How to light a kitchen

Whether you’re having a glass of wine with friends or cleaning up at the end of the evening you will want different amounts of light in different parts of your kitchen. A mixture of lighting types make a kitchen feel and work the way you want it to. There are three basic categories of light in the kitchen: task lighting, ambient lighting, and accent lighting. Let's take a look at fixtures available for each type and where to place them.

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1) Task lighting should fall where you work. Light over the sink helps you get that last spot off a glass. Light over a food preparation area can keep you from slicing a finger. Task lighting can take the form of a focused and aimed recessed ceiling light, but is more often a low-hanging fixture like a pendant light or an under-cabinet light. Recently, LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes) have overtaken halogen lights as the preferred bulb for this use. Pendant lights can be used over sinks and kitchen islands. Counters along walls are often lit by LED lights on the underside of shelves or wall cabinets.

Decorative pendants provide task lighting over the sink and island.

Decorative pendants provide task lighting over the sink and island.

In-drawer and in-cabinet lights are gaining in popularity and may be thought of as a type of task lighting.  Putting lights in every drawer and cabinet is probably overkill but they can be helpful in darker areas where you don’t want to turn on the overhead light every time, as in a pantry, or in a particularly deep drawer or cabinet.

2) Ambient lighting illuminates the overall space. When you’re cooking and cleaning you want to be able to light the whole kitchen at once. Recessed lights in the ceiling are the most popular source of ambient light in modern kitchens. Alternatives to the contemporary look of recessed lighting include flush mounted lighting, which goes on the ceiling surface, and track lighting. 

Recessed led lights provide ambient light in this kitchen.

Recessed led lights provide ambient light in this kitchen.

Because ambient light fixtures typically come with a bulb installed (or in the case of LED, no bulb at all) it is important to consider the color of lighting, which runs from blue/cooler to yellow/warmer. We recommend warm lights for most residential needs.

Sunlight is another form of ambient light, though it must be supplemented during evening hours. How much sunlight finds its way into your kitchen and at what times of day throughout the year may affect on where you plan to place things like a breakfast table.

A floor lamp is a fun accent light that adds interest and height to an empty corner.

A floor lamp is a fun accent light that adds interest and height to an empty corner.

3) Accent lighting adds drama or interest to a space. Typically, accent lights are an indirect light that highlights a particular feature of a room like a wall sconce that washes light against the wall. A modern twist would involve hiding LED strip lights to highlight structural features such as a beam or sloped ceiling. With the proper controller, modern LED’s can be adjusted to any color imaginable. Other types of accent lights include floor and wall lamps and lighting inside of display cabinets.

Finally, you will want to consider light switches and their placement. Should your lights be on a three-way switch that allows them to be controlled from two different places? Or do you want a single light on its own switch? Where will you be standing when you want to turn particular lights on and off?  These decisions will have as large an effect on the usability of your kitchen as the position of the range. If done wrong, they will drive you crazy. For more on switches and outlets, see our post on where to place outlets in your kitchen.

Switches are placed conveniently near the door.

Switches are placed conveniently near the door.

When choosing your kitchen lighting fixtures there is more to think about than their design.  Where do they go and what do they do?  Thinking about kitchen lighting can illuminate other aspects of your kitchen’s design that you may not have thought about yet. When in doubt, more light is better. You can always add dimmers.

Meet the Team: Sean Lewis

At Airy Kitchens we strive to create unique and beautiful kitchens that people will love. Today owner Sean Lewis tells us how he developed his love of interior design and everything kitchens.

Sean Lewis of Airy Kitchens

What led you to designing kitchens in Philadelphia?

I have always been obsessed with art and design. I grew up creating paintings, sculpture, and many, many floor plans. I moved to new York after college and worked in interior design. I actually started gardening and ended up spending ten years as a landscape designer. Eventually I created my own line of outdoor cabinets as a partner at New Eco Landscapes. I guess that was the turning point. Kitchens are complex and fun to design, so once I started I loved the challenge.

