What's Trending in Kitchen and Bath Lighting

Lighting is too frequently the last element in a kitchen or bath design project to be specified, using whatever dollars are left over in the budget. However, the importance of lighting should never be underestimated. Good lighting will make the space more functional and attractive, while poor lighting can savage an otherwise great design.

It should be considered early and thoughtfully in the design plan. Especially in states with very strict energy codes, factoring in what you need to meet these rules early will save you permitting headaches later.

So what are the best kitchen and bath lighting options right now? What are the pitfalls to avoid? And what are the hot trends, both technologically and aesthetically, to consider for your designs? This month, KBDN asked three lighting experts to weigh in on these topics:

  • Bernadette Campbell, east regional lighting manager for Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, and lighting seminar leader at the 2014 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show.
  • Vicky Lodge, owner of VML Design & Lighting, practices commercial and residential lighting design in San Diego, leads lighting design seminars for professional associations and served as lighting adviser on New Kitchen Ideas That Work (Taunton Press, 2012).
  • Jeffrey R. Dross, corporate director, education and industry trends, Kichler.


Out with the kitchen old

You might not miss these trends from the last five years, which experts say are getting old and tired. They may still show up in your area – depending on where you practice design – but they’re likely to date kitchen projects faster.

Lodge notes that pot racks with lights or any large glass-shaded fixtures over islands have fizzled. “I think clients don’t like the heaviness that these fixtures create,” she says. “Under-cabinet halogen, xenon and fluorescent fixtures have also all but died. I have only been specifying LEDs for under-cabinet lights.”

“Track lighting is showing its age,” adds Dross, “especially the long, stem-dropped ‘rail’ type.”

Campbell shares that “mini pendants are falling by the wayside in today’s kitchens. Bigger is better and larger fixtures are making an impact in overall kitchen lighting design.” Fussy is also getting passé. “Busy, detailed, scrolled fixtures are being replaced with today’s versions of classic traditional and strong modern designs.”


Out with the bathroom old

“In the bath, nothing has dated more quickly than Oil-Rubbed Bronze,” declares Kichler’s Dross. “I was struck by this at a model home opening earlier this year. While the home was beautifully decorated, the dark brown plumbing hardware was like a poke in the eye. Lighting is usually configured to match the plumbing hardware, so we are seeing a reduction in dark brown fixture use.”

Campbell from Ferguson points to mini-chandeliers as a fading trend for powder rooms, and lighting designer Lodge adds that LEDs have largely replaced earlier technologies in the bath. “Since the heat of incandescent and halogen has often been an issue, many clients initially opted for fluorescent light sources,” she notes. Today, they’re opting for LEDs instead.


So about those LEDs…

First of all, LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, and it is one of the most energy-efficient technologies for lighting a space available today. “LEDs are all the rage in lighting technology,” shares Campbell. “[They] are being used in every household item from showerheads, to faucets, to furniture, as well as becoming art in the home. The ability to see light fall in the space without seeing the source of the light is possible with LED like never before,” the Ferguson manager notes.

One of the factors driving their popularity is energy regulation. “Currently California, Washington, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois and North Carolina have some of the most stringent energy codes in the country and they are being enforced in new construction and major remodels,” explains Campbell. “The 2012 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) is the current code under adoption, and it is a state by state adoption procedure. Even within a state, local cities and counties have enforced certain portions of the code and continue to make changes. Designers should check with their local building inspection office for information or go to energy.gov to see a state’s current IECC status.”

These codes are having a major impact on kitchen design. As Lodge notes about California’s stringent codes, “The requirement for 50 percent of kitchen wattage to be high efficacy has practically eliminated the ability to do incandescent or halogen pendant lights or chandeliers. Simply changing a screw-based bulb for an LED or CFL will not comply,” she adds.

Campbell agrees: “Enforcement of the new energy codes is reducing the amount of light energy we can place into a home, and the kitchen is one of the most light-demanding spaces. We have to be very creative when meeting these more restrictive codes. This means most undercabinet lighting is now LED. Recessed lighting usingintegrated LEDs or LED lamps are a must.”

Falling prices are also helping LEDs gain favor. “[They] have come down considerably, mainly due to competition in the marketplace,” Lodge notes. “Some LEDs that sold for more than $100 a year ago can be purchased for less than $40 now.”

