Guide to kitchen island lighting

February 18th, 2021

The centerpiece of the room, a kitchen island has become much more than a place to prepare food — it’s now the beating heart of many homes. It’s where the household gathers in the morning before going off to work or school and reconvenes after a busy day. Because it’s such a multifunctional space, it requires multifunctional lighting. The best way to achieve that is through smart lighting (and a few tips from the experts!).

Linear light fixtures

Also called linear chandeliers, these long light fixtures hang from the ceiling. Often with three or more lights — or even one long integrated LED — linear light fixtures are suited to larger kitchen islands where they are the focal point of the room. 

Linear lights and chandeliers are especially effective over kitchen islands as they only require one outlet in the ceiling and are made to spread light evenly across a long surface.

Black Ensis linear light fixture suspended over kitchen table

Tips on using linear light fixtures for kitchen islands

  • For an industrial style, select a linear light fixture with transparent glass features and Edison-style light bulbs
  • For a simple Scandinavian style, use a painted stainless steel or translucent glass fixture with modern light bulbs.

Pendant lighting for your kitchen island

Pendant lights are a type of suspended light fixture: they hang from the ceiling, often from a single cord, making them perfect for hanging over a kitchen island. Though they come in all shapes sizes, pendant lights usually have one bulb in each fixture. When using kitchen island pendant lighting, line up several fixtures in a row  over your workspace or use a single fixture with a wider shade — though what you choose depends on how big your kitchen island is.

An easier way to install kitchen island pendant lighting is to use track suspended pendants. Track suspended pendants not only allow you to more easily reposition the spacing of your lights, but they also redirect the power across the ceiling — particularly useful if the outlet is not centered over the kitchen island.

There are two primary ways to hang track suspended pendants. Use one track to hang a single line of lights all at the same height. For a three-dimensional effect, install two tracks parallel to each other and stagger the height of the fixtures.

Man and woman cooking at kitchen island under three white pendant lights

Tips on using pendant lights for kitchen islands

  • While an odd number of fixtures, usually one or three, is a more common design choice, the number of fixtures you use depends on your personal style.
  • Use pendant lights with a translucent shade to hide the light bulb itself, eliminating harsh glare and uncomfortable brightness for people seated at the island.
  • If you use a track to hang your pendant lights, buy the same size track as the length of your kitchen island.

Recessed lights

Recessed lights  sit flush with the ceiling — a bonus for kitchens with lower ceilings or for cleaner, simpler aesthetics. Try to avoid using recessed lighting as your main source of illumination. Recessed fixtures direct light straight down, which can make the ceiling in between each light appear dark. Instead, use recessed lights to add an additional layer of lighting on top of the other lighting in the room.

Remodeling? Recessed lighting is a smart addition to any kitchen, especially if you place them thoughtfully. Install recessed lights around the perimeter of the kitchen island to brighten up the workspace while a pendant or linear light hangs directly above it. Since many downlights can be angled, you can direct one towards a certain special area, such as a countertop decorated with a vase of flowers.

woman cooking with colorful kitchen island lighting

Tips on using recessed lighting for kitchen islands

  • Install recessed lights to the side and slightly in front of or behind the spot you wish to illuminate, such as the sink or stove, to minimize glare and shadows.
  • Space recessed lights evenly over the area of the ceiling where you will install them.
  • Avoid adding too many recessed lights around the kitchen island, which can make the ceiling look too busy.

Kitchen island lighting features

Beyond the light fixtures, there are other features of kitchen island lighting that may be overlooked, including the color of light and their control options.

Dimming

Because the kitchen island is often a multipurpose space, it requires lighting that can accommodate multiple types of tasks. Dimmable lights let you use full brightness while using the island as a work area but also dim down to a softer glow while you eat or read.

Light color

The color of light your kitchen island light fixtures emit may be overlooked, but it’s an important aspect of lighting. Because the kitchen island is a workspace, you’ll need to make sure that it’s suitably lit — but it all depends on your kitchen decor.

Warm-toned kitchens (think brown and copper tiling, backsplashes, walls, and furniture) work best with lighting that’s 2700 K to 3500 K. Cool-toned kitchens (silver, gray, or bluish decor) work best with lighting that’s in the 3500 K to 5000 K range. In other words, warm-toned kitchens get warmer light, and cool-toned kitchens get cooler light.

Philips Hue White smart bulbs and lights are set at a warm 2700 K, whereas White ambiance bulbs and light fixtures offer light in thousands of shades of warm-to-cool white: from 2200 K to 6500 K. It’s one of the many benefits of Philips Hue  — you can adjust the color and brightness of your lights, giving you much more flexible lighting for your kitchen island.

Control

When you’re in the kitchen, your hands are often full. Incorporating voice control into your kitchen island lighting allows you to adjust the brightness and color of your lights without running to the sink you wash your hands to adjust the lights.

Kitchen island lighting: the takeaways

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to kitchen island lighting, as everyone’s home and personal aesthetics are different. One of the best approaches to lighting a kitchen island (and lighting a kitchen in general) is to use lighting in different layers and directions. 

For example, use kitchen island pendants — but then add downlights surrounding the island and strip lighting underneath it. This way, you can adjust the lighting for any task, day or night. This is where smart lighting really comes in handy: play with different brightness and color to get the perfect look for you.