Lighting Makeover

Five ways to add impact and lower costs in the kitchen
By Brice Cooper
February 18, 2010

What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into someone’s kitchen—cabinets, floors, appliances? Chances are, you actually notice the light—or lack thereof—that highlights the unique features of the kitchen.

GE lighting CFL halogen lamps

What a difference a little lighting can make. Photos courtesy of GE Lighting.

Whether the style is warm and cozy or modern and bright, a multilayered approach to lighting can update a kitchen, enhance the mood and even offer notable energy savings. Layering the light in your kitchen means integrating a mix of ambient, task and accent lighting. Ambient lighting offers general illumination, while task lighting highlights workspaces and accent lighting enhances decor.

A lighting redesign is among the least expensive ways to enhance your kitchen. According to an annual construction cost survey by RemodelingOnline, a minor remodel of a 200-sq.-ft. (10-ft.  x 20-ft.) kitchen averages $17,037 to $19,366 nationwide. But a lighting redesign that includes multiple layers of light—ambient, task and accent—can actually help pay for itself over time. To bring life to dull and boring spaces, or add sizzle to form and function, a quick assessment can reveal opportunities for immediate return on impact and investment:

Set the stage. Ambient lighting provides general illumination throughout a whole room. Traditionally, ceiling fixtures are used as ambient lighting within a kitchen; however, they can look dated, offer limited usable light and cost a fortune to operate with standard incandescent lamps (bulbs). Overhead recessed lighting is a great option in a kitchen because it provides obstruction-free lighting. Another great way to add functional overhead light is with recessed downlights that can also accentuate kitchen cabinets. Install reflector lamps 6 to 8 ft. apart for even illumination and maximize the reflected light (and save on electric bills) by using light-colored cabinets and ceiling and floor surfaces.

white kitchen

Maximize reflected light with light finishes; design by Anthony Passante.

The lamps you choose for these fixtures can also have an impact on your energy bill. A range of energy-efficient lighting options exists for recessed fixtures to help you achieve the right mood for your style. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) emit warm light that’s perfect for creating a laidback environment. Halogen lamps offer clean, beautiful light—great for highlighting details and fueling motivation. Each of these uses less energy than standard options, and they are long-lasting, making them perfect for hard-to-reach overhead fixtures.

GE lighting CFL halogen lamps

Compact fluorescent (GE Energy Smart CFL) and halogen (GE Reveal Halogen) lamps offer energy savings.

Task lighting illuminates areas where focused light is needed, like countertops. Pendant lighting is a great option because it’s both decorative and functional. Traditionally, undercabinet lighting has acted as task lighting, but it can also be used as accent lighting to showcase decor on counter spaces. Undercabinet fixtures should be mounted as close as possible to the front edge of the cabinet to avoid glare on a work surface. When using track or recessed fixtures as task lighting, it’s important not to use standard A-line lamps. Instead, choose spotlight lamps that are specially made to direct light out of the fixture so it shines where needed.

GE lighting CFL halogen lamps

Task illumination ensures that work surfaces like countertops are well-lit.

A range of energy-efficient options is available for track and recessed fixtures, as well as decorative fixtures like pendants. With CFLs, you can literally install the lamps and forget about them, as they last up to 8 years. Plus, since they use up to 75 percent less energy, they pay for themselves in energy savings in one year.

Spice it up. Accent, or decorative, lighting is like using jewelry to add a special touch to your favorite outfit. It enhances the atmosphere within a space, working to set the mood that’s right for your style. Sconces in a foyer welcome guests. Spotlights in a formal dining room create dramatic shadows. You can also use accent lighting to direct the eye to points of interest such as architectural highlights or artwork. Lighting itself can be a decorative accent. These days, designers often use pendant lighting and chandeliers as art elements to create a central focal point within a room.

Here’s a little tip for sizing an accent fixture like a chandelier: Measure the length and width of the room in feet. Then add the two numbers together. The sum should equal the diameter of the chandelier—in inches. In choosing an energy-efficient lamp, consider using LED candelabra lamps, as they offer the perfect accent lighting for any occasion.

Save money in style.
One of the easiest ways you can save money on energy is to switch to energy-efficient lighting. Also remember that savings come from adding multiple switches and dimmer features. Each lighting layer should be on a separate and/or dimmable switch in order to reduce the wattage and output of lamps. This helps you to achieve optimal energy savings.

Dimming controls offer the added benefit of helping you to set the mood. Lighting controls are also commonly used to smooth the transition between the kitchen and adjacent rooms. Look for CFLs that can operate on standard household dimmer switches.

Through a multilayered lighting approach that incorporates energy-efficient lamps, homeowners can maximize ambiance and savings, while breathing new life into their kitchens. To learn more about lighting styles, energy-efficient lighting or other design tips, visit WhatsYourLightingStyle.com.

—For the past three years, Brice Cooper has been the face of the lighting industry as the “GE Lighting Guy.” An interior stylist by trade, Cooper’s expertise in lighting comes from firsthand experience in the field. His ability to convey product messaging and engage live audiences across the country is what has made him a consistent figure on television. Currently, he is the face of design shows such as Fox's Design Invasion as well as HGTV's Design on a Dime. His knowledgeable quirky persona shines through as the host of whatsyourlightingstyle.com, where Cooper guides the user through a series of lighting-based tutorials, videos and games.
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