Kitchen lighting types: What are task, accent and ambient lights?

Lighting can make or break your kitchen, so it’s crucial to get it right. With kitchens now multi-functional spaces as impromptu home offices or serving up restaurant-like dinners with the latest home cooking kits, together with interiors journo Charlotte Luxford I’ve put together a complete guide to successfully lighting each part of your kitchen.

So, if you are looking to improve your kitchen lighting and want it to be a place where you can (soon, hopefully!) entertain, as well as work from home or relax at the flick of a switch, make sure you keep this in mind…

First think about what you can do to improve your natural light. For example, adding large patio doors, rooflights, a slim fixed-pane or clerestory windows can really make a difference and flood your home with light. Then, it’s best to focus on the three key types of lighting – task, accent, and ambient. Let’s run through them, shall we?

Task lighting

This will give you just the right amount to cook and prepare food. So, avoid runway strips across the ceiling and instead incorporate strategically placed LEDs under wall units to illuminate preparation areas. Wall lights or spots that can reflect onto the worktop are a great way to illuminate your cooking area. But keep in mind that while spotlights are useful, they don’t create a particularly cosy atmosphere, so less is more. At the same time, you also want to make sure they’re not too strong – if they are, the reflection of a white worktop might be more distracting than helpful.

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kitchen lighting
The lighting under the wall units provides bright task illumination. Shown is Modulnova’s MH6 kitchen in oak veneer with Corian worktops and Carrara marble splashback and island panel. Designspace London kitchens start from £25,000. Development and interior design by Clivedale.
Spotlight and accent
This scheme uses a mix of spotlights, plinth and accent lighting, and a feature pendant above the dining table. Available from John Cullen Lighting.
kitchen lighting
By placing LED strips below worktops and shelves around the units can be used to highlight key features such as an island. Life Kitchens designs start from £25,000.

Accent lighting

Overhead lighting solutions can help you see inside your larder or highlight your kitchen island. Low-level LED or strip lighting will highlight key features while also adding depth to your kitchen. Fitting LED strips underneath plinths and floating islands, or uplighters on top of cabinets, will help illuminate decorative covings and also create a cosy atmosphere in the evening. You can use downlights to create focal points, showcasing your artwork or sleek alcoves. To add a bit of wow factor, and practicality, include lighting within your cabinets and have them switch on automatically as soon as the doors open.

LED Strips
Track solutions are a great alternative to spotlights – for a slick finish, choose a style that can sit flush with the ceiling. In this kitchen designed by Roundhouse, hidden LED strips highlight a ceiling recess, with Angel des Montagnes glass pendant shades over the island. Pictured is the Urbo painted bespoke kitchen in Farrow & Ball’s Mole’s Breath with island in Brass Metal Wrap. Kitchens from Roundhouse start from £35,000
kitchen lighting
Light up your larder cupboard to help you see the goodies inside. Kingswood kitchen pantry as part of a kitchen by Brayer Design. Brayer Design kitchens start from £20,000.
Above cabinet
Use the space above your head by installing lights at the top of the cabinet directed towards the ceiling for ambience. This blue shaker kitchen, from Harvey Jones starts from £20,000.

Ambient lighting

Set the mood right with some atmospheric lighting, perfect for a romantic dinner with your other half or to unwind after a long day. LED strips below worktops or spotlights can help create a soft glow in your kitchen – but this type of lighting works better if you’re not cooking and in need of a bright source of light. Then, a series of pendants over an island or a statement chandelier above a dining table not only provide a great source of light but they also add interest and help zone the areas. Create a soft atmosphere for dining by placing one or two pendants above your table, or turn your breakfast nook into a café-inspired spot with bold fixtures. Consider fitting your pendants on a dimmer switch, if possible, so you can vary the brightness to suit your needs.

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kitchen lighting
Successfully light and zone your cooking and dining areas with pendant lights. Design by Laura Stephens. Photography: Chris Snook.
spinning pendant light
Interior designer Claire Murray opted for a calm and neutral kitchen scheme, pairing a trio of Spinning pendant lights above the island, £195 each, with White Peggy Up and down wall lights, £345 each, which cleverly bounce light off the mirrored splashback, all from Holloways of Ludlow.
kitchen lighting
Pop a chic pendant light above your dining table for a warm and cosy scheme. The Imperial 3 light brass and opal pendant, £99, Lights & Lamps, is a stylish and practical solution. All you have to do now is grab your latest KBB magazine issue, a creamy cup of coffee and relax.
Kitchen pendant lights
This kitchen features a row of simple, but stylish pendants above the statement island. Horizontal pendants, £225, Original BTC.
kitchen lighting
Upgrade your breakfast bar with Nanoleaf‘s latest lighting solution Elements, from £199.99. The wood-grain veneer panels will add a modern rustic touch to your scheme, while providing plenty of light.

Need to know tips to keep in mind

  • Plan the position of your ceiling fixtures before you install them to avoid mistakes
  • Volume can be created with uplighting, adding height and drama to a space
  • When in doubt, scale it up – a too-small fitting for a space can look a bit mean
  • If you’re fitting multiple pendants, an odd number will often look better than even – a good rule of thumb is to leave a 75cm gap between each light
  • Use light itself to make a statement, not only the fitting – a long wall punctuated by repeating shadows can look really dramatic
  • If you have low ceilings, you’ll need fewer downlights – too many will be overpowering and cause a glare
  • Don’t forget the finishing touches: ensure the light switches are compatible with your kitchen style, too

Featured image: Highlight an island with pendants and scale up the proportions for a sense of drama. Thomas O’Brien Hicks Globe pendants in bronze and antique brass, £575 each, Visual Comfort & Co, in Harvey Jones’ Original kitchen, from £20,000.

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