Bright Ideas

Bright Ideas

Experts shed light on the ins and outs of kitchen and bath lighting.


That's why most kitchen and bath designers agree that an effective lighting plan is a critical portion of the design process. However designing an effective lighting scheme involves more than throwing a grid of recessed fixtures onto the ceiling. Rather, it entails choosing an array of fixtures that offer the right combination of general, task and ambiance lighting, and then picking the right the bulb (lamp) type and color. It also includes determining the correct amount of light needed for the entire space and the proper spacing of each fixture.

While this may seem like a lot to consider for lighting, there are some simple rules of thumb to follow. This month, lighting experts interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News offer some "bright" ideas to help fellow designers meet the functional needs of their clients and showcase their designs in the proper light.

The first thing designers should remember is that kitchen and bath lighting is meant to not only provide light for daily living and the tasks associated with it, but also to enhance the design itself.

For that reason designers need consider the impact of light on surface colors, wall coverings, fabrics selected and so on, notes John Bachner, director of communications for the National Lighting Bureau (NLB) in Silver Spring, MD. "The color that's seen in the store, under one type of lighting, may look different under another type of lighting at home, in the kitchen or bath," he adds.
Indeed, "depending on the colors of the room, you need to decide whether incandescent, halogen or xenon lamps should be used.

Halogen and xenon are crisper, but not as good with earth or cream tones," says Peter Ross Salerno, CKD, CBD and president/owner of Peter Salerno, Inc. in Wyckoff, NJ.

"I like halogen because it's the closest to daylight and really enhances wood grains, stains and colors," notes Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design, Inc. in Chicago, IL.

"We specialize in low-voltage halogen because it gives off a pure light spectrum, and it's the closest to daylight," states lighting designer Mark Carmel, who co-owns Rockville Centre, NY-based Illuminations with business partner Philip Finkelstein. Carmel collaborates with designer Steven Haas, co-owner of Rockville Centre, NY-based Architectural Kitchens and Baths, on many of the firm's kitchen and bath projects by guiding the lighting plan.

Jane Grosslight, LC, of Tallahassee, FL-based Jane Grosslight Lighting Designs, Ltd. and author of the book, Lighting Kitchens & Baths, recommends using incandescent reflector lights with PAR or MR16 bulbs over kitchen sinks and eating areas because they "give very good direct light for sink areas and add sparkle to table- and glassware."

Then there is the matter of incandescent versus fluorescent. In some states, like California, designers are required to use
fluorescent lighting as the primary source of light. But, there are ways to seamlessly incorporate fluorescent lighting.

"[For instance], I use color-corrected fluorescent," says DeWitt Beall, principal of DeWitt Designer Kitchens in Studio City, CA. "I put them over and under cabinets, then I use line- or low-voltage halogens, depending on the budget. I make the halogens the accent lighting by switching it at one post, and then make the over- and undercabinet lighting the primary source of light since I switch it all in one doorway."

There's also the matter of determining the right amount of light. And while there are formulas and tables designers can use and consult, designers agree that there are no set answers.

"I must admit that my sense of lighting comes from 30 years' experience. It becomes intuitive," notes De Giulio. "A lot of lighting experts do FootCandle computations to figure out the amount of light needed in a space, but practical experience will help you even more."

However, for those in need of specific numbers and charts, there are some such as the Coefficient of Utilization (CU) Tables that will help designers in their calculations. Michael De Luca, CKD, ASID, NCIDQ, the San Diego, CA-area-based owner of Michael De Luca & Associates and Enviro-Systems/, also recommends using the Lumen Method and the Inverse Square Law.

De Giulio along with Carmel and Haas also recommends consulting lighting experts as a way to ensure an effective lighting design in a kitchen or bath.

Beyond experts and calculations, client needs and preferences also must be noted when planning for kitchen or bath lighting, note designers. For instance, some clients simply prefer moderate lighting, while others may have light sensitivities that call for dimmer lighting solutions. Likewise, some clients prefer very bright light, while still others may actually have vision problems that require special lighting solutions.

In addition to meeting functional needs, designers need to look at what lighting can bring to the table aesthetically, according to Joan Eisenberg, CMKBD, ASID, of JME Consulting, Inc. in Baltimore, MD. "Lighting should enhance the design by adding depth to the colors," she notes.

After considering space and client needs, there are three key components to a properly lit kitchen, note designers. The first is general, which should illuminate the entire kitchen. This usually derives from recessed lights, but could also come from decorative fixtures such as pendants, Eisenberg explains. The second is task, which should be located at each workstation, she says. The third is specialty, or ambiance, lighting, which is any lighting that creates a mood or highlights a feature such as crown molding or cove.
However, the types of lighting chosen for a kitchen are less critical than the placement of those fixtures, stress designers.

"The positioning of recessed lights is very important. They must be properly laid out, otherwise there will be heavy shadowing in between each light," notes Carmel. In this case, directional lights usually help solve this lighting dilemma, he says.
Beall concurs, noting that he uses a "pan 360° lamp that tilts 40° in any direction. It offers the ultimate flexibility when combined with beam spreads."

To avoid uneven lighting, designers also need to consider the FootCandle level. "The FootCandle level is extraordinarily important, and should be at an even distance across the room," notes De Luca.

Further, they need to consider the beam spread and the spacing of recessed lights from the wall. "You need to account for deeper cabinets, such as 24"-deep pantry units and appliances, such as a 33" or 36" wall oven, recessed into cabinetry," Salerno notes.

Carmel also warns designers against installing recessed lights too far out from the work area. "If they're placed too far behind you, then you are working in your own shadow," he says.

This is where task lighting comes into play. "Illumination of all of the countertop surfaces is key. In some cases, this more important than the general lighting. However, there needs to be good balance of both types," believes Haas.

"The task lighting should be 2.5 times brighter than the general lighting," adds De Luca.

Switching is also a key lighting issue designers need to consider. "I believe lighting controls are as important as the lighting itself what controls what light is critical," notes Alan Asarnow, CMKBD, CR of Ulrich, Inc. in Franklin Lakes, NJ.
"A lot of times, switching in a kitchen or bath is overlooked," adds Salerno. "For instance, you can control the strength of the ambiance lighting with dimmers... You can use them to create different atmospheres, which is especially good when entertaining."
Beall agrees that having everything on a dimmer allows users to have better control over their lighting. And, in some cases, Beall and De Giulio both agree that an even better choice is installing a Lutron lighting system, which allows users to preprogram  different lighting scenes, such as those for parties, everyday use and romantic settings.

"Proper placement of switches is also key," notes Haas. "This goes to ease of function. There should switches at each threshold of the kitchen so users don't have to enter a dark room at night."

In terms of general and task lighting, many of the same principles apply to baths. There needs to be enough light to illuminate the entire bath, and task lighting should be placed at the vanity, in showers and over tubs, and over the toilet, notes Eisenberg.
However, according to Beall, "There are some different rules for baths. For instance, in the kitchen you are basically standing, but in a bath you are either sitting or lying down in a tub, so you don't want to be zapped in the eye with lights. So I will angle the lights toward the wall to avoid this situation."

Beall advises designers to mindful of lighting in relation to mirrors, as well. "Move the light closer to the mirror to bounce the light on the face, not the head, to avoid shadows," he recommends. For general lighting he uses low- or line-voltage downlights, and believes sconces add light while offering the ability to create gentle mood lighting.

Eisenberg adds that the color and type of bulbs used in a bath should be the same as those used where the client will be seen during the day whether that place is in an office with cool fluorescent lighting or somewhere with warm incandescent lighting. KBDN