How to choose kitchen lighting

Whether you are planning a sophisticated new kitchen design or a simple, stylish update, use this guide to designing and installing kitchen lighting for expert help and advice.

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ABOVE: Pendant lights arranged in a group provide a focal point, while low-voltage LED strip lights located at the front of the cabinets are easy to conceal and give a better spread of lighting onto the work surface. From £30,000 for a kitchen from Underwood.

Whether you are planning a sophisticated new kitchen design or a simple, stylish update, use this guide to designing and installing kitchen lighting for expert help and advice.

Start at the beginning

‘It is vital to think about your lighting right from the start of planning a new kitchen,’ says Nick Bell, director of design at furniture company Underwood. ‘There are essentially two key elements. Task lighting illuminates working areas, while ambient lighting allows you to set the mood in the room. The requirements for task lighting have always remained fairly standard, but nowadays ambient and feature lighting offer potential for a much wider selection of light sources rather than just standard overheads, uplighters or downlighters. Think about using under-plinth lighting, fitting wall-washers above cupboards, illuminating the interiors of glass-fronted cupboards and giving your kitchen a complete palette of light effects. Low-voltage systems with intelligent control panels are discreet and easy to use, so you won’t have an ugly row of switches.

‘Generally, go for more rather than less. It’s easy to turn lighting down, but really unsatisfactory to add plug-in lights at a later stage because you misjudged the scheme.’

Kitchen with This kitchen has colour-changing LED lights

Think about going bespoke

Consider commissioning a specialist company to work alongside your kitchen designer or architect.

‘The role of a lighting designer is to create mood, drama and function and to be able to orchestrate completely different scenes to change the look and feel of a space,’ says Ajay Vasdev, director of Asco Lights. ‘They will discuss your needs and how you will be using and living in your space. Depending upon the day of the week or even the time of the day, different activities will be going on. It’s all about emotion and how light makes people feel. Good lighting should be able to change a kitchen from an area of function and food preparation into an area of relaxation or partying at the press of a button.’

An illuminated porthole that links the kitchen to a split-level dining area

Consider the advantages of LEDs

Lighting that would once have required a specialist designer and installer (not to mention a considerable budget) is now within easy reach, thanks to LED technology.

‘Our planners will advise customers on using lighting to create different ambiences,’ says Matt Thomas, buyer for fitted furniture at John Lewis. ‘I always advise customers to invest in LED lighting as it is so versatile. The long-life bulbs are energy efficient and can be placed beneath your wall units or individually around the kitchen, providing light where needed. They can also be used to create a grid of recessed spotlights in the ceiling.’

‘LEDs give me so many options for illuminating different functioning parts of a kitchen,’ says Ben Rousseau, creative director of Rousseau Design. ‘For example, task lighting above workstations and preparation areas, or bright lighting for reading labels near cupboards. Then there’s sensitive lighting, in the larder for instance, plus any feature lights, which could be under kickplates or as focal pendants. LEDs allow me to pick out small details that you wouldn’t have previously thought about illuminating, to create dramatic details that add interest and define materials and textures.’

Kitchen with flexible strip lighting

Expert advice

Declan Curran, founder of the property repair and maintenance company Homefix Direct, explains the importance of sourcing professional advice.

‘The alteration or addition of lighting in kitchens is a poorly understood aspect of building law that requires a little careful analysis. A very basic rule of thumb is that you are not allowed to add light switches or fittings to an existing kitchen without “notifying”. This means getting an electrician to test the additions and add them to your property’s electrical safety certificate,’ he says.

‘The definition of a kitchen from the legal perspective is a room or part of a room that contains a sink and food preparation facilities. “Part of a room” means anywhere within three metres of the sink – just as with bathrooms, there are various “zones” governing what’s permitted,’ he adds. ‘If you add light fittings or switches to an existing circuit, you don’t need to notify if they are more than three metres from a sink. You can also replace switches or light fittings anywhere in the kitchen without notification, as this is deemed to be replacing something that was already there.

‘Some people, if making lighting or electrical alterations to their kitchens, don’t feel that notifying the relevant bodies is particularly important. It’s true that there won’t be any “lighting inspectors” knocking on your door. However, if you decide to sell the property in the future, the buyer’s solicitors will be asking for correct documentation for any building work that requires it. In conclusion, do it properly, and get the right advice from a professional electrician.’

All prices and stockists correct at time of publishing.