Ask the Editor: Lighting a Kitchen Island
Two to three pendant lighting fixtures are appropriate for most kitchen islands. Other options include a chandelier or recessed lights.
Options for Lighting a Kitchen Island
Question: "We are remodeling our kitchen and adding an island. How should we light it? We need task lighting, and pendants are popular, but my husband is tall and I am short. What height would we hang them at? We get a lot of natural light during the day, too." —Amanda C., Birmingham, Ala.
Answer: Let's address the easy part first, shall we? No matter how much natural light you get in the kitchen, you still need plenty of artificial lighting. How else to prepare a midnight snack or keep a dinner party running smoothly?
"Lighting design should be based on worst-case conditions, which means that you should make your selections based on nighttime conditions with no natural light," explains Joe Rey-Barreau, AIA, an architect, lighting designer, and consulting director of education for the American Lighting Association. He adds, "I strongly recommend that you use dimmers on your fixtures so that you can modulate the level of lighting depending on need and time of day."
Now onto deciding on a type of lighting fixture. Both attractive and in fashion, pendants come in a wide range of styles, shapes, sizes and finishes. In addition to pendants with traditional incandescent light bulbs, you can also find models that use incandescent/halogen, fluorescent or LED light sources. Talk it over with a designer or with a local lighting showroom, but two or three pendants should be sufficient unless your island is extra large.
In terms of how high to hang pendant fixtures, Rey-Barreau says 30 to 36 inches above the counter is the normal recommendation. With standard kitchen counter height at 3 feet, that would put the bottom of the pendants between 5 feet, 6 inches, and 6 feet high. He typically recommends the 6-foot height, especially for households with one or more tall members.
"At the lower mounting height, a person who is 5 feet, 9 inches, or taller would have their view blocked by the pendants when looking across the room," he explains. If too much glare presents a problem at this height for shorter people, look for pendants with longer shades that do a better job of shielding the bulb.
Other options for lighting your kitchen island include a chandelier or recessed "can" lights. Chandeliers should be mounted so that the bottom is at least 6 feet, 6 inches, from the floor, so Rey-Barreau recommends using them only in kitchens with 9 foot or higher ceilings. He also cautions homewners to choose carefully to make sure the chandelier offers adequate task lighting in addition to looking good.
"Chandeliers without shades, such as traditional fixtures that use candelabra bulbs to simulate the look of candles, are very glaring and do not direct the light adequately down to the island counter," he explains.
Though not decorative, recessed lighting is effective. "I generally recommend at least two recessed fixtures with 75-watt halogen reflector lamps using a 'flood' or 'narrow flood' distribution when lighting a kitchen island," Rey-Barreau says.
In terms of placement, consider putting the fixtures closer to the ends of the island than the middle if you have a highly reflective countertop, such as polished granite. That way the light is not reflected into your eyes, but the edges of the beams still overlap to provide efficient lighting.