Working at the Home Depot in Lighting/Electrical, I am frequently asked this question. Many people are renovating or redesigning the space that has become the central family area these days. Families no longer sit formally at the dining table in a dining room. Today, family members are often coming and going, grabbing snacks, and it isn't until a basic breakfast, lunch or dinner meal that all may gather and finally sit down together.
Hopefully, the day has not been too frantic and fast food is not an option. Hopefully, someone has created a nice, nourishing meal that all can appreciate. My "Pop Toaster Oven," cookbook has over 250 quick and healthy meal options for the active family, singles, boomers and elders.
Lighting is key in today's multitasking, multipurpose kitchens. Task areas need special direct, high-contrast lighting to prepare food, cook food, wash dishes or put dishes in the dishwasher. Track lights with GU10 base halogen bulbs give bright, white light. Also, track light heads can be directed at an angle to work areas. This slanted light is preferable to working under an over head light in one's shadow.
Dining areas need light that can be dimmed to create a calming mood and coordinate with guest diners, candles, etc. Stylish pendants give the interior decor a boost, give a soft downlight and create pools of light on bars and eat in counters. Dimmers, which are easily installed, not only reduce the wattage used by the lighting fixture, but lengthen the life of the bulb within that fixture! More savings!
Ambient lighting is best for illuminating the entire kitchen space at the flick of a switch. An over head "troffer," a two to four tube rectangular fluorescent ceiling fixture that is often installed by contractors, provides only overall lighting for a kitchen area.
Recessed lighting cans, available in 6,5, 4 and 3 inch cans with a variety of finishes including brushed nickel, white and bronze, create a beam of downlight that illuminates a given area where the light falls. Although this light is usually high contrast, the distance from where it has been installed to the surface it illuminates changes the strength of the light. Recessed eyeball lights can be positioned to shine on specific areas. New offerings in recessed lighting LED'S guarantee 35,000 hours before you have to get up on a ladder to replace that recessed lighting bulb. That's a nice option!
Under cabinet lights may be the best-kept secret. Available in Xenon, Halogen, Fluorescent and LED's, they provide a direct illumination to the counter top work area. Today's new LED two, three or four light under cabinet fixtures are very slim, provide excellent, high contrast light, have little or no temperature to the bulbs and last for 12,000 hours or more.
Often I find that customers are looking for a brighter overhead light because the lighting in their kitchen is so poor. What they really need is under cabinet to light their counter tops, pendants or recessed lighting to light their bar or eat in counter, or track lighting to direct beams of high contrast light to work areas.
Stove hood lights, often coupled with a vent fan, provide good light for the cooking surface. Many new vent/hood lights offer good, high contrast halogen lighting. Older hood lights that accept a normal screw in medium base bulb, can now be improved by switching to a Bright Light or Daylight Compact Fluorescent bulb, which will last for six years, use much less wattage than a standard bulb and provide more light.
It is well work investigating the lighting options available today in retail stores. Low energy options in CFL's and LED's as well as the variety of light spectrum brightnesses they now come in can address the personal needs of each household. Check out those shelves today and be inspired!
Lois DeWitt is a certified lighting specialist, a cookbook author, "Pop It In The Toaster Oven," a poet and a Standard Poodle admirer. She cooks gourmet meals for friends, walks along the shore with her dog, Charley, and tends her vegetable garden in Wilmington, NC. She also works part time in the Electrical Department at The Home Depot.