How many lights should there be in a kitchen? Experts reveal all

When it comes to lighting your kitchen, getting the right amount and placement of lights is crucial for creating a functional and visually appealing space. With kitchens being one of the most-used rooms in a home, proper lighting is essential for cooking safely, reading recipes, seeing your beautiful design details, and setting the right ambiance.

Deciding how many lights and where to install them in a kitchen depends on several factors, including the size and layout of the space, your cooking and entertaining needs, and the overall design aesthetic you want to achieve. Follow along as we reveal everything you need to know about lighting your kitchen effectively, with insights from interior design experts.

Factors that Determine the Ideal Number of Lights for a Kitchen

Several key elements influence what’s considered adequate lighting in a kitchen. Here are some of the top factors experts take into account:

Kitchen Size and Layout

The larger and more open the kitchen space, the more lighting it will require. Larger kitchens require ample illumination to avoid dark corners or shadows. Smaller galley kitchens or kitchens with lower ceilings often need fewer light sources.

The layout and work zones of the kitchen also matter. Kitchens with spacious work islands or peninsulas need dedicated lighting over these high-activity prep and dining areas. Kitchens with limited natural lighting will also require more artificial lighting.

Type of Activities Conducted

Think about how you use your kitchen. Avid home cooks using their kitchen daily need bright task lighting over key workstations and likely under-cabinet lighting for food prep. Bakers require excellent lighting to properly gauge ratios, read recipes, and decorate. If you love to entertain, highlight features like a kitchen island with pendant lights.

Aesthetic Goals

Consider the look and feel you want your kitchen lighting to achieve. Use ambient lighting to make a kitchen feel warm and inviting. Increase task lighting to create a sleek, modern atmosphere. Choose vintage-style fixtures for a traditional farmhouse vibe. Your lighting should complement your kitchen’s desired aesthetic.

Available Natural Light

Take into account how much natural sunlight your kitchen receives and during what times of day. North-facing rooms receive indirect light, so augmentation is needed. Southern exposures get intense daylight, allowing you to use fewer lights. Factor when you typically cook to determine if you need lighting boosts in the mornings or evenings when natural light is minimal.

Recommended Number of Lights for a Kitchen

While your exact lighting needs are unique, interior design specialists recommend these general guidelines for adequately lighting a kitchen based on size:

  • Small kitchen (under 150 sq ft) – 3-5 light fixtures. This usually includes an overhead central light, task lighting over the main work area, and accent lighting.
  • Medium kitchen (150-350 sq ft) – 6-8 light fixtures. Most medium kitchens can get away with a central ceiling fixture, task lighting, accent, and ambient lighting sources.
  • Large open kitchen (over 350 sq ft) – 8-10 light fixtures. A variety of lighting is needed for larger spaces, including overhead, task, accent, ambient, and decorative fixtures. Island and cabinet lighting are also common.

These counts refer to primary light fixtures like pendant lights, chandeliers, flush mounts, and recessed cans. Other supplemental lighting like under-cabinet lights, countersunk strips, and LED cabinets are not included in these guidelines but recommended.

Essential Types of Kitchen Lighting Explained

Achieving well-lit kitchens involves layering several types of lighting. Combining general, task, accent, and ambient fixtures creates both form and function. Here’s an overview of the most essential lighting for kitchens and their purpose.


This is the main source of overall illumination in a kitchen. Central ceiling lights should provide bright, shadow-free general lighting. Flush or semi-flush ceiling mounts are common choices, ideally placed over the main kitchen work triangle. Pendants also work well for open floor plans.


As the name implies, task lighting focuses light right where you need it most—key workstations. Island pendants, recessed cans over counters, and under-cabinet lighting provide direct illumination for food prep, cooking, and clean up. Task lighting should be bright, with at least 500-1000 lumens in LEDs or 50-100 watts incandescent.


Accent lighting adds drama by highlighting kitchen focal points and design details. Recessed lighting, track lights, or directional fixtures showcase architectural elements, open shelving, display cabinets, and decorative backsplashes.