One of Sean Lewis’ Garden designs.

One of Sean Lewis’ Garden designs.

What inspires you?

I was just thinking this morning about how much I love my bathroom. It’s an original 1920’s deco bathroom with amazing thick green tiles. It’s easy to see lots of modern inspiration on blogs and magazines, and I do love modern design, but classic details always win me over. I’m always checking out historic homes and even going to local open houses. If my kitchens and bathrooms look as good in one hundred years as these vintage ones do, then I’ve done my job.

Sean’s favorite vintage bath at his home in Mt Airy Philadelphia.

Sean’s favorite vintage bath at his home in Mt Airy Philadelphia.

What is the most difficult part of designing a kitchen?

I work in a lot of older homes and they all have tiny kitchens. Everyone wants more space. I want more space, but you don’t want to cut open your historic living or dining room, right? Luckily I excel at organization. I can work with what you have or propose some bigger changes like opening walls or building additions. If it’s done right, modern changes can look appropriate in historic homes.

A clean and organized kitchen with a small footprint.

A clean and organized kitchen with a small footprint.

What is the best part of designing a kitchen?

Thats easy, my clients (and their dogs). I get to change their lives in a big and exciting way. I really love designing, but without the people designs feel stagnant. Every client and every space bring their own challenges and that’s what leads to beautiful designs. People are always at the heart of what we do.

Whats next?

We are planning a new office and showroom. It’s going to be beautiful. Thats all I can tell you.

If you would like to talk with Sean about designing your kitchen contact us.

The Six Best Floors for your Kitchen Renovation.

If you are thinking about remodeling your kitchen consider updating the flooring to create a clean and finished look. Whatever your style or budget, flooring can make or break a room. A new floor can be necessary if you plan to change the layout or remove walls and this step should be considered during any renovation. What better time to change the floor then when you’re already having work done?

This job may be a larger undertaking then one might expect. Older homes often have sagging floor joists or haphazard underlayment. Once your contractor removes the existing floor it often makes sense to replace or brace existing structural members. While installing new flooring can run as little as $5000, updating these other items can double that cost. Once the structure is ready, what material is the best option for your kitchen? Lets take a look at the most popular kitchen flooring options:

Wood floors add warmth and comfort.

Wood floors add warmth and comfort.

Wood floors are timeless and classic. We recommend hardwoods such as oak, maple, or cherry. Softer woods like pine and bamboo can dent from dropped items.

Pros: Wood floors are a softer surface which feels better on your back and knees. Softer floors are also safer for young children. Wood adds a warm look and feel which pairs great with painted cabinets. Wood can be repaired and refinished over time. With proper maintenance wood floors can last hundreds of years.

Cons: Be careful to avoid prolonged exposure to water. Leaks or uncleaned spills can destroy wood floors. Wood can cup and stain if exposed to water or high humidity from above or below. Wood is not a good choice to install over damp crawlspaces or radiant floor heating. Also, pets can scratch the wood finish.

This ceramic tile is glazed to look like terra cotta. Ceramic tile is durable and low maintenance.

This ceramic tile is glazed to look like terra cotta. Ceramic tile is durable and low maintenance.

Ceramic, porcelain and terra cotta tile are surprisingly similar. All are fired clay, usually with a glaze. Porcelain is high-fired and made from a special clay making it the strongest choice (but harder to work with). Terra Cotta is a clay known for its red orange color. All tiles are porous unless glazed. Glazing is like a baked on glass layer.

Pros: If you want your floors to look the same in ten years as they did on day one, then choose a glazed tile. The glaze is so strong that it cannot stain and you won’t need to reseal it. Ceramic tile can be budget friendly but thicker tiles that will hold up for eighty plus years are more costly. Modern tiles are available in large sizes with thinner grout lines and can be glazed to look like wood, stone, or concrete.

