The Kitchen Designer

Thanks for stopping by! I'm Susan Serra, certified kitchen designer, and my mission is to take kitchen design style, function and analysis to a higher level. Here's why the kitchen has the most honored place in the home - all five senses reside in the kitchen.  Best...Susan  Contact: susan@susanserraassociates.com

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Top Ten Secret Kitchen Design Tips - Lighting!

DSCF4158a.jpgDo you think lighting is boring? Do NOT touch that mouse...I promise to totally excite you with these tips, ideas, and whatever, about lighting your kitchen. Here we go... (come on, get ready, settle down!) These are quick, useful, and un-boring ideas, like take-out from the gourmet food store. Maybe not ALL you need to know, but close!

1. Let's talk style! Lighting is jewelry, end of story. Think of it as such. It says something, a big something. Whatever you want it to say, it says it, and says it loudly. Do you want to pick something safe? It will say safe. Do you want style that's "out there"? That's your message. What's the point? Take your fixtures' design SERIOUSLY please...put TIME into choosing your lighting jewelry.

2. Pendants - hang 'em LOW! Low is cozy. Low is dining table-like. Low is cool. If your mother tells you they are too low, you know they're close to perfect, and maybe a little bit lower will do. If your contractor says they're too low, lower them two feet! (I'm joking, no cards and letters please.) :)

And, no, you need not worry as much as you think you need to worry, about the fixtures bumping your head. See? I knew you were thinking that!

Trend-5.jpg3. Pendants - hang 'em HIGH! Some pendants look okay hung high, and they would be wider/bigger/fatter fixtures, please, not the small ones hung high. Please! They will look lost, or worse, insignificant. I can think of lots more adjectives of an unfortunately negative nature for small pendants hung high!





4. Pendants - hang 'em close together! They do not have to be hung 3' apart (yawn) over the island. Put a few close together, especially on a smaller island.  Where you'd normally put 2, put 3 closer together.

5. Does the island have a seating area? Put two different types of fixtures on the island...pendants on the work part, a larger fixture to feature the seated part.

6. Mix your metals, finishes, colors...do it with care, I don't want the lighting police banging on your door, but get creative with complementary styles and color.

DSCF4181a.jpg7. Don't forget the dimmers!

8. Recessed lighting - Save the planet and use CFL (flourescent fixtures)

9. Recessed Lighting - There are two schools of thought...the recessed lighting plan is either a) equally spaced in a logical grid type pattern (watch the swiss cheese effect-too many lights) or b) positioned over certain elements without a strict grid pattern. Give thought to which you prefer, keeping in mind if a light is off center close to a featured cabinet, it could look like a mistake. Take care in your planning. Me, I usually look to see what features are important in the kitchen, and sometimes use a particular feature as a starting point and then move off from that, like the hood, for example. Then, of course, get ready to do it all over again once the electrician says, "lady, there's a beam in the way!"

10. Under cabinet (not under counter as it is typically called) lighting - LED lighting is PERFECT for this application. Look it up, and again, save the planet. It is crazily energy efficient!

Bonus #11 - Trusty Wendy, from the comments section reminded me about sconces! Yes, sconces are very wonderful in the kitchen. I have two kitchens at the moment where I brought sconces into the design from the beginning, and an interior designer on the project said "Sconces? I like it!" They are flanking the window in each case, but don't stop there... 

There, wasn't that fun? I had a great time! 


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Reader Comments (16)

Good remarks, Susan, and not boring at all! Timely for me, in fact, since I am doing my kitchen as we speak. I might add another item to your list which is to mix up the lighting if at all possible. In my case, we have the usual recessed LED florescents and then I'm using an oversize lantern as a kitchen table chandelier (still searching for that one...got any tips for me?), a small cage-style chandelier for over kitchen sink, and then two sconces to illuminate a desk area and a countertop near the range. I'm looking forward to the mood change that these non-kitcheny lights will create. We LIVE in the kitchen!

Thanks again for what you do.

March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

Wendy, I was wondering where you were! Ah, you are correct, and it's what I meant by item #6! And, let me add #11 - sconces!! I'm spec'ing them in at least two kitchens at the moment. LOVE sconces! Good for you. I want to see your kitchen. Tell me what you're doing.

