Good kitchen lighting, from an aesthetic and functional standpoint, incorporates both ambient and task lighting. This method of layering the light is important for achieving positive results in all types of living and working spaces.
Start with the task areas. These are best lit with bright, shadowless light. Fluorescent tubes are particularly well suited for this because of their large surface area and high lumens per watt (recommendation: T8 fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts). You want to get the fixture close to the task area, (in kitchens this would be counters, sinks, and tables), so mounting the lights on the underside of the upper cabinets is convenient. In the case of an island or peninsula counter tops, with no upper cabinets to attach lights to, you need to use hanging pendant style fixtures or project light from the ceiling. If ceiling mounts are used then your choice will probably be incandescent lamps (either in track or recessed fixtures). This is due mostly to the state of product availability in the home lighting market. The most efficient of the incandescent sources commonly available is the halogen. The lamps used are usually called MR16s. These light sources have very defined beam patterns and cast hard shadows. This can make them a poor choice for a task light but excellent for accent lighting. The halogen PAR30 lamp has a good blend of efficiency, performance, and aesthetics if you need to project the light on to the task area. Since PAR lamps are line voltage (120V), they do not require transformers like the 12V MR16.
Think about ambient lighting. Ambient light is the general, overall light that fills in shadows, reduces contrast, and lights vertical surfaces to give the space a brighter feel. Ambient light is what you need for casual activities in your rooms. If the kitchen has light colored surfaces and lots of windows you should have plenty of natural ambient light during the day. But kitchens are used from before dawn until after midnight -- we can't rely on windows and skylights. Fluorescent tubes are well suited to the job of providing ambient light. They provide broad, even illumination and their efficiency makes it possible to fill the space with light without turning it into an oven. Choose a color temperature of 3000K or 3500K for a warmer, more inviting appearance. You can put the tubes in a central fixture but you may want to try some other strategies, like placing them on top of the upper cabinets to indirectly reflect off a light colored ceiling. If you have at least 12 inches of space from the top of the upper cabinets to the ceiling, this is an inexpensive way to brighten up a kitchen. Or, maybe you have a custom pot rack hanging over an island and can build lighting into it to reflect off the ceiling and down onto the island.
Add a layer of accent lighting. Accent lighting is what gives our space a third dimension, adding to the quality of the space. Accent lighting is used sparingly on those special home objects that we want people to notice and admire. Accent lighting is usually done with spot lights, and the MR16 lamp mentioned earlier is one of the best. You may be lighting artwork, architectural details, collectibles, or a food presentation area.
by Eric Strandberg, The Lighting Design Lab
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