Let there be light — but not too much, according to kitchen design and lighting experts. "Since the kitchen is such a draw these days, especially for the gourmet, you want to make sure that you have plenty of task lights to showcase the work spaces," says Frankie Cameron, national account manager for Bellacor Lighting based in Mendota Heights, Minn. "But people tend to over-light, using too much wattage or just one super bright light in the center of the kitchen that leaves you standing in shadows."
Instead, both Cameron and Mark Lambert, a contractor and owner of DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen in Bellingham, Wash., recommend a combination of ambient, task and decorative lighting. Here are their tips for achieving that balance:
1. Start Underneath
"The least expensive, easiest layer to add is under-cabinet lighting," says Cameron. "Manufacturers like Sea Gull and Kichler make reasonably priced xenon lights, which are cooler than halogen and make the kitchen more user-friendly."
Cameron suggests low-voltage xenon bulbs in varying lengths to light counters or islands below shelves or cabinets, but recommends steering clear of small "puck" lights. "They give your counters and shelves these odd spots of light and you can see some models plainly," she says.
Xenon lights like Kichler's Series II are also inexpensive to retrofit and ordinarily plug into existing outlets without new wiring.
2. Choose a Ceiling Light for Now and Later
"If your ceiling mount fixture is outdated, replace it with a newer model that has a nice finish and gives off a nice light, but isn't overly embellished," says Cameron. "You want to make sure it will work with a contemporary or traditional decor."
One model she recommends is the ceiling mount fixture from Access Lighting, which comes in brushed steel, white and rust finishes and is a plain, contemporary looking bubble.
3. Pick Out the Popular Stuff
For mood-setting (or ambient) lights, Lambert says you can't go wrong with two established trends: the pendant light and the track light.
"One of the more interesting brands of track lighting is Tech Lighting — a bit costly, but very cool stuff over an island or counter," he says. The brand's Single Circuit T-trak light, for example, features a satin nickel and white powder coat finish, curves in numerous configurations, holds eight lamps and has dozens of models from which to choose.
Glass pendant lights have also been holding their own in the kitchen market for some time, says Cameron, because they are fresh and pretty and can still work with different decors. One model that's beautiful and stylistically flexible is Restoration Hardware's Clemson Double Kitchen Pendant — its glass is a plain prism and the nickel-plated brass frame works with traditional, contemporary or eclectic designs.
4. Decorate, but Impersonally
A little decorative lighting is a nice touch in a kitchen and that, too, can be achieved with art-glass pendant lamps, says Cameron: "Many of the hand-blown fixtures can really add to the overall aesthetic in a kitchen, and that's important when you're trying to sell a buyer on a luxury kitchen."
Many high-end lighting manufacturers, individual designers and craftspeople offer larger fixtures that make prominent artistic statements. While these arty, expensive pieces are not a necessity, they're a nice add-on when you're positioning your kitchen as a luxury retreat. One such fixture is the Old Candle Tray Suspended Lamp from Kichler, manufactured to resemble a soft collection of blown-glass candle holders.
5. Suit Someone Else
Whether you're choosing modest or lavish decorative lights, remember you're not looking for the style that most appeals to you but for the one that's most likely to enhance the value of the kitchen.
"I always try to be cautious about choosing things I personally like, because they may not appeal to people looking to buy a house," says Lambert. "If you are really concerned about adding value to your home, check the home improvement magazines and online sites for trendy but popular decorating ideas. If your budget allows get help from an interior decorator or designer."
6. Stick to One Look
There are a lot of really nice, really pretty kitchen lights on the market, and potential buyers will probably expect to see some of them in the finest kitchens. That said, make sure any replacement lights your purchase match the current decor or are neutral enough to work with the wishes of the future home owners.
"Mixing and matching is probably not the best approach for the novice," says Lambert. "Stay with your theme."
Any time you're tempted to imprint your personal style, remind yourself that your goal is added value, not artistic expression.