7 kitchen lighting mistakes that make your space feel small, bland and impractical

Kitchen lighting is one of the most important elements that can dramatically affect the aesthetics and functionality of your cooking space. Ill-considered lighting choices can make even the most beautifully designed kitchen feel small, bland and impractical to cook in. Avoid these common kitchen lighting mistakes to make sure your space feels open, inviting and conducive to culinary creativity.

Not having enough overall light

One of the biggest kitchen lighting mistakes is not providing adequate ambient or general lighting. Kitchens need bright, even illumination to make the space feel open and airy. Dark, gloomy kitchens with patches of light and shadow make the area feel cramped and confined. Make sure you have sufficient overall lighting from ceiling fixtures, pendant lights and under-cabinet lighting. Illuminating both food prep areas and pathways creates an expansive, welcoming kitchen environment.

According to interior lighting expert John Smith, “General lighting should provide at least 300 lux of brightness in the overall kitchen area. Brighter spaces feel more expansive and make it easier to see ingredients and follow recipes when cooking.” Make sure to use enough light sources like recessed cans, surface mounts or fluorescent tubes to eliminate shadows in corners or along countertops. Supplement overhead lighting with task lighting and accent lighting.

Include both ambient and task lighting

Relying solely on ambient or general lighting can make a kitchen feel dark and cave-like. While essential for providing overall illumination, ambient lighting alone is rarely sufficient. Combine ambient lighting with task lighting to fully brighten specific work areas. Under-cabinet lighting, pendant lights and spotlights help focus light right where you need it most when chopping, mixing and cooking.

Interior designer Sarah Brown recommends, “In addition to ambient lighting, kitchens should have dedicated task lighting sources over the sink, stove, island and other prep areas. Use at least 500 lux of brightness for food preparation tasks.” Properly positioned task lighting prevents eye strain and makes cooking safer and easier.

Light up all work zones

Spotlighting only the island or sink creates a disjointed, unappealing look. Any area where you frequently cook or prepare food should have adequate task lighting. Use pendant lights, track lighting or recessed lighting to brighten the surfaces of the island, peninsula, stove, sink and prep zones. Eliminate any dark corners or surfaces in your regular workflow to make cooking less frustrating and hazardous.

Choose the wrong color temperature

Selecting fixtures with the wrong color temperature or shade of light source can make your kitchen seem dreary and cold. Light sources with low color temperatures around 2700 to 3000 kelvins give off a soft yellowish glow that feels warm and inviting. Cooler shades of light above 4000 kelvins cast a stark, bluish-white light that tends to make spaces feel sterile and uninviting.

Interior lighting consultant Daniel Brown states, “Choose color temperatures in the 3000 to 3500 kelvin range for most kitchens. This emits a bright white light that feels vibrant but not too cool.” Make sure all your lighting coordinates color temperature wise for a cohesive look. Mixing very warm and very cool shades in the same kitchen space can seem disjointed and diminish the appeal.

Use only recessed lighting

While recessed or can lighting aimed at the ceiling can provide good ambient lighting, relying solely on this type of fixture can make a kitchen seem dark and gloomy. Recessed lights casting light upward rely on reflection. Much of the light gets absorbed by the ceiling before it reflects back down. This indirect lighting often causes excessive shadows and uneven lighting distribution in kitchen spaces.

Combining recessed ceiling lighting with pendant lights, spotlights or other directional lighting ensures your kitchen is adequately and evenly lit. Interior designer Emma Jones explains, “Bouncing light off the ceiling looks natural but runs the risk of creating shadows and dark zones. Combine recessed lighting with downward lighting for the best illumination.”

Place light sources in ineffective positions

Even quality lighting fixtures will fail to brighten a kitchen if installed in poorly thought out positions. Place pendant lights directly over islands, peninsulas, sinks and other prep areas rather than simply positioning them in a geometrically pleasing pattern. Spotlights are only effective at providing task lighting when aimed at the actual work zone instead of just adding accents of light to the walls or ceilings.

Consider how you move through the kitchen when cooking and position lighting to follow this natural workflow. According to designer David Kim, “Visualize how you utilize the space and install lighting to match how you prep, cook and entertain. The ultimate goal is fully illuminating all your most-used surfaces and eliminating shadows as you move through the kitchen.”

Choose the wrong style fixture

Along with the position, height and brightness of light fixtures, the actual style of lighting fixture plays a big role in kitchen ambiance. For kitchens, choose fixtures that feel streamlined and utilitarian rather than overly ornate. Simple metal pendants, spotlights and track lighting blend seamlessly into cooking spaces. Avoid using elaborate crystal chandeliers or sconces that feel visually distracting or discordant.

