Kitchen Lighting Layers: Ambient, Task & Decorative Lighting

Published By: Shades Of Light

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Last Updated: December 10, 2020

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Kitchen lighting including pendant task lights

Best Type of Lighting for Kitchen

Lighting a kitchen can be an intimidating task. This multifunctional room needs illumination that meets the demands of the kitchen’s many uses while still looking sharp and stylish. And since every home and family is different, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the best kitchen lighting. The size and shape of your kitchen, as well as its primary purposes, will all determine the best lighting layout for your unique situation.

To effectively light your kitchen, you will need to choose multiple lights that each fulfill different purposes. Consider three layers of lighting when approaching how best to illuminate your kitchen:

Ambient lighting brings diffuse brightness to the whole room.
Task lighting clears away the shadows over the areas where you cook and eat.
Decorative lighting shines a spotlight on any elements of your kitchen you would like to highlight, like wall art or a unique architectural feature.

Choose ambient lighting for your kitchen first, followed by task lighting in areas where less visibility impedes your workflow; use decorative lighting to finish off your look and tie everything together.

Types of Kitchen Lights

Kitchen lighting including ambient island chandelier light


Kitchen lights cover a wide range of fixture designs and styles, each intended to address one or more of the three lighting layers. Here are the main types of fixtures to consider:

Kitchen Ceiling Lights (Ambient) are ideal for ambient lighting, particularly where space is limited. Flush mount kitchen ceiling lights, as the name implies, are mounted flush with the ceiling and cast light throughout the room. Semi-flush mount kitchen lights serve the same lighting function, but depending on the style and design, these fixtures can be a smart way to achieve the look of a chandelier in rooms with lower ceilings.

Kitchen Chandeliers (Decorative / Task / Ambient) are usually hung over the dining table or kitchen island, and these lights fulfill multiple uses depending on the design of the fixture. They can act as task lighting for islands and dining tables but may provide some ambient lighting to the room as well and usually add a decorative element.

Kitchen Pendant Lights (Task) are most useful as task lighting. These fixtures usually feature single bulbs suspended from a rod or cord with a shade to direct the light down over work areas (although bare bulb pendants or clear glass shades are very stylish options, particularly for industrial or rustic farmhouse décor).

Kitchen Wall Lights (Task / Decorative) can also be used in situations where ceiling-mounted fixtures are not ideal. Kitchen wall lights can function as task lighting (a sconce mounted over a sink or counter will help illuminate the workspace) or as decorative lighting (such as accent lighting in a glass display cabinet). Kitchen wall lights will combine with existing ambient lighting and can be particularly useful for creating a cozy kitchen space when used with dimmers.

Kitchen Ceiling Fans with Lights (Ambient) are perfect for kitchens that need a little extra airflow. These fixtures offer ambient lighting and help cool or vent your kitchen while you cook.

Best Color Light for Kitchen

Kitchen lighting layers including colorful glass pendants


When selecting light fixtures for your kitchen, lamps that use bright white light are best for creating a functional workspace. Bulbs that fall in the ‘cool white’ range of around 4000K-5000K illuminate kitchen tasks and ensure you have enough light to see as you slice, steam, and sauté. Install dimmers so you can easily transition from cooking to dining to relaxing with family and friends when the meal is through, and whenever possible, choose long-lasting (dimmable!) LED bulbs, which cast brighter light at lower wattages.

Ideas for Kitchen Island Lighting

Wooden kitchen open frame island chandelier



How to Hang Pendant Lights Over a Kitchen Island

Choosing pendant lighting for your kitchen island is incredibly important for the functionality of your workspace. For more advice on how to choose these essential task lights, consult our pendant lighting ideas for kitchen islands. Once you have selected the perfect pendants for your kitchen island, you will have to mount them properly to get the best lighting experience. Lights that are hung too high may appear dim while lights hung too low can pose a safety hazard or block your view. Aim to have 30-36 inches of space between the bottom of your pendant and the top of your counter. The light spread from each pendant should overlap on the countertop to eliminate a spotlight effect that can leave dark shadows on your workspace. The fixtures should also not impede the view over the countertop, especially if you have bar-style seating around your island. In most cases, pendant lights look best centered over the island without overhanging the countertop at either end. You can also aim to have roughly 30-36 inches between each pendant. Some pendants may look best with less distance between them, but be careful about hanging pendants too far apart, or you risk creating dark spaces on the countertop if the light spreads do not overlap.

