choosefluorescents or LEDs) for task lighting
  • Above islands or peninsular counters you coulduse pendant or track lighting suspended fromthe ceiling
  • When designing the lighting, think first about theareas you wish to highlight
  • Consider using a lighting designer for the overalllighting layout
  • LED lights add great effect to a kitchen but becareful that they don’t overwhelm the design ofthe rest of the space
  • Adequate task lighting is essential to ensure thekitchen is highly functional
  • Always consider location and availability of spacefor switches, particularly if the kitchen has morethan one entry and exit point
  • Recessed lighting is great for overhead units,along toe kicks and under countertops. LEDswork well in these locations as they are smalland easy to place
  • Downlights are great for use in overhead units and ceilings and new LED options for theseareas can be more effective and efficientthan halogens
  • Consider including one or a number of spot lightsto draw attention to a special area or object youwish to feature.
  • Remember to consider other light sources withmultiple functions, such as rangehoodswhichprovide additional light
  • Ambient lighting will illuminate the whole kitchenand bring warmth to the space, so consider thesize, shape and location of natural light sourceswhen designing this aspect
  • Accent lighting is used to draw attention todecorative items but use it sparingly to avoidexcess visual stimulation
  • Decorative lighting will bring personality andindividuality into the space but, again, do notoveruse or you could end up clashing with thedesign of the kitchen
  • Mood lighting can add warmth, particularly wherethe kitchen is part of a larger family or livingarea. When general and task lighting have beenswitched off after cooking and cleaning, moodlighting or dimmed feature lighting will createa soft glow to the kitchen area
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