Ambient lighting sets a mood and makes a kitchen relaxing and inviting. Windows, skylights, and ceiling fixtures provide soft, indirect, ambient fill lighting. Under-cabinet lights or wall sconces also create ambient glows in a kitchen.


Decorative fixtures add personalized style. Island pendants, chandeliers, and vintage-inspired lighting infuse a kitchen with character. Decorative lighting choices reflect the homeowner’s taste and complement the kitchen design style.

Key Placement Tips for Kitchen Lighting

Where you position lighting is just as important as the types of fixtures selected. Follow these placement guidelines from designers for a functional, well-lit cooking space:

Install Overhead Fixtures Centrally

Central ceiling lights belong in the middle of the kitchen’s primary workspace for even coverage. For galley and L-shaped kitchens, center over the sink, stove, and fridge work area. For open concept kitchens, place central lighting over the island or peninsula.

Focus Task Lighting on Key Areas

Concentrate bright task lighting over any food prep areas, sinks, stoves/ovens, and islands or dining spaces. Under-cabinet LED strip lighting provides excellent task illumination for countertops.

Highlight Architectural Details

Use accent recessed or directional lighting to draw attention to attractive backsplashes, open shelving, display cabinets, or other details.

Include Ambient Lighting Features

Incorporate ambient lighting through small ceiling mount fixtures, pendant clusters over islands, valence-concealed strip lighting, toe kick lighting, or creative use of under-cabinet fixtures. This softens shadows and provides relaxing uniform light.

Layer Multiple Lighting Types

Combine several lighting types throughout your kitchen for depth and dimension. Overhead lights, pendants, accent, task, and ambient fixtures work together for ideal coverage.

Light Perimeter Areas Well

Don’t neglect lighting in corners, near windows and doorways, and perimeter cabinets for a naturally bright space.

How to Calculate Lighting Needs for Kitchens

The right amount of light in a kitchen is measured in lux or footcandles. Here’s how lighting experts determine recommended luminance:

  • General kitchen illumination should be 300-500 lux or 30-50 footcandles. This is provided by overhead central fixtures.
  • For detailed prep work, 500-1000 lux or 50-100 footcandles is ideal. Supplement general lighting with task fixtures.
  • Ambient, accent, and decorative fixtures add 100-300 lux or 10-30 footcandles.

You can use online calculators to determine general lumen or wattage needs based on room size. Then increase wattage over key workstations and incorporate accent fixtures. As a very general rule of thumb, shooting for 20-40 watts of lighting power per square foot is a common starting recommendation.

Lighting Needs Based on Kitchen Ceiling Height

Taller kitchen ceilings require increased wattage and larger fixtures to provide ample illumination on countertops and tasks below. Here’s how ceiling height impacts kitchen lighting needs:

Standard 8 Ft Ceilings

  • Overhead fixture: 1 central fixture with 3-4 bulbs/heads
  • Task lighting: Undercabinet LEDs, lighted cabinets, recessed cans
  • Ambient lighting: Pendants, sconces, toe kick lighting

9 Ft Ceilings

  • Overhead fixture: Larger semi-flush or small chandelier
  • Task lighting: Brighter recessed cans, longer undercabinet LEDs
  • Ambient lighting: Taller wall sconces, cascading pendant clusters

10+ Ft Ceilings

  • Overhead fixture: Larger chandelier or pendant cluster
  • Task lighting: Extra recessed cans, long undercabinet LED strips
  • Ambient lighting: Two-story wall sconces, bold pendant clusters

Increase wattage in all fixtures by 25-40% for every 1-2 feet in additional ceiling height. Visually break up tall ceilings with directional recessed cans.

Recommended Lumens for Popular Kitchen Lighting Fixtures

Here are the typical recommended lumen outputs for common kitchen lighting fixtures:

  • Flush or Semi-Flush Overhead Ceiling Mount: 2000-4000 lumens
  • Pendant Cluster or Kitchen Chandelier: 3000-5000 lumens
  • Recessed Can Light: 650-1000 lumens each
  • Undercabinet LED Strip: 300-800 lumens per foot
  • Island Pendants: 400-600 lumens each
  • Linear Valence Lighting: 450-650 lumens per foot
  • Toe Kick Lighting: 100-300 lumens per foot

Combine multiple sources like a flush mount overhead, recessed task lighting, and accent pendants to get adequate luminosity.

