Lighting is often described as the jewelry of the home. But it is more critical than that, especially in kitchens, where it is all about slicing, dicing and reading recipes.
"Kitchen lighting is so crucial and should be one of the first things people think about when they're designing or remodeling a kitchen, but it often gets last priority," says lighting consultant and interior designer Lisa Duncan.
"People spend tens of thousands of dollars on their kitchens, but then you can't see the new improvements or what you're doing."
Instead of doing an overhaul of her decades-old kitchen, Sasha Paulsen updated the lighting.
The foodie mines spice stores, olive oil shops and farmers markets for unusual ingredients. But her dark kitchen, with only a can light above the sink and another above the prep area, was a problem. She could not always see what she had, especially in the corners under her cabinets.
With Shirley Allen of the Light Shop, Paulsen rethought the types of lighting in her kitchen.
She swapped the over-the-sink can for a glass and nickel pendant that provides better illumination, which is key for washing hands and cookware. Bonus: it is much more attractive.
A 1960s scalloped metal fixture original to the house was swapped with a "more inspiring" metal sculptural one with white shades. The shades eliminate the glare of a bare bulb.
Lights were installed under the cabinets to illuminate the corners, making them more usable.
And Paulsen sees a big difference when she is performing prep work, such as slicing vegetables with a sharp mandoline. "It's changed my whole cooking and dining experience. And the process of kneading dough and baking bread, too."
Not only do under-cabinet fixtures provide proper task lighting, they add pleasant ambience for home entertaining. "Adding under-cabinet lighting is the No 1 thing you could do if you want to update your kitchen and make it more functional," says architectural and kitchen designer Billie Deatherage.
She always includes dimmer switches in her remodeling and new construction plans. "They are inexpensive and can give you the control to make your kitchen go from production mode to entertainment mode quickly. And they save energy."
One of the challenges with kitchen lighting is that it adds heat. Lighting consultant George McMillen sees the problem all the time.
"People will remodel their kitchen and love it in the autumn and winter, but then spring and summer comes and suddenly, it's too hot," he says.
So he is using more LEDs (light- emitting diodes) - particularly under- cabinet lights versus xenon and especially halogen because LEDs don't produce as much heat, and they're more energy-efficient. "The challenge with LED is the color can look too warm or too cool. But the technology is getting there."
Designers and lighting consultants are steering away from the matching pendants above an island.
"They're almost like a gate," says Allen. "You want to move them out of the way so you can see what's happening in the kitchen."
Over the sink: There's a new focal point for lighting: the sink. "Look how beautiful kitchen sinks have become," says interior designer Dianne Boren. "You can see to wash your hands and the dishes." Boren has a dimmer control for her sink light and others in the kitchen. She likes how it glows.
Under cabinets: Deatherage makes sure all her kitchen projects have under- cabinet lighting. "It's so important for task lighting," she says. She advises installing under-cabinet lighting toward the front of the bottom of a cabinet for even distribution.
All-in-one: Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home, is seeing more kitchen ceiling fixtures that have integrated exhaust fans - an alternative to the large range hood.
Can alternatives: If you don't like the hot spots that recessed can ceiling fixtures make on countertops, consider frosted glass fixtures.
Above doors: Allen advises designers and clients to install sconces above kitchen doors exit-sign style. "They act as night lights for teens getting in at night or for late-night snackers."
Custom design: Pendants are being reconsidered. "For so long, it was three matching little pendants hung at the same length above a kitchen island or peninsula," Higgins says. "It became a look." Instead, people are using one or two larger pendants above a sink or island. When there are three, they might be varying colors and shapes and hung at different heights.
In the spotlight: Deatherage likes to install mini recessed can lights on either side of dramatic range hoods so the details do not disappear in a black hole.
Eating areas: Sure, you want something pretty to look at when you're eating your meals. But you don't want to look at bare bulbs.
THE KANSAS CITY STAR (MCT)