Stories & Features

Kitchen lighting must consider a variety of tasks, moods

Image of 2017 Home Show kitchen
LEDs running under counters in kitchens are getting increasingly popular, because they're both easy to install and energy efficient. This photo shows the small kitchen designed by Jamie Banfield for BC Hydro's booth at last week's B.C. Home + Garden Show.

Insights and ideas from Vancouver designer Jamie Banfield

Have you ever considered fitting a printer into a kitchen island, or using a kitchen drawer as a filing cabinet? Maybe not, but there's a good chance somewhere along the way, you've used a kitchen counter – in your home or in someone else's – as a place to do some work or to surf the Internet.

And with the evolution of the kitchen comes a need for even more attention on lighting. Perhaps that's why so many Team Power Smart members who took part in a recent poll chose the kitchen when asked which room presents the biggest lighting challenge.

"For us, kitchens are turning into a lot more than a place to do cooking," says Vancouver interior designer Jamie Banfield, the guy who called the shots for BC Hydro's recent energy-efficient "home" at the BC Home + Garden Show. "We're starting to eliminate dens and offices and now building some of the functions into kitchens. And people are using kitchens as work surfaces, home offices, or for homework."

Now is a great time to consider upgrading your kitchen lighting, and while you're at it, switching to LED. Not only are LEDs 75% to 90% more efficient than traditional incandescent and halogen lighting, they last 10 to 20 times more.

Each spring and fall, we work with partner retailers to offer instant discounts on select specialty LED bulbs (GU10, PAR20, PAR30, R20), available in various wattages and colour temperatures. Many are ideal for kitchen fixtures, and we're also offering discounts on ENERGY STAR® fixtures for track lighting, recessed lighting, and pendants.

See our Smart Choices site for details

Find the balance between ambient, accent and task lighting

Gone are the days when one super bright, and super inefficient, overhead light served our kitchen lighting needs. It may have delivered an in-your-face morning wakeup call as you loaded what looked like sawdust into your Mr. Coffee machine. Today, your java's not just stronger: you now have the ability to customize the lights for different tasks and different times of the day.

How is your balance between ambient (overall), task (concentrated, on-the-counter) and accent (soft highlights on the walls or ceiling) lighting? Are there dead spots where you do food prep? Did you have to move to read the fine print on the back of that box? Does a directional track light blind you as you turn to talk to someone sitting at the kitchen island?

Start by installing dimmable, ENERGY STAR LEDs wherever you can. It will allow you to adjust everything to specific needs.

"Everything should be dimmable, because there are so many different functions and uses for how we use space," says Banfield. "Dimming lights helps reduce glare on certain things, and can create different atmospheres. I think everyday lighting should be at about two-thirds. For company and dinner parties, you should probably have lighting on at a third. But for certain tasks, or when you're actually cleaning the kitchen, you can push them all the way up."

Banfield recently discovered a nice solution for the modern kitchen, but it's a pricier option that's not a simple retrofit. The Merge recessed linear LED system is part of Tech Lighting's Element lighting series, and is essentially recessed boxes of 2-, 4- or 8-foot lengths installed to allow for a mix of lighting.

"It can be installed above an island or peninsula," says Banfield. "And from there, we can mount directional heads for tasks, or to shine something on a piece of art. But you can also hang pendants from them. Sometimes when you build a cool island, you want to add a funky, nice looking light fixture above it."

Track lighting or a series of single pot lights are the more practical options, as they're easier to install and can be done at a fraction of the price. But if you're in the market for a deluxe solution, you may want to explore the Merge system.

What do you do with under-the-cabinet lights?

If you still have them, it's time to get rid of those old fluorescent lights under the cabinet. They not only cost you more to operate, they probably also flicker and buzz, and their light can be harsh.

Consider a switch to ENERGY STAR LED lighting, which lasts much longer and uses a fraction of the electricity. Alternative options that are extremely thin and easy to install include puck lights, LED strips and LED rope or tape lights.

But where to place them? One option is to place them under the cabinets nearer the wall to create a bounce off the wall that provides a nice ambience while minimizing glare off a marble or other shiny counter. But if you've upgraded in recent years, there's a good chance your counters are now quartz, and in a matte or suede finish. With less glare potential, you can install your under-the-counter lights further from the wall.

"Pushing the pucks or strip to the backs of the cabinet put more of a wash on the wall, making it more dramatic," says Banfield. "But it takes away from the task lighting. By bringing it nearer to the front of the cabinet, it will give you more of that task light for the whole work surface."

Considering a kitchen reno or upgrade? Consider authenticity

Banfield's design of the kitchenette that was part of BC Hydro's Home & Garden Show installation is a nod to an emerging trend toward using materials in their near-original form.

The kitchen cabinets are an inexpensive plywood that has been clear-coated but which still show the warts-and-all unfinished edges. And rather than adding handles, Banfield had small circles routed into the doors, to grab for opening them.

While the most popular kitchen cabinet is still white painted wood, Banfield says many people no longer want to hide the wood, which in some cases, isn't that expensive. That allows for budget tradeoffs, such as the splurge of a Kallista faucet Banfield used in the home show kitchen.

"We don't mind mixing expensive and non-expensive," he says. "Some people might be disgusted by the cabinets, thinking they shouldn't even be in anyone's garage. But the faucet cost pretty much more than the cabinets, and the countertops are quartz."