March 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I've been hoping you would do a post on lighting. (My first post here, but I've read your entire blog.) I'm obsessed with lighting for my kitchen. Weirdly, the one area where my kd has kind of left us on our own is selecting light fixtures. He has of course done a lighting plan, and we have recessed lighting, etc. but no help really on picking fixtures, or where to look for fixtures. Which is just as well, because I haven't loved the light fixtures in other kitchens he has done -- I thought they were too small and hung too high.

It seems that all the really great light fixtures are from companies that are "to the trade only" or at least not on 1800lighting, or Bellacor, etc., which is okay, because I can use my kd to access them, but first I have to find out who they are. I've found some interesting lighting by looking at the resources sections at the back of kitchen magazines, but often they don't give the source of just the light fixture that I love the most.

Not that you should give away all your secrets, but I'd love to see some of the lighting sources that you use that might have more unusual choices.

I'll share one with you, that you proabably already know. I ordered one fixture from a place called O'Lampia, on the Bowery, but it is nothing like all those other Bowery shops. They custom make every piece, so I am getting exactly the size I need, at a very reasonable price, and in a reasonable time frame. They carry their own lights,and Objet Insolite lights from France (which looked much better on the internet than in person, I thought). I am also ordering sconces from Circa Lighting. But I still need a chandelier for my eating area. I am going to pick it this weekend if it kills me.

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Jean, the entire blog, wow! I'm really very thrilled at that! Thanks for that big vote of confidence, it's appreciated.

Did you ask you designer for help, and what he sees as being great for your kitchen?

I do not often get involved with lighting selections, not because I don't want to. Many of my clients seem to feel that IS something they can do well themselves. I don't necessarily agree, truth be told. There are nuances to decorative lighting just as there are nuances to interiors in general, and I'd love to take more of an active part in pointing out pros and cons of fixtures they are considering. Not to be critical, but to just offer another voice. But, I digress.

As a result, I cannot offer you many sources, but, here are a few that anyone can access.

Gracious Home (great lighting section)
Room and Board
Louis Poulsen
Urban Archeology
shopping guide on apartmenttherapy.com

There are others, I can't put my finger on at the moment.

Oh, thanks for the tip about the Bowery place. Yes, I know those lighting places well!

It's great to hear all about your travels in search of good lighting. Everyone should put that effort in, and too often, it all just ends up being chosen from the same catalogs in the same (basic) lighting stores.

So glad you took the time to write, Jean.

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Hi Jean-
I know Susan will answer shortly (she is diligent about responsiveness), but I just wanted to say I enjoyed your post a lot and I'm in the same boat RE: the search for light fixtures.

I really do like Circa a LOT, and Bellacor can be okay. I love Homeportfolio.com and they have a great search function to pare down their inventory by style or size or price range. Do you know about pwlighting.com? They carry all eras, including some of the industrial/laboratory styles I seem to gravitate toward. I have found a couple of things on lightinguniverse.com but it's a bread-and-butter lighting warehouse...nothing too special. I will check out O'Lampia and Objet Insolite...thank you for those recs.

Depending on your needs, I have had some luck on eBay. Yes, I know it can be a risk but the fixtures I love most were found there and very reasonable...embarrassingly so in a couple of cases (I'll never tell!) Best of all, no one else has them in their homes and I value that.

I also roam various antique stores when I have the time. Best of all are the stores that don't feature lighting as their primary pieces, and these shopkeepers will usually dicker over prices.

Maybe this was helpful info. I am hoping you or Susan will share where I can find an antique LARGE, rustic lantern for my kitchen table. I'm beginning to give up hope...


March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

Well, Susan proved her "diligence about responsiveness" by answering WHILE I wrote my post!! Thank you Susan!

Um, and about my large lantern...got any leads??

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

Wendy, I was going to mention antique stores. You guys are so right on target. I learn such good stuff from you. One of my kitchens that was published had a very cool antique light that I got calls about years after it was published. It was a very funky shape, like nothing else.

