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Kitchen worktop lighting

The lighting for your kitchen is often one of the last things you think about in the design journey. But, if you don’t get it right, it can make a big difference to your enjoyment of your new space.

So, rather than push it to the back of the decision-making process, we always consider the lighting in our kitchen designs right from the start – and we recommend you do the same.

In this article we explore one element of your kitchen lighting: “task lighting” and how to ensure your worktops are well lit.

A place to work

Particularly in a small kitchen, it’s essential to ensure that every surface can be used to work. And even in large kitchens with expansive central islands, there will be occasions when your guests are seated at that large working area, so you need to find somewhere else to chop your veg!

To work easily and safely you need bright, shadow-free “task lighting” in any area where you’ll be preparing food.

Under cabinet / under shelf lighting

On the whole, this is the best type of task lighting for your worktops. It stops both you and the cabinets creating shadows and enables you to focus the light where you need it most.

The lights can be fitted by recessing them into the base of the cabinets or using discrete pad lights, which perfectly suit modern kitchen designs.

If you’re fitting lighting into an existing kitchen, LED strip lighting is an easy-to-apply alternative.

Wall lighting

Your task lighting doesn’t just have to come from above, you can also install glass splashbacks which are backlit. These are available with a colour-changing capability, allowing you to have white light to work by, then change the mood with coloured lighting when entertaining.

Reading lights aren’t just for reading

There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have an anglepoise lamp in the kitchen which would allow you to focus the light exactly where you need it.

There are a huge range of reading lamps out there, so you’ll have no trouble finding one to match your kitchen design. And then you can have exactly the light you need exactly where you need it!

Be reflective

The lights themselves aren’t the only way to illuminate your worksurfaces. Keeping your ceiling and walls in a light or white colour will help to reflect light around your space.

A reflective splashback behind your working areas can also be an excellent method of dispersing the light more evenly, including making the most of daylight. A mirrored splashback would maximise the effect, but any light coloured, shiny design would help.

Adapt your choice to your worktop

If you have a polished work surface, then avoid very bright lighting immediately above it. A bright light could produce glare and make it more difficult to see. For these highly reflective work surfaces we recommend choosing lights which have a lower lumen value or a fitting which helps to diffuse the light.

If you have a light coloured, fairly matte worktop, like Corian, then this is ideal for helping to disperse the light evenly. In these cases you’d probably need fewer lights to be able to work easily and/or lights of a lower lumen value.

Darker countertops will absorb more of the light, so you’ll need more and/or brighter lighting in this situation.

Lighting control

Make sure that each type and location of lighting in your kitchen can be controlled independently. This will allow you to create a cosier ambience when you want to, or go for full on wattage when you’re rushing around cooking.

Where possible each light should be controlled with a dimmer switch, giving you even more flexibility to have bright light for working and more intimate light for entertaining.

Consider cleaning

Even the tidiest chef creates a bit of mess, so you should consider the impact of dust and grease when purchasing your lights. Make sure that they are easy to wipe clean, and don’t have exposed LED bulbs which might break as your rub a cloth over them.

Getting technical

LED lights and the alternatives

These days LED lighting is usually the first choice for kitchen worktop lighting, having an environmental and financial saving when compared to other lighting options.

LEDs’ low heat emission means that they’re very energy efficient and don’t heat up much – handy when they’re near working areas. It also means they rarely need replacing, which is useful for recessed lighting which can be tricky to get at.

Alternatively, fluorescent lights could be used as they, too, emit very little heat. However, LED bulbs are a more energy efficient choice.

Task lighting generally requires a cooler, brighter quality of light, so we recommend lights which are 4000 lumen. These have the strength for good task lighting while still providing a neutral, complementary light to enhance your kitchen.

Fitting your lighting

If you’re fitting lighting into an existing kitchen and don’t want the upheaval of electrical work, then choose plug-in lights or battery powered lights. If you opt for battery powered lights then make sure they’re located in an easy-to-access position for replacing the batteries.

The best way to install lighting is to have it incorporated into your kitchen design from the very start so it can be hardwired. This will allow you to control it from a switch on the wall and prevent you having cords hanging around or batteries to replace.

Task lighting in real homes

Your kitchen lighting is as important as where you put your fridge or how much cupboard space you need – so it should be considered right from the start of your kitchen design process.

The right task lighting for your worktops can make the time you spend in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable. Ensuring you set up your lighting with the maximum flexibility will mean you can easily transition from bright working lights to dimmer, ambient lighting when you’re ready to dine.

Here are a few examples of how we’ve used lighting to create the right tone for our clients’ kitchens while still ensuring that it’s a practical space for working:

The Furze family, Bexley

In our kitchen for the Furze family of Bexley, we’ve incorporated under cabinet LED pad lights throughout. Behind the sink and adjacent working surfaces we also used a mirrored splashback, to bounce the light back for enhanced task lighting. Over the island hob and food preparation areas we used ceiling pendant lights, alongside ceiling recessed lights, to give the family the option to light this area brightly when working or have a more ambient feel when dining.

Andy and Lindsay Curtis, Beckenham

Our design for Andy and Lindsay Curtis’ kitchen in Beckenham (Bromley) included mid height cupboards over the hob and an integrated BORA extraction system. This gave us the space to install perfectly positioned ceiling pendant lights to illuminate the working area.

Jack and Helen Cain, Hayes

We wanted to ensure that this relatively compact kitchen, for Jack and Helen Cain in Hayes, had lighting to illuminate every part of the worksurface, thereby maximising the area they could use. We did this by incorporating recessed lighting under all the cabinets, adding pendant lights above the sink and adjacent worksurfaces, and using a reflective splashback behind the hob.


Jack Hone

Chief kitchen designer (and chef in a previous life), who loves creating perfect spaces for people to make memories in.