Brightness Tips for Pendant Lights Over Kitchen Islands

Island pendant lights call for careful illumination planning, as they hang lower but still need to brightly light counters. Follow these tips:

  • Choose pendants with at least 600-1000 lumens each.
  • Keep pendant height 28-34 inches from the counter.
  • Add recessed cans along the outer island edge for more directed task lighting.
  • Select pendants with uplight or diffused shade options to cast light upwards.
  • Install 3-5 pendants spaced 2-3 feet apart for even lighting.

Vary pendant heights and aim outer fixtures toward the center for balanced island illumination.

Under Cabinet Lighting Recommendations

Strategically installed undercabinet lighting provides essential task illumination. Follow these expert tips:

  • For LED strips, choose at least 300 lumens per foot. More intense task areas may need 500-600 lumens.
  • For LED pucks, opt for 450-600 lumen models spaced 8-12 inches apart.
  • Run undercabinet lighting along the entire perimeter of countertops for seamless illumination.
  • Use diffused lenses and dimmers to adjust brightness as needed.
  • Consider accent strips under glass cabinets or open shelves to highlight display contents.

Combine undercabinet LEDs with overhead and recessed fixtures for complete kitchen lighting.

Choosing Lighting for Dark Kitchens

Kitchens with limited natural light require extra planning to feel bright and airy. Here are tips to light up dark kitchens:

  • Compensate for a lack of windows with lots of recessed can lighting. Aim for at least 6-8 cans spaced evenly.
  • Install perimeter tracks with adjustable heads to spotlight counters, cabinets, and walls.
  • Add skylights or light tubes to pull natural light into interior areas.
  • Incorporate lighter finishes like white or light wood cabinets for reflection.
  • Use mirrored or glass backsplashes to bounce light around.
  • Add pendant clusters, usually 3-5 fixtures, over islands and peninsulas.
  • Use undercabinet lighting and decorative fixtures to inject additional lighting.

With strategic fixtures and reflective surfaces, dark kitchens can feel bright and cheery.

Sample Lighting Plans for Different Kitchen Layouts

The right lighting plan depends greatly on your kitchen’s particular footprint. Here are sample lighting recommendations for common kitchen layouts:

Galley Kitchen

  • Overhead linear valence or flush mount fixture
  • Recessed cans over sink and stove
  • Undercabinet LEDs along perimeter
  • Decorative pendant light over dining area

L-Shaped Kitchen

  • Chandelier or semi-flush over sink
  • Pendant cluster over breakfast bar
  • Task lighting under wall cabinets
  • Accent lighting over backsplash

U-Shaped Kitchen

  • Flush mount or pendant over central work zone
  • Recessed cans spaced evenly throughout
  • Perimeter undercabinet lighting
  • Pendants or sconces over eat-in dining area

Island Kitchen

  • Statement chandelier or pendant cluster over island
  • Recessed cans supplement island lighting
  • Perimeter undercabinet LEDs
  • Decorative ambient fixtures like wall sconces

Lighting Design Tips for Open Concept Kitchens

Large open concept kitchens need strategic lighting placement to define work zones and illuminate dead spaces. Use these techniques:

  • Install a statement chandelier or pendant cluster over the central island or peninsula to define this focal gathering area.
  • Layer in recessed can lighting and linear valances for ambient fill lighting.
  • Use lighting to delineate workstations like placing pendants over a cooking zone and accent lighting over a clean-up area.
  • Add architectural accent lighting on perimeter walls to add dimension.
  • Use decorative fixtures like wall sconces or pendants to highlight dining/seating areas.
  • Incorporate toe kick and lighted cabinetry for hidden ambient lighting.

Thoughtful placement creates the illusion of separate work zones without visually chopping up the open space.

