I have always believed that lighting is the most important element in any space. Beyond fulfilling its obvious role of illuminating a space, great lighting can effectively disguise the negatives and accentuate the positives of any room. Proper lighting, in addition to bringing the look and style of the actual fixtures to the room, will affect its mood, personality, and functionality. Kitchens, baths, and dressing rooms offer endless lighting opportunities and require the most carefully thought out and advanced lighting design. Here I will discuss how to effectively light these spaces.
I believe it is important to incorporate ambient, task, and accent lighting into all functional spaces, so that they will have flexibility and layers of illumination. I have seen so many kitchens and bathrooms where the extent of the lighting was a ceiling peppered with recessed cans that create a flat, hospital-like ambiance.
Task lighting puts the illumination exactly where you need it—on the countertop, under a wall cabinet, inside the cabinet itself, or, in a bathroom, right at the shower controls. Accent lighting can take the form of lamps, shelf lighting, sconces, cove lighting, and pendants and chandeliers, which are predominantly decorative. A successful lighting design uses a combination of these three types, so the mood can be varied from a soft light for entertaining to bright illumination for surgical precision when cutting and chopping. The effect can be range from romantic to theatrical, and can easily be adapted to the time of day, from morning to night.
The location and layout of lighting fixutres are as critical to any design as the selection of the fixtures themselves. A common mistake in kitchen lighting is to place recessed cans over the aisles, which does nothing to illuminate the countertops and cabinet contents. If the lighting is situated behind you, then shadows are created in front of you. Placing the lights over the countertop and/or in line with the front edge of the countertop allows better illumination of the island, or the interior of the wall cabinets when you open the doors.
Lighting installed beneath wall cabinets will wash the backsplash and light the countertop, while sconces over windows, or on each side of the oven hood will add drama. I have always loved installing sconces over windows, as it is unexpected, provides the same amount of light as a can in the ceiling, and adds a splash of dramatic personality.
Thin LED strip lighting tucked under the toekick of lower cabinets, below the ceiling's crown molding, or above the cabinets themselves can serve as a wayfinder or nightlight. Dimmers or sophisticated control systems are an absolute must, because they increase flexibility and save energy. With a dimmer, you can avoid walking into a bathroom or closet in the dark, flipping a switch, and instantly being blinded by a beacon of light! At a minimum, I like using a rocker switch, with a sliding dimmer bar, for every switch in the house, with the exception of small closets and laundry rooms.
I never install recessed cans with an aperture larger than 4”, and I prefer to specify a trim that matches the color of the ceiling, fitted with a specular or white baffle. If the ceilings are low, I use an even smaller aperture to avoid the look of ceiling acne. The lamp or light bulb used in these fixtures is as important as the fixture itself. In addition to the color temperature of the bulb, the beam spread is another consideration, and can be specified as anywhere from a pinpoint to a flood of light.
When chandeliers or pendants are used over an island or a bathtub, it is important to remember to locate any recessed cans far enough away to prevent shadows from being created by the chandelier. And speaking of shadows, I believe some softly lit, though not dark, spaces add drama in any room, guiding the eye to focus on what deserves our attention.
Each unique space deserves an individual lighting plan, one that will bring the space together and allow its features and accents to dance, all while providing the brightness required for optimal functionality and setting a mood that compliments the design.