Cons: Tile is easier to damage and harder to fix than other options. Ceramic tile can crack or chip more easily than the other options listed. Ceramic is a different color under the glaze so chips are very noticeable. While the tile may be low maintenance, grout is susceptible to dirt and staining. It should be resealed yearly.

My husband slammed a bag of ice on this slate floor at our housewarming and I gasped in horror, but no slates were cracked!

My husband slammed a bag of ice on this slate floor at our housewarming and I gasped in horror, but no slates were cracked!

Natural stone tiles like slate, limestone, travertine, marble, and granite come in many sizes and colors. Most stones have beautiful patterns and textures.

Pros: Natural stone is not glazed and it is the same color throughout. So chips and scratches can happen but are less noticeable than ceramic. Granite, slate and travertine are denser and less porous than limestone and marble. Stone tile is stronger than ceramic and can last hundreds of years.

Cons: Even dense stones like granite and slate can stain. Stains and wear can look fine if you like a patina but if you want a cleaner, newer looking floor then plan to reseal every 1-2 years. Stone can not be sanded or refinished. If you scratch it badly, tiles will have to be replaced. Hard tiles like stone and cement are more likely to break dropped dishes.

This cement tile floor by  Stacklab  is fun and durable.

This cement tile floor by Stacklab is fun and durable.

Cement tiles are made by mixing color pigment with cement and creating a thick ‘wear’ layer, usually from a form. This layer is hydraulically pressed together with one or two more base layers to create a thick and heavy tile.

Pros: Because they have a thick top layer, nicks and chips are less visible. Cement tile is stronger and more durable than ceramic tile but looks and feels softer. Cement tile can last one hundred years.

Cons: Like natural stone, concrete is porous and will need to be sealed every 1-2 years to avoid stains. Concrete can not be sanded or refinished. It is weaker than stone. Hard tiles like cement, stone, and ceramic are harder on your knees, making a rug or mat necessary.

Vinyl looks clean and classic. It’s also budget friendly.

Vinyl looks clean and classic. It’s also budget friendly.

Laminate and Vinyl floors are available in wood looks that can fool even the most discerning eye. Laminate is typically installed like a wood floor while vinyl comes in strips, tiles, and large sheets.

Pros: Both vinyl and laminate are good alternatives to wood because they hold up against water, pets, and radiant heat better. Vinyl is plastic and can be used in wet bathrooms and basements. Laminate can hold up to more water and humidity than wood but will still get damaged by excessive water. Both options are budget friendly and easy to install.

Cons: Vinyl and laminate are not the most durable or beautiful materials. Don’t expect more than ten years out of either material. Neither material can be refinished.

This cork floor kitchen by  Vaughn Design  looks modern and fresh.

This cork floor kitchen by Vaughn Design looks modern and fresh.

Cork flooring is typically installed as an interlocking tile that is glued to the subfloor.

Pros: Cork has many similar qualities to wood but it actually performs better. Cork is softer than hardwood which is great for your knees and your kids. Cork is more water and moisture resistant than wood. Cork also provides greater noise and heat insulation than any other options.

Cons: Because it is softer cork is more susceptible to dents and dings then wood. Cork tiles can not be refinished so it’s lifespan is shorter than wood. Think ten to twenty years. Cork should be resealed every five years for durability and stain control.

The best choice for our environment.

At Airy Kitchens we always think about the environment and how our renovations will effect the future. There are many factors to consider including how materials are made, where they come from, how long they will last, and if they can be recycled. We recommend natural materials like wood, natural stone, and cork, which can all be recycled or will decompose. Choosing a local wood species or local stone can greatly reduce the environmental footprint of your kitchen remodel. Cement tiles are more eco friendly than ceramic because they are not fired in a kiln. However it can be hard to find these tiles made locally. Cork is actually harvested from trees so trees do not need to be killed to use it, but it too is grown overseas. In the end, we think durable floors are worth the cost. Building for longevity is the best way to care for the future.