Wendy, don't know where you're from (California?) but for an antique lantern, why not try auctions or antique stores in New England? OR, New Orleans, that could be fun. Must be some good stores online. Magazine Street is the street down there with lots of antique stores. Probably more pricey than is necessary too.

Thanks for your input, always great.

March 14, 2008 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD


A very informative entry, as usual. Thank you for doing this blog. Seems I'm always checking to see what you have to say.
My husband plans to put dimmers all around when we are finished with our renovation, even in the kitchen.
Also, I found great pendants for our kitchen at www.circalighting.com. In fact, the bulk of our fixtures, including lots of sconces came from Circa.


March 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkathleen

Thanks Kathleen...it was meant to be, let's say, "quick and dirty!"

Ack....I need to put a number 12 on re ACCENT LIGHTING. How could I forget the basics....general, task, and accent lighting...oh well, here it is. I often put in accent lighting to highlight a furniture piece, wall, etc. All it takes is a little bit of thought and what interesting lighting effects one can have.

Very nice stuff at Circa...thanks for sharing that!

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I just wanted to say "WOW!!" What great ideas. I never really thought that lighting was such a big deal until I read your blog and saw the pics. I found this blog just in time. We've been redecorating our home, and what a great thing to add in the kitchen and dining room. I live in a small town so I went online to do my furniture shopping. Thanks to the suggestion of a fellow blogger I ended up on a website called http://homefurnituremart.com and I ordered some beautiful furniture. Your ideas will come in handy with the new island I purchased for in between the kitchen and dining room. I really think that hanging some low lighting over it will add to the overall look of the room. I'm in no way a designer, but thanks to blogs like yours I’m able to improve the look of my home. So thanks for the great ideas. My husband is going to love this!!!

March 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

Wow, guys, thanks for more great ideas. I forgot all about Gracious Home. I love that place. I shopped there a lot when I did my first kitchen renovation (10 years ago) of my itty bitty NYC galley kitchen.

And for all the TKO (totally kitchen obsessed) folks like me, if you don't know about the GardenWeb kitchen forums, you should. If you go to finishedkitchens.com you can see literally hundreds of finished kitchens, with info about all the components of the kitchen pictured.

March 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Although I don't even know when we'll start the renovation of our Florida home, I do a lot of online research since years - on all kind of furniture, hardware, bath fixtures ... and LAMPS. Photos of things I like are saved on my pc with source, product name and price being the file names. Prices are extremely different, so shopping around is recommended.

Just recently I found some new souces for lamps: wegotlites.com, neenaslighting.com, affordablelamps.com and prime-furniture-source.com.

Susan, I agree with you on mixing metals, finishes and colors, but I think it may be too difficult for most people. The result usually is an unpleasant hodgepodge. How do I know? I'm a real estate stalker (like midcenturyjo, author of "desire to inspire") and have seen photos and virtual tours of thousands of homes (and kitchens with a fluorescent box in the middle of the ceiling). Therefore I am not too optimistic about most peoples' tastes and their ability of mixing, matching and balancing.

March 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

Great collection of light decor products at Lamps Plus store....

March 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenifier Lee

Thank you for your comments!

Connie, ah ha, your dark side emerges! A real estate stalker! :)

I think it is absolutely possible to mix lighting finishes, but it has to be done with care. I do like the idea. Mixing styles is even more tricky, I think, but possible.

March 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Loving that last image. What a great idea!

March 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMaryam in Marrakech

Hi Susan,
I'm in the begining stages of remodeling my kitchen. We actually are removing the wall between our dinning room and kitchen. We never use the dinning room, we are very casual people and everyone ends up in the kitchen. I have picked a 9 light chandelier for over my table. I do not have the room for a island so my contractor is builing up the end of my counter space to the height the island would be. ( I was a little unsure when he suggested it, but when I saw the virtual design, I loved it.)
This area is in front of two large windows which I am putting a 2 pendant island ligt over. My first question is how low should I hang it?
Next, I am lost at what should go over the sink, which again has a large window in front of it. Will it be to much if I have a single pendant light? Or should I go with something flush?
I thought picking the cabinets would be the hard part, but the lighting has really stumped me! : )
Thanks for any suggestions you can give.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

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