Interior lighting designer Sarah Wu recommends, “Traditional chandeliers and decorative sconces out of place in kitchens. Opt for straightforward, transitional or contemporary styles that provide both form and function.” Sleek track and rail systems give flexibility in aiming spotlights. Pendant lights that highlight islands come in shapes, sizes and designs specifically made for kitchen spaces.

Forget about lighting design layers

While most kitchens rely heavily on overhead lighting, incorporating different lighting design layers creates depth and visual complexity. Try combining recessed ceiling lights, pendant lights and spotlights with accent lighting from fixtures like illuminated glass cabinets, under cabinet lights and toe kicks. Light the kitchen perimeter with cove lighting or wall sconces for added dimension.

According to designer Lucy Lee, “One dimensional lighting schemes feel boring. Take advantage of lighting from multiple angles such as downlighting, backlighting and side-lighting. Use accents like lighting inside glass-front cabinets, above open shelves and even around toe kicks.” With thoughtful multi-layered lighting, your kitchen will never feel one note or monotonous.

Frequently Asked Questions About Kitchen Lighting Mistakes

Kitchen lighting is a complex topic with many pitfalls and misconceptions. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about avoiding common mistakes when lighting a kitchen space.

How many recessed lights are needed in a typical kitchen?

The right number of recessed lights depends on the size of the kitchen. For an average 10 x 15 foot kitchen, interior designer John Smith recommends six to eight 5-6 inch LED recessed lights spread out to eliminate shadows. Position lights to illuminate key prep zones, not just for visual symmetry.

Should kitchen island pendants line up with counter stools?

Lining up island pendants with counter stools or other features can look forced and formulaic. Interior lighting expert Sarah Wu suggests, “Vary pendant heights for visual intrigue but keep them all within 12-18 inches of each other. Avoid wide gaps that seem haphazard.” Focus more on positioning pendants directly over the central island space.

What is the best color temperature for kitchen pendant lights?

Pendant lights around 3000 kelvins provide the right balance of bright, vibrant light that is still warm enough for intimate kitchen spaces according to designer Lucy Lee. She recommends, “3000K hits the sweet spot between the coziness of 2700K bulbs and the clinical effects of 4000K lighting.” Keep all pendant bulbs consistent temperature-wise for harmony.

How do you provide adequate lighting over a kitchen peninsula?

Use directional lighting sources like adjustable mini-pendants, spotlight tracks or recessed lighting to fully illuminate peninsula work zones. Interior designer Emma Jones suggests, “Position light sources directly over the peninsula surface at varied heights for task lighting. Supplement with ambient lighting like recessed cans over the whole kitchen.”

Should lighting over the kitchen sink match the island?

The sink and island lighting should coordinate but not necessarily match exactly. Designer Sarah Brown says, “Vary styles slightly like semi-flush mounts over the sink and pendant lights over the island for visual interest.” Use the same color temperature and overall fixture finish for cohesion.

How do you choose flattering kitchen ceiling lights?

“Flattering light comes from diffuse, wide light sources positioned close to ceiling level,” says interior lighting consultant Daniel Brown. He recommends installing multiple recessed LED lights no deeper than 3 inches for ample ambient lighting. Pair with downward directional lighting to reduce shadows.

Should kitchen task lighting match overall fixtures?

Matching all the lighting fixtures creates a more unified, elegant look. But it’s also fine to use different task lights as long as the overall color and finish remain consistent, according to designer David Kim. Just don’t mix and match arbitrarily. The overall kitchen lighting design should feel cohesive.

Enhance Your Kitchen’s Appeal With Proper Lighting

Kitchen lighting deserves careful consideration as a design element that impacts both aesthetics and functionality. Avoid common mistakes like insufficient light levels, incorrect fixture placement and haphazard mixing of lighting color temperatures. Follow lighting design principles that make the space feel bright, open and inviting. Proper kitchen lighting uplifts the overall appeal and experience of cooking and entertaining in the heart of your home. Use light to create the kind of kitchen space you’ve always dreamed of.

In summary, the key takeaways to avoid kitchen lighting mistakes include:

  • Provide ample ambient, task and accent lighting for an open, airy space
  • Light up all key kitchen work zones – don’t leave dark corners
  • Choose lighting color temperatures in the warm 3000-3500K range
  • Combine recessed ceiling lights with directional pendant and spotlight fixtures
  • Position pendants, spotlights and task lighting based on your kitchen workflow
  • Select streamlined, contemporary fixture styles made specifically for kitchens
  • Incorporate lighting layers using different angles and sources for depth
  • Follow kitchen lighting best practices to make the space both gorgeous and functional

With mindful, well-executed lighting choices, your kitchen will feel much more spacious, inviting and well-suited for all your cooking needs. Avoid haphazard, randomly placed lighting that leaves your kitchen feeling dark and gloomy. Follow these design tips for kitchen lighting schemes that impress and uplift.