Let There be Light

Kitchen planning isn't complete without good lighting

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Too often lighting a kitchen becomes an afterthought after picking out pretty cabinets, spiffy countertops and shiny new appliances. Such stepchild status drives Rosemarie Allaire, owner of RALD Lighting Design in Dana Point, Calif., crazy. “Don’t skimp on lighting,” she cautions, “It’s like wearing Prada with Payless shoes.”

Coming up with a good lighting design is just as important as space planning. Considering how a room will be lit should come early in the process, ideally as soon as the layout is finalized. A poorly lit kitchen or one in which the lighting is not well directed can, at best, diminish the investment or, at worst, make a kitchen difficult to use.

For maximum impact and greatest efficiency a variety of lights should be used in a layer effect. Allaire favors focusing on lighting individual surfaces rather than trying to illuminate an entire room with one or two sources. One overhead light, once common in kitchens, ends up lighting the floor and leaving countertops dim. Under-cabinet lighting works well to pool light where it is needed as do well placed canned lights. Decorative lighting and pendants also work well over islands or eating areas. Another advantage to task lighting is they add drama by creating contrast.

Countertops will affect the light in the kitchen. Dark colors and shiny finishes, including granite, do not disperse light well and can make it harder to achieve sufficient illumination.

It is important to check state and local codes before designing a lighting scheme. For example, California requires 50 percent of the lights in a kitchen be fluorescent.

The final consideration is to make sure lighting can be dimmed. Not only does it help save energy but can set a specific mood and highlight architectural features in a kitchen.

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