Kitchen Lighting: Putting the Light Where You Need It
Kitchen lighting is a challenge in the best of conditions. Lighting levels, fixture spacing, ambient lighting, task lighting and decorative lighting are all in play. In my last post, I alluded to a particular challenging lighting challenge relating to the placement of a soffit crown moulding above a row of kitchen cabinets. The underside of the soffit is just over 10′ off the floor. The soffit and moulding fall 12” in front of the face of the upper cabinet. Exactly where I locate recessed down lights to eliminate shadows and properly light the counter top below.
THE KITCHEN LIGHTING QUESTION
The question facing me in this particular situation is, “Is there a way to bring light the counter top from the ceiling in a manner that does not create shadows on the counter top?” The answer is yes, but it’s not going to be easy…
LIGHTING OPTION 1:
I could pull the down lights outside the soffit, as in this sketch.
Not my first choice. Even with a 55 degree flood, as in this WAC LED downlight with a 2” aperture, the cone of light from the down light hits far down the upper cabinet’s face. The upper row of cabinets are left “in the dark”. (The red tick mark in the sketch shows where the cone of light will begin hitting the cabinet’s face.Typical ALL sketches.) In addition, when a person stands at the counter with the ceiling light source behind them, shadows will be cast on the counter, unless under cabinet lights are installed and used.
LIGHTING OPTION 2:
The second option is locating the down lights closer to the upper cabinets. This option eliminates any shadowing on the counter top. However, there will be hot spots on the upper cabinet door fronts because the lights are so close to the cabinets. There are always pros and cons…
The next question is lamping. A spot flood lamp’s beam spread is too small. What about a narrow beam flood or regular beam flood lamp? As an example, I’ll use the same WAC LED with a 2” aperture from Option 1. Lots of light output. Minimal presence in the ceiling.
The 30 degree flood light’s output is terrific. I wish the beam spread were better.
When I look at the photometric data, the 55 degree flood really needs the overlapping cones of light to be effective, given the distance between ceiling and counters top. The down light’s cone of light is hitting the upper cabinets much higher on the cabinet’s face. (Note the red tick mark in the sketch.) The overlapping beam spread will help eliminate any shadows on the counter top.
Depending on the paint color and counter top, I’d add under cabinet lighting to fill in and supplement the light from the downlight. For example, this Hafele LED under cabinet fixture would work perfectly.
LIGHTING OPTION 3:
As I worked on the Second Lighting Option, I found myself wondering whether a cove light could be designed, allowing light to wash the entire upper cabinet front. I decided to explore the idea using JUNO’s ARC L LED track light. One of the advantages of track lighting is it’s flexibility. You can add, subtract and direct the light as you choose.
Given the fixture’s narrow cone of light, I felt I needed to add fill light between the fixtures. In this sketch I doubled the number of fixtures. The result is improved upper cabinet and counter top lighting.
But there will still be hot spots on the cabinet faces. Could the hot spots be eliminated?
LIGHTING OPTION 4
Back in the day, when Sally and I designed commercial/corporate interiors, we often installed light slots where the wall and ceiling intersect, washing the wall with light from ceiling to the floor. Perhaps a light slot would be the solution for this particular kitchen lighting dilemma.
Starfire’s slick indirect LED fixture, the VersaLux LED Wall Grazer, is perfect for this light slot. And it’s available with three different light levels!
I’m confident it will evenly wash the upper cabinet fronts.
Beautiful light. Expensive fixture. There’s another less expensive way to skin the cat, using simple single tube T5 or T8 fluorescent fixtures. Just be sure to spec/select Soft White!!!
Build a 6” wide x 6” high slot, tuck a continuous row of single tube fluorescent fixtures up in the top front corner. Voila! Understand the limitations. The fixtures only come in certain lengths. There may be slight shadowing between each fixture. The light coming out of the slot will be “sloppier”, more diffuse because there is no carefully designed reflector directing most all the light directly down the front the cabinets.
LIGHTING OPTION 5
Last but not least, I want to circle back to a notion similar to Option 1 to solve our kitchen lighting challenge. What if we used adjustable multi-head fixture, such as WAC’s Mini LED Multiple Spot fixture, instead of a typical wall washer?
What are the advantages? The heads can be adjusted higher and turned slightly away form each other. This accomplishes two things. First, the light falls higher on the cabinet faces over a much wider area. Second, with lamp heads from each fixture pointed toward each other, shadows are eliminated.
This solution could be applied to/added to any of the above options.
WHICH KITCHEN LIGHTING OPTION IS MY FAVORITE?
I surprised even myself. I’d choose either OPTION 4’s less expensive light slot solution or OPTION 5 with the multiple LED spots. Why?
- My gut. With over 40 years of experience, I trust my instincts.
- That experience brings value to the table. The value is creative design and problem solving skills.
- They both address and solve the dilemma in a creative/cost effective manner. Our clients love us when we solve problems in this manner.
- They’re different. Unexpected. Great talking point while sitting at the kitchen island. Clients love to be taken places they didn’t know they need to go.
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