Types of Island Lighting

The best island lighting brightens your workspace in style! The fixture that works for your space will depend on your needs and your unique decor sense! Check out this list of some of our favorite types of island hanging lights to help pinpoint which styles and designs work for you.

Mini Pendant Lights — These fixtures are a popular choice for kitchen islands because the slim silhouettes create a chic, streamlined look without compromising brightness. For understated decor or airy, open-concept spaces, mini pendants are a design ideal.

Large Pendant Lights — To make a more dramatic statement, large pendant lights are the perfect choice. These fixtures use oversized designs to create a striking, fashion-forward aesthetic.

Glass Pendant Lights — Glass pendant lights are versatile and trendy, with a variety of shapes, colors, and designs. Small kitchens—or open-concept spaces—work particularly well with glass pendants with clear shades, which help disperse light without blocking lines of sight. White or opal glass shades can soften a space, and art glass shades can bring a unique, quirky vibe to your room. Whatever your needs, glass lights bring a layer of class and elegance to your kitchen workspaces. For one-of-a-kind glass pendant lights, browse our Art Glass Pendants.

Black Pendant Lights — If you want to add a touch of drama to your room without overwhelming the space, black pendant lights are a foolproof choice. The rich, dark finish of these pendants matches many décor themes, so you can update your room without having to replace your fixtures. Black pendants are chic, sleek, and timeless so you can achieve an eye-catching look in any situation.

Farmhouse and Rustic Island Lighting — If weathered woods, antique finishes, and seeded glass speak to you, consider farmhouse kitchen lighting and rustic island lighting. These styles of fixture are perfect for adding quaint country charm to your home and bring a soft and simple comfort.

Modern Kitchen Lighting — Shiny chrome and streamlined shapes are staples of modern kitchen lighting. These fixtures embrace clean lines and unfussy designs for a sleek, sophisticated aesthetic.

Hanging Lanterns — For a big statement, lantern fixtures are a great alternative to traditional single-light pendants. These fixtures usually have more than one light and a body that surrounds the bulbs. Some lanterns are stellar choices for kitchen islands but check the configuration of the bulbs and consider how the light will hit the various surfaces in your kitchen; lanterns are more likely to offer ambient uplighting rather than task-oriented downlighting.

Kitchen Island Chandeliers — Island chandeliers bring eye-catching drama to a space and often fulfill multiple purposes. Depending on the lamp configuration, chandeliers can serve as task lighting (if the light shines down on the countertop), ambient lighting (if the light shines on the ceiling or out into the room), and decorative lighting (since the fixture itself usually adds to the style of the room). The right chandelier can transform your space with just one fixture.


Flush Mount Kitchen Lighting

Kitchen lighting including ambient island chandelier light



Choosing a Flush Mount Ceiling Light for the Kitchen

Ambient lighting is the lighting layer that fills your room and supplements task lighting in areas where directed illumination is not appropriate. Flush mount ceiling lights, along with recessed lighting, are the fixtures most commonly used to add ambient lighting to your space. These fixtures fill your room with light (along with any natural lighting you can make use of) so that the room is safe, comfortable, and functional even when your task lighting is not in use. Because they are hung ‘flush’ with the ceiling, flush mount kitchen ceiling lights are particularly useful for kitchens with limited space where hanging lights or wall sconces might pose a safety hazard or add a cluttered feeling.

While flush mount ceiling lights are primarily used in a functional capacity, the right ceiling light can also act as a decorative element to accent your chosen home decor. If, for example, you have a modern farmhouse kitchen, rustic flush mount ceiling lights will add a new design touch to your room; if you have a contemporary kitchen design, choose a mid-century flush mount light to match. You can find a flush mount for every decor theme, so limited space doesn’t mean limited style.

Flush mount ceiling lights are also perfect choices for pantry lighting, where fixtures suited to tight spaces are needed.

Semi-Flush Kitchen Lighting

For rooms that need an extra splash of drama, semi-flush kitchen lighting might be the perfect compromise between a chandelier or pendant and flush mount ceiling light. Semi-flush mount kitchen lights hang flush with the ceiling just like flush mount ceiling lights, but these fixtures tend to be bigger, and have space between the main body of the fixture and the canopy, lending the effect of a chandelier or lantern. If your ceilings are too low for hanging lights, but you have the space for a more dramatic fixture, a semi-flush kitchen ceiling light is the perfect solution!


