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Kitchen lighting design: a recipe for success

Our kitchens are where we create gourmet meals and grab-and-go snacks, share breakfast with family and catch up with friends. Our culinary workshops are, in many cases, more important than any other room in the house.

It’s critical to recognize the role of lighting in the kitchen – one of the most fundamental spaces in the home.

“People gravitate toward the kitchen, and we spend a lot of time there,” said Bryant Bilal, a marketing manager with Eaton’s lighting division. “Since ancient times, we’ve gathered around the fire, and we’re still spending time with friends and family where we prepare food. Our kitchens give us an opportunity to make a statement about who we are, and we want them to give us a good feeling about our homes.”

Because the kitchen doubles as a gathering place and workspace, effective lighting design is essential. “In the kitchen, most people visit with friends and family, but they’re also moving constantly – mixing ingredients, cutting vegetables, setting the table and washing dishes,” said Bilal. “Your lighting scheme needs to support all of these different activities and fit the space, and it needs to be comfortable. That’s why kitchens call for a careful blend of ambient, task and accent lighting.”


Is there a formula for great kitchen lighting?

Great kitchen lighting enhances safety, visibility and comfort. “At Eaton, everything we do is about safety first,” said Bilal. “Good lighting prevents eyestrain during food prep and injuries or contamination when chopping vegetables or handling raw meat.”

But more light isn’t always good light. If positioned incorrectly, bright lights in the kitchen can create a disadvantage. That's why it's important to understand how to space recessed lighting and position them at the correct angle.

“You may achieve the correct output, but if the light is pointing in the wrong direction, visibility will suffer,” said Bilal. “That’s why contrast, rather than brightness, should be the first consideration when designing kitchen task lighting.”

A lighting expert can help determine the right mix of ambient, task and accent lighting. In fact, in some kitchens, task lighting doubles as ambient or general lighting. A mix of products, too, offers increased flexibility. Bilal said that some customers install recessed downlights in the kitchen ceiling coupled with undercabinet lighting, which becomes the light source of choice for many homeowners closer to dusk or in the evening.


How can lighting enhance the appearance of food?

The Color Rendering Index (CRI), a scale from 0 to 100 percent that measures how accurate a light source is at rendering color, helps determine the lighting that will make fresh fruit pop or give a loaf of bread that “fresh out of the oven” look. The higher the CRI number, the better.

“At Eaton, we’re shifting to 90 CRI – a move that will give colors a deeper, richer appearance,” said Bilal. “Light has an enormous impact on color. Just moving from 85 to 90 CRI makes reds richer and yellows more true.”

When it comes to appearance, the television industry has followed a similar evolutionary path, he said. Where plasma TVs were once the gold standard, they’ve been replaced by 1080p LED LCD-based sets. And now, 4K TV hardware (also known as ultra high definition, or UHD) is beginning to replace high-end 1080p models because of its far superior ability to render color.

Eaton’s lighting division campus in Peachtree City, Georgia has an optics lab dedicated to perfecting the art of rendering color in the all-important kitchen space. The lab has paint samples, floor tiles, cabinet wood grains, colorful dishtowels and even a bowl of fruit.

“The importance of color rendering can’t be underestimated, but there’s really an art to getting it right,” said Bilal. “The effort is well worth it, as it will go a long way toward helping you appreciate your space and impress your guests.”


Does a strong kitchen lighting scheme offer fringe benefits?

Smart kitchen lighting design can lead to significant energy savings. For example, appropriate task lighting can reduce the need for ambient lighting.

LEDs represent another area of opportunity.

“A lot of people leave the kitchen lights on for safety when they’re away from home,” said Bilal. “If your kitchen lights are highly efficient LEDs, you won’t have to worry as much about leaving them on for two weeks.”

Lifespan, too, is longer for LEDs versus other sources, like incandescent bulbs. “My customers don’t want to waste valuable time changing lamps,” he said.

LEDs can also provide better color and run much cooler than alternatives – great news for those who spend a lot of time cooking in the kitchen. “If you’re already using the stove and the oven, you don’t want to work under blazing downlights,” said Bilal. “LEDs are much cooler than other options. And if the kitchen is cooler, your HVAC unit won’t have to work as hard.”

Bilal said that LEDs are beginning to appear regularly in new kitchens as well as existing kitchens as more customers request retrofits.

“Retrofits for task lighting are particularly simple. We’ve installed LED recessed lighting in less than five minutes. If you have an existing lighting source, you can move even more quickly, because you already have a power supply.

“At the end of the day, it’s an easy decision.”