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Designing Kitchen Lighting

Thoughtfully done lighting in the kitchen creates a welcoming and engaging experience for cooking and socialising

Sudeshna Mukhopadhyay

Gone are the days when a kitchen was a room best kept in isolation for its grime, soot and dirt. Today the new generation modular design, resplendent with jazzy laminates, wall finishes, good looking cooking gadgets and utensils, makes the kitchen space a visual treat. It is an extension of the living and family room where family members and guests socialise, children do their homework, in addition to the usual activities of preparing, cooking and presenting.

New kitchen spaces, therefore, need to be lit up in a far smarter way than before. This should not get limited to putting a ceiling light for uniform illumination, lacking depth and design sense. The kitchen lighting should enhance the design and décor and highlight modern gadgets and appliances. Here are some guidelines:

Create Lighting Layers to Optimise Functional and Mood Lighting

Just like preparing a healthy, balanced meal for the family is essential, overall lighting composition needs to well balanced. Therefore, apply the classical approach of creating lighting layers in this space as well.

a. General Lighting: This layer provides the overall lighting for visual orientation and is the base lighting level. Ceiling mounted/recessed downlights with diffused and wide light distribution is best suited for this layer. While other forms of lighting like decorative chandeliers may be used, ease of cleaning and maintenance should be kept in mind. In modern kitchens, lights used for this area should be dimmable and tunable (warm to cool) to bring out the best balance in functionality and ambience.

b. Task Lighting: As the name suggests, this is the focused lighting over task areas such as the work/preparation table, sink, cooking hobs, or family dining area within the kitchen. Such areas need local lighting, as ceiling-mounted lights will result in poor task visibility due to shadows caused by the person working, or the cabinets above. Suspended lights and under-cabinet profile strip lights/puck lights are commonly used for this area. A key consideration is that the lamp should not be visible in a seated position, meaning, as a rule, a shielding angle of minimum 15º. The lighting system for this layer should be dimmable and tunable with the possibility of coloured lighting to create effect during social and special occasions.

As per Indian Standards IS3646 Part 1 1992 23.5.3, food preparation and cooking requires a lighting level of 300-500-750 lux. This should be provided in combination with general ambient lighting and task lighting. The general lighting should provide approximately 100-150 lux at a colour temperature of 3000 K, and task lighting the balance 200-300 lux (depending on the age of the users in the kitchen), at a colour temperature of 6500K, for increased visual acuity. This can effectively be realised by dimming the layers and using smart lighting systems, which can easily tune lights.

c. Accent Lighting: Kitchen cabinets are now becoming the focal point of attraction. Accent lighting can be done inside or outside the cabinets. Highlighting the finishes of laminates/woods, tiles and metals are as important as lighting the glassware, crockery or fancy storage boxes inside the cabinet. Compact light fittings, such as spotlights with COB (chip-on-board) LEDs, mini spots or puck lights are used for this layer. During non-working hours, the general ambient lighting should be dimmed to 30% and accent lighting at 100%. Using tunable (including colours) and dimmable light fixtures is recommended.

d. Architectural Lighting: This layer does not provide functional lighting but enhances the attractiveness of the space. Use of colour lights creates an added dimension during special occasions, especially when the kitchen is a part of the living room. Coloured strip lights can be concealed below and above wall cabinets, or under the floor, cabinets to create a floating effect. These lighting layers should be combined judiciously to illuminate the key functional areas.

Smart Lighting Controls and Switching Steps

Deciding the switching steps is an essential part of executing lighting design. Light layers can be effectively realised when they are switched on in proper sequence, intensity and colour. Traditionally they needed to be planned and wired to different switches. Wired lighting controls can also be used, but they are expensive to install and maintain. In today’s digitally and connected world, such solutions are passé. App operated lighting systems are gaining popularity; wherein groups can be made with mobile apps. They are independent of how the electrical wiring and switches are configured. These groups can be changed and reconfigured easily through the phone. Scenes for different occasions can be set and recalled easily. Several lighting products are available in the market based on Bluetooth Mesh, Wi-Fi or Zigbee technology. In most of the systems, the LED dimming driver is based on pulse width modulation (PWM) technique, which saves power, unlike the normal phase-cut drivers with rotary dimmers.

Appropriate Light Fittings

To maximise the effectivity of the luminous composition and controls, select the appropriate light fixture with optimum lumen output, light distribution and colour quality. Before choosing the shape, finish and colour, it is important to check certain key technical parameters:

a. Luminous Efficacy: This will determine how much lighting level can be achieved with the most optimal input watts. Checking out ‘watts’ alone is not enough.

b. Life: The average life class of a lighting system should preferably be >25000K. Life may come down if the heat managements not done optimally.

c. Colour Rendering Index (Ra): This is the ability of the lighting system to reproduce colours. For the kitchen, lights should have Ra>80-85.

d. Colour Temperature (Tc): This factor determines the ambience of the space – cool or warm. Lower the Tc value, the warmer it is and vice versa. The most commonly used lamp specifications are CoolWhite at 6500K, Neutral White at 4000K and Warm White at 2700K. Smart lights, which can seamlessly tune from very warm to cool white, are ideal for selecting the preferred Tc for a task, mood and ambience.

e. Coloured Light: 16 million light colours can be generated from the primary colours of light (Red, Green, Blue) by digitally mixing using an app. Colours affect our well being, and moods are increasingly being used in homes for enhancing the same.

f. Light Distribution: Check how the light is distributed to get the right balance of light and shadow. In a kitchen, sharp beams are best avoided to limit harsh shadows.

Light Fittings for Kitchens

a. Downlights: They are available in round and square shapes, and can be recess-mounted or surface mounted depending on the ceiling type.

b. Spot Lights: LED spotlights or COB Spots are used for accent lighting and task lighting. Defined beams create sparkle and enhance the overall ambience. Spotlights are available in narrow to wide beams. For kitchens, a medium beam is recommended, as one would not like to create shadows or non-uniformity. Spotlights are available as ‘adjustable or swivel’ and ‘fixed non-adjustable’.

c. Puck Light: Puck and dot lights are designed for smaller areas to highlight decorative objects, or where strip lighting is impractical, including inside and under cabinets, counters and more.

d. Pendants: Pendant lights are recommended for use over task areas. Pendants can be cylindrical or linear. While selecting pendant lights, take into consideration the size of the table. As a general rule of thumb, there should be a 32-34 inch gap between the pendant bottom and the countertop. Linear suspension lights work well if they reach at most 36-40 inches above the countertop.

e. Strip Lights: LED strip lights are often used for architectural lighting – under cabinets or as floor lighting. For kitchen lighting, use a strip light with a protective cover to prevent oily dust to settle on the LEDs.

Safety and Installation

While lighting effect and product design are important in any installation, the overall safety of the installation cannot be compromised. All light fittings sold in India should conform to BIS safety standards. For recessed products, ensure that the ceiling void is not full of insulation. If it is, cleans out the area around the position of the light to prevent overheating. The fixing clips of any fixture will need to be checked to ensure they are compatible with the ceiling type. If they are not, consult a licensed electrician or refer back to the manufacturer. Ensure that drivers/power adapters for LEDs are located where they can be accessed for maintenance.


The author is chief design officer of iBahn Illumination Pvt Ltd.

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