Kitchen Pendant Lighting

Black & white kitchen pendant lights over island


Kitchen Pendant Lighting is a popular choice for kitchen task lighting, but these fixtures are used for more than just island lighting. Pendants can be placed wherever directed task lighting is needed. Kitchen sinks and tables are common places to add pendants when you need a little extra illumination for your kitchen chores.

When selecting kitchen pendant lighting, be aware of any special design elements that may be present in your kitchen. If you are searching for pendant lights for high ceilings, check the maximum overall height of the fixture to be sure it will hang low enough in your room. Large kitchens may need multiple pendants hung in clusters or lines, while small kitchens may only need a single petite fixture in the right spot. Whatever your kitchen layout, find fixtures that add to your décor dynamic. For example, minimalist designs and silver finishes pair well with modern kitchen pendant lighting, natural woods and vintage aesthetics are ideal settings for rustic kitchen pendant lighting, and dark finishes and rugged metals synergize with industrial pendant lighting. With a little planning and forethought, you can craft a kitchen that works for you and meets all your culinary needs with the flick of a switch!

How to Position Pendant Light Over Sink

When mounting lights over your kitchen sink, the best solution will depend on where your sink is situated in the room. If your sink is set into your kitchen island, whatever way you choose to light the island itself should provide enough illumination above the sink. If your sink is set into a countertop positioned against the wall, you may choose to mount a single, dedicated light source above it.

Where you mount the light above your sink will depend on the size and positioning of your sink. If possible, the pendant shade should be centered above the sink and twelve inches from the wall. If this positioning is not possible, chose which works best for your space—either centering the pendant to the sink or hanging it twelve inches from the wall. The bottom of the shade should fall between 30-40 inches from the countertop. Be sure to adjust this height depending on who will be working in this area; if you have tall family members, you can choose to mount the pendant higher to prevent it from interfering with kitchen tasks.


Kitchen Chandeliers

Small rustic metal kitchen chandeliers


Chandeliers can fill several functions in a kitchen, not the least of which is adding a gorgeous, upscale lighting element to your room. These fixtures always make a strong statement and, depending on the design of the fixture, can fulfill all three types of lighting needs in your kitchen—task, ambient, and decorative. You can determine what function a chandelier is intended for by examining the position of the bulbs. A chandelier design with the bulbs facing upward, or shades facing upward, is best suited for ambient lighting, while task lighting directs the light spread down onto the counter or tabletop. Many open chandelier designs feature exposed bulbs or bodies that allow the light to shine out in all directions, and these fixtures are useful for both functions.

For an extra decorative element, use your chandelier to tie your kitchen design together. A modern kitchen chandelier is a perfect finishing touch for a kitchen on the cutting edge of style, and a farmhouse kitchen chandelier elevates rustic chic looks to a new level of charm and elegance. Where you place the chandelier also has a huge impact on the look and feel of your room. A kitchen table chandelier will help illuminate your meals and add an element of class to your kitchen dining area. A kitchen island chandelier brings much-needed task lighting with unabashed panache. If kitchen chandelier lighting seems perfect for your space, check out our chandelier buying guide for more tips, tricks, and ideas to make this lighting statement work for your unique space!

When it is time to hang your chandelier, you can follow much the same rules as you would for hanging a pendant. The chandelier should be roughly 30-36 inches above the countertop and should not block any views or pose a safety hazard. You can find more information on how to size and hang a chandelier here.


Kitchen Ceiling Fans

Kitchen ceiling fan with light


Hanging a ceiling fan in your kitchen can be a practical, attractive choice when customizing your room. Ceiling fans create more airflow in a space, and this can be invaluable when completing culinary tasks. The act of cooking can cause uncomfortable ambient heat or unpleasant smokiness that ceiling fans help disperse. And of course, you can find a kitchen ceiling fan with lights to add extra illumination and airflow in one convenient fixture!

Many kitchens are best served by a low profile kitchen ceiling fan or a small kitchen ceiling fan. If you have a large kitchen or high ceilings, you should check the length of any downrods included with your fixture so you can be sure it will fit properly in your space. Our helpful ceiling fan size guide has all the best practices you’ll need to select the perfect kitchen ceiling fan.