Choosing the Right Kitchen Lighting Fixtures

With the fundamentals covered, it’s time to pick out beautiful and functional fixtures to bring your kitchen lighting plan to life. Consider these tips from designers when selecting kitchen lighting:

Match Fixtures to Your Design Aesthetic

Browse lighting options that work with your overall kitchen style, whether modern, traditional, industrial, bohemian, etc. Pick cohesive finishes and shapes.

Look for Dimming and Dimmable Options

Chooser fixtures with dimming so you can adjust brightness for ambiance and tasks. LEDs, halogens, and incandescents are typically dimmable bulb types.

Favor Energy-Efficient LEDs

LED lights last years longer than other bulbs and use up to 90% less energy, making them the ideal choice. LEDs work well for all kitchen lighting needs.

Evaluate Lumen Outputs

Check that pendant clusters, flush mounts, and undercabinet strips provide ample lumens for properly lighting cooking zones.

Include Specialty Kitchen Features

Purchase fixtures with handy features like integrated USB ports, motion-sensing capabilities, lighted cabinets, or smart phone connectivity.

Assess Finishes for Durability

Kitchen lights get splattered and coated in grease. Opt for durable metal finishes like brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze rather than painted metals. Stick with glass shades that can handle heat and are easy to clean.

Professional Tips for Installing Kitchen Lighting

Proper installation of your kitchen lighting is key to maximizing illumination. Follow these professional electrician tips:

  • Hire a licensed electrician, especially for tricky island pendant or accent installations.
  • Follow local building codes and permit requirements.
  • Place overhead fixtures according to recommended hanging heights.
  • Hardwire undercabinet LED strips directly whenever possible.
  • Use dimmers compatible with your chosen bulbs for full functionality.
  • Follow hanging instructions and adequately support pendant fixtures.
  • Position recessed cans strategically and install housings securely.
  • Test all fixtures thoroughly and resolve any electrical issues immediately.
  • Group lighting on dedicated circuits to prevent overloading.

Taking a careful approach helps your kitchen lighting work exactly as intended for years to come.

Incorporating Natural Light in Kitchens

While artificial lighting does the heavy lifting, natural sunlight should also be welcomed into kitchens when possible. Here are tips for letting in natural light:

  • Strategically place windows over sinks, eating areas, and workstations. Optimize views.
  • Choose windows with light-enhancing features like bay formations, arched tops, and transoms.
  • Remove unnecessary upper cabinets to allow more light reach countertops.
  • Add skylights and light tubes to pull sunlight into interior kitchen zones.
  • Install glass cabinet doors, mirrors, and reflective surfaces to bounce natural light around.
  • Use sheer window treatments to filter rather than block sunlight.
  • Keep windows uncovered to maximize illumination.
  • Paint surrounding walls pale, luminous colors to reflect light.

When artfully incorporated, natural light complements artificial lighting beautifully in kitchens.

Kitchen Lighting Design Ideas to Get Inspired By

Need some visual inspiration for lighting your kitchen? Here are gorgeous yet functional kitchen lighting designs to spark ideas:

Statement Chandeliers

A jaw-dropping chandelier or pendant cluster makes a spectacular anchor over a kitchen island, peninsula, or table. Go bold with crystal, modern, or vintage-inspired styles.

Sleek Pendants

Minimalist pendants in polished metallics, glass, or sculptural shapes lend contemporary appeal over islands and dining areas.

Vintage Pendant Clusters

Groupings of vintage-style pendants like bell jars, filament bulbs, or macrame-shaded lights have timeless retro charm.

Luminous Valances

Linear valances with integrated LED strips provide seamless overhead ambient lighting, especially in galley kitchens.

Sculptural Accent Lighting

Apply accent lighting creatively with curved tracks, artistic sconces, or modern fixtures for artsy flair.

Mood Lighting Features

Include special lighting features like lighted toe kicks, undercabinet LEDs, illuminated backsplashes, or cabinet lighting for striking visual dimension.

Skylights and Light Tubes

Strategically placed skylights and Solatubes draw ample natural light into interior kitchen zones.

Lighting Tips to Make a Small Kitchen Feel B