Kitchen Lighting

Lighting in the kitchen is an important aspect of the design and has a number of functions to perform. Lighting functions can be divided 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 horizontal surfaces. The most common form of general lighting is natural light, which is complemented with artificial lighting (which can be recessed or ceiling-mounted) during night-time hours. Ceiling height, together with the number of skylights and windows, plays a key role in determining how much artificial lighting is required.
General lighting units are usually placed 1.5m-1m apart and bulbs equivalent to 100w are the most popular for kitchens. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the ceiling, the closer the lights should be placed. For ambient kitchen lighting, fluorescent lighting is well suited for the job as it provides broad, even illumination. Fluorescents are also efficient and can be dimmed. As LED and compact fluorescent lighting improves, designers will have other options to complement general lighting.
Task Lighting
Task lighting, as the name suggests, is needed to provide light where tasks are performed. The main areas of a kitchen that require the most attention to task lighting are the cooking, food preparation and clean-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 is ideal to have the fitting close to the area which it needs to light.
The most common task light source is a downlight. These are often small-diameter lights that are recessed into the cupboard above or ceiling and provide a natural white light.
Damco Kitchens Task
Accent Lighting
Accent lighting is used to make an item into a special feature and can be a part of the mood lighting plan. Accent light will draw the eye, so it should be used to lure attention to an object or particular part of the kitchen. A particularly bright splashback, for example, can benefit from accent light that highlights its position as a special feature within the kitchen.
Decorative Lighting
Decorative lighting refers to inclusions such as chandeliers or light art. The item is included as a decorative piece rather than functional, although its light can be used to enhance mood. Consult the lighting designer if this type of light fitting is required as you will need to ensure that it does not conflict (say, by creating shadows) with other lighting in the room.
Kinetic Lighting
Kinetic light refers to light sources that are not stable and might flicker or move, such as a candle or transitional light. These can be used to great effect in a kitchen, particularly at night where a softer and gentler light can be used after the meal is served and there is no longer a need for general or task lighting. Strip LEDs are often used along kickboards or at the top edge of cabinets to create this type of light and today’s technology means the light can transition through a colour spectrum, which can look spectacular.
Mood Lighting
No longer simply about functionality and task-oriented illumination, mood lighting has found its way into modern Australian kitchen design, following the European trend. Many manufacturers have introduced products that specifically apply to this concept. Lights have become smaller, more elegant, economical and even easier to mount, making it easier for kitchen designers to incorporate them into their designs. Reflecting the latest European light designs, strip and spotlights, low-voltage halogen lights, and flush- and surface-mounted LEDs are now featured in cabinets, shelves, niches and plinths.
Light Types

Natural Light

As the name suggests, natural light comes from sources such as windows, skylights, glass sliding doors, stacker doors etc. Most kitchens today have at least some access to natural light and, because of the open-plan nature of most homes, it is fairly uncommon to come across a kitchen with no external windows or doors in the adjoining spaces. Because natural light waxes and wanes during the day and evening, and will be at varying strengths at different times of the year, it cannot be relied on as the only light source in the kitchen. However, clever lighting design can make 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 emitting diodes and refers to the action of the electrons which release photons when turned on. A highly flexible and adaptable piece of equipment, LED is now more commonly used in the home to create mood or highlight features of the kitchen. LEDs can be used for task and ambient lighting and is a great way to introduce colour into a kitchen design. As they are almost maintenance free, you should expect to obtain around 100,000 hours of use from LED lights. One of the most energy-efficient lighting options, LEDs is a great option you are environmentally conscious. As designers become more adept at including LEDs into their designs, we are likely to see the incorporation expand to different areas of the home including wardrobes, bedrooms, home theatres, stairs and the like. LEDs can be installed under countertops, around toe kicks, behind glass panels and a host of other interesting places.

On any kitchen project, a licensed electrician must carry out all electrical work and all such work is to be undertaken in accordance with the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 3000— Electrical installations), state and local government regulations.


New-generation fluorescent lights are an extremely energy-efficient, long-lasting source of light. Compact versions can be mounted into the traditional incandescent, bayonet and screw-in fittings. The compact fluorescent may last up to 16,000 hours (an incandescent light will have a life of up to 1000 hours). Fluorescent globes have an equivalent brightness to an incandescent globe, so you can still achieve the same lighting levels. Fluorescents are available in cool and warm tones. The tone can have a significant impact on the quality of the light, so it is important to choose the right tone for the right location. Compact fluorescent lamps are good in downlights and area particularly good source of light in the kitchen as 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 recessed light fittings. Halogens require transformers to change standard 240-volt power to 12 volts. They are specifically designed for task lighting but commonly misused as general lighting. Halogen or dichroic lights are best used in combination with fluorescent or incandescent lights to achieve a general ambience.


Incandescent lights have been the traditional light source used in Australian homes for many years but have been phased out for most common household applications. Bulbs come with either bayonet or Edison screw fittings and are available in 10-, 15-, 25-, 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt options in either clear or pearl (frosted). Incandescent lights run off a 240-volt source and can usually be dimmed.
Design Tips
  • Think outside the square — the ceiling or walls can be turned into light zones that can be turned off and on by sensors
  • Strip lighting under overhead units, for example, is a great solution (whether you choose fluorescents or LEDs) for task lighting
  • Above islands or peninsular counters, you could use pendant or track lighting suspended from the ceiling
  • When designing the lighting, think first about the areas you wish to highlight
  • Consider using a lighting designer for the overall lighting layout
  • LED lights add a great effect to a kitchen but be careful that they don’t overwhelm the design of the rest of the space
  • Adequate task lighting is essential to ensure the kitchen is highly functional
  • Always consider location and availability of space for switches, particularly if the kitchen has more than one entry and exit point
  • Recessed lighting is great for overhead units, along with toe kicks and under countertops. LEDs work well in these locations as they are small and easy to place
  • Downlights are great for use in overhead units and ceilings and new LED options for these areas can be more effective and efficient than halogens
  • Consider including one or a number of spotlights to draw attention to a special area or object you wish to feature.
  • Remember to consider other light sources with multiple functions, such as range hoods which provide additional light
  • Ambient lighting will illuminate the whole kitchen and bring warmth to the space, so consider the size, shape and location of natural light sources when designing this aspect
  • Accent lighting is used to draw attention to decorative items but uses it sparingly to avoid excess visual stimulation
  • Decorative lighting will bring personality and individuality into the space but, again, do not overuse or you could end up clashing with the design of the kitchen
  • Mood lighting can add warmth, particularly where the kitchen is part of a larger family or living area. When general and task lighting have been switched off after cooking and cleaning, mood lighting or dimmed feature lighting will create a soft glow to the kitchen area
Get a Free Quote