Dross sees LEDs increasing faster in utilitarian applications than decorative fixtures. “Recessed cans and undercabinet lighting are used multiple hours per day, so investing in energy efficiency for workhorse products like these will really save money. As the cost of LED continues to drop, expect to see more across the board.”

However, LEDs are not without their shortcomings, either. As Lodge notes, “Issues still exist in dimming, or finding compatible dimmers.” In fact, she shares, many are not dimmable at all, and some that are – including many of the most affordable bulbs for recessed can lights – perform so poorly that they can barely be considered dimmable. “Sometimes there is unexplainable buzzing,” she adds, “even if the LEDs are not on a dimmer.” Additionally, just replacing bulbs in a fixture from incandescent to LED will not satisfy most code requirements.

“LEDs are still a very new technology with inherent growing pains,” the designer shares. “For right now, a mixture of light sources is necessary to create the most desirable effect.”


Hot kitchen lighting styles

Yes, kitchen lighting choices need to be as energy efficient as possible, both for code and client budgetary reasons. But what are the hot style trends to pay attention to now, and which ones will best fit your clients’ homes?

Campbell sees modern design elements blended with an abundance of glass, crystal, whites and a mixture of metals. “Blacks, whites and warm golden tones are hitting the scene in all styles of lighting,” Campbell explains. Larger pendants, chandeliers and lanterns often serve as focal points, she adds.

“Industrial influence remains strong in chandeliers, pendants and sconces,” she continues, noting that this is evident in the bare bulb trend, and in strong metals and shapes.

Mixing things up is a trend that all three lighting pros are spotting. Kichler’s Dross points to a trend toward coordinating lighting fixtures in a larger kitchen, rather than duplicating them in different sizes. “The two types of fixtures add some additional interest to the room and prevent it from becoming boring or repetitive,” the education director offers.

Lodge sees the mixing trend in creative material use. “Art glass pendants are very popular,” she says. “Additionally, fixtures made of metal with rope or leather accents are gaining popularity.”

Mixing finishes, colors and materials adds interest to a space and customizes it for the client’s individual needs and tastes. As Campbell observes, “The addition of whimsical designs is adding a new element of personal influence without a lot of ornate detail.” In short, it’s about creativity without clutter.


Hot bathroom lighting styles

Kichler’s Dross believes that the biggest trend right now in bath lighting is the use of mini-pendants instead of wall sconces. “Mini pendants can be positioned in exactly the same spot as sconces for optimal task lighting effect,” he notes, explaining that the popularity of minis for the bath has led to an exploding array of style choices that has an added benefit for older consumers. “As our population ages, this becomes a much more comfortable light to use in this important area of the home,” Dross states.

Lodge sees another benefit to the bath pendant trend: “Doing so allows for a larger or uninterrupted mirror.” She’s also seeing LEDs for recessed and vanity bath bar lighting. Some manufacturers are going the extra step and building LEDs into both their medicine cabinet and vanity designs.

Dross adds that variations of black and dark grey lighting fixtures are increasingly showing up in the bathroom. “It works well with Chrome and Polished Nickel [faucets and hardware],” he notes, and with the growing popularity of grey-neutrals that are supplanting older beiges. He also sees Copper and Pale Gold as emerging finish trends.

Campbell is seeing a move toward sleek and small fixtures and designs. “Slim design is in!” she enthuses. “Tubular fixtures using the latest in LED technology allow for smaller profile fixtures to be used in more modest spaces. You are able to get more light where you need it most without overpowering your space with multiple glass shades and busy styles,” she offers.

“Newly designed flush and semi-flush fixtures are making a big splash on ceilings,” she adds. A statement bath today is more likely to be simple than it is grand, toned down rather than gussied up.

As in every other facet of kitchen and bath design, lighting offers a dizzying range of styles, technologies, performance and price points. However, it’s a category with some uniquely specialized knowledge requirements. Experts in lighting and home automation can be valuable consultants to a designer’s kitchen and bath projects.

“I think designers should approach lighting as to what they want the lighting to achieve, rather than requesting a particular make or model,” Lodge advises. “Anything can be purchased, but not everything will satisfy your lighting requirements,” she concludes.


Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS is an independent designer in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work (Taunton Press, 2012), and a blogger, design journalist, seminar developer and industry consultant.