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5 Common Kitchen Lighting Mistakes

Here’s a list of 5 kitchen lighting mistakes and how to fix or avoid them.
iBar Friends of Hue LED Linear Suspension over a kitchen island.
Haven Pendant by Kuzco NYC Studio for Alora Mood

We now live in the age of the multi-purpose kitchen—one that calls for a trustworthy trio of task, ambient and accent lighting. And while each has its place in any room’s overall lighting scheme, striking a perfect balance for your modern kitchen space can be a challenge. And it can be easy to get it wrong. 

Here’s a list of five kitchen lighting mistakes and how to prevent them. 

Modern undercabinet kitchen lighting.
6U Series 30 Inch LED Undercabinet Light by Kichler 

The mistake: Your kitchen counters are too dark. Ambient light is important, but if your kitchen has cabinets with undercabinet workspaces, the cabinets will often block any overhead light and add shadows. 

The fix: Undercabinet lighting. A must-have for the utilitarian kitchen, undercabinet lighting adds to the functional workspace in your kitchen. Many task lighting options are available, from plug-in styles for a quick kitchen upgrade to hard-wired direct lighting with a convenient wall switch. 

Modern undercabinet lighting designs include modular tracks that customize to your kitchen layout. Dimmable lighting is ideal, as it doubles as ambient light or even safety lighting when the cook’s all done with the prepping and cleaning. 

Stylish Link Pendant by LZF over a kitchen island.
Link Pendant by Ray Power for LZF

The mistake: Too many recessed lights. When it comes to recessed lighting, a less-is-more approach works best. Still, recessed downlights don’t illuminate walls—so relying on them as the only source of light in any room will leave some areas poorly lit. 

The fix: To avoid having your kitchen ceiling look like an airport runway, the general rule to follow is to use one recessed light for every 4 to 6 square feet of ceiling space. The formula for spacing out recessed lights is to divide the height of the ceiling by 2: For an 8-foot ceiling, recessed lights should be about 4 feet apart. 

Two Hagen Pendants in a kitchen.
Hagen Pendant by Hudson Valley Lighting

The mistake: Disproportionate lighting fixtures. If you’ve ever walked into a space that showcased a single small-scaled pendant light above a sprawling kitchen island, or an immense chandelier hanging over a small kitchen eating space, you know that it can wreak havoc on a room’s proportions—and it often leads to insufficient kitchen lighting. 

The fix: Close attention to the kitchen’s size and the measurements of a counter or island workspace is key in selecting scale-appropriate lighting. For general pendant lighting, the rule of thumb is to add together the width and height of the kitchen in feet. Change that sum to inches for the diameter of a perfectly sized pendant light. 

For an island or table, measure the width of the narrowest part. A lighting fixture with a diameter that is about one foot smaller than that should suit the space.

Dipping Light LED Table Lamp adding a splash of color to a kitchen.
Dipping Light LED Table Lamp by Marset

The mistake: Overly bright lighting or too much light. The human eye is particularly sensitive to light—and excessive lighting can bring on headaches, nausea, anxiety and fatigue. 

The fix: Use layered lighting to give your kitchen a balanced atmosphere that suits both work and relaxation.

And if you’ve acquired an overlit kitchen: Swap out controls to the pre-existing lights, or place them on separate switches. Additionally, dimmable lighting goes a long way toward creating a comfortable atmosphere. 

Salix LED Accent Pendant by Nick Sheridan for Cerno

The mistake: Highlighting the wrong areas of your kitchen. While a well-placed decorative light can elevate a space, the wrong choices can cause visual clutter and cheapen the effect.

The fix: A trio of pendant lights over an island or eating area can highlight important parts of a room while bringing an opportunity for unique expression. But, if the eating area and island are only a few feet away and there’s already an eye-popping, show-stopping kitchen chandelier hanging over the table, they will compete. Instead, opt for one focal point in your kitchen. 

The best way to avoid most kitchen lighting mistakes is to follow the designer’s basic rule of three-level lighting. Combine ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting—each layer controlled independently—for the ideal aesthetic and functional blend. 

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