how to light a kitchen with open shelves

how to light a kitchen with open shelves

Normally when a kitchen with open shelf is illuminated, some dark areas are automatically created under the shelf. A proper lighting design is thus essential for kitchen with open shelves which would enhance the look of kitchen as well as illuminate the shelves professionally.

Below is a detailed explanation with placement of light sources to illuminate the shelves in kitchen properly.

These are the lighting options that can be used to illuminate kitchen with open shelves.

Option 1: Recessed lights

Recessed lights over the kitchen shelves should be installed in a way that the shadows of shelf is not created on the countertop underneath. For this the recessed lights should always be placed at a distance greater than half the length of shelf.

For instance if the length of the shelf is 6 inches from the wall then the recessed lights should be placed at a distance greater then 3 inches from the wall. Doing this would significantly reduce the shadows created on the countertop.

What size recessed lights for lighting open shelf kitchen

In the kitchen with open shelves, if there are other light sources like track lights or chandeliers are used for general illumination then the size of recessed lights should be small i.e between 3 to 4 inches.

This is because the lighting requirement is already getting other fulfilled by other light sources and the recessed light therefore, does not need to be high in brightness. Smaller size recessed lights are less bright and thus become ideal source to illuminate the shelves in kitchen.

In contrast when there are no light sources used in the kitchen then the recessed lights used should serve both the function of general illumination and task lighting.

This is facilitated by bigger size of recessed lights. As some light is used to illuminate the shelf while the remaining light is used to illuminate the task areas on the countertops.

NOTE: When recessed lights are used for both general illumination and task lighting, the lights should be placed either under the shelf or at a distance of 2 -3 inches from the tip of the shelf.

How bright should the recessed lights be for illuminating shelves of kitchen?

If the purpose of recessed lights is only to illuminate kitchen shelve then the recessed lights should be 300 lumens bright.

Whereas if the purpose of using recessed lights is to illuminate both the shelve as well as the task area of the kitchen then the recessed lights should be around 500 – 600 lumens bright. he recessed lights for illuminating kitchen shelves should be around 300 lumens bright.

Option 2: Track lights

Track lights can be an incredible light source to get light for illuminating kitchen shelves because their light can be easily adjusted wherever required.

To get the most out of track lights, the placement of track lights should be done properly. To illuminate kitchen shelves the best practice is to install the track at a distance of 16 inches from the countertop on the ceiling.

This is because if track lights are placed at a distance greater than 12 -16 inches, there are good chances of the formation of shadows while working in the kitchen.

The biggest benefit of installing a track near the countertop on the ceiling of kitchen is that the shelves as well as task area both can get illumination.

The arrangement of shelves is different in different kitchens, thus a track running through the ceiling provides an opportunity to place track heads exactly where the shelf is located.

How bright should the track light be for lighting kitchen shelves ?

The track lights that are used for illuminating only the open shelves in kitchen should be around 300 – 350 lumens bright with a beam angle of 38 degrees. Whereas if track lights are also to be used for illuminating task areas then the lights should be around 800 lumens bright.

The brightness of track lights is different for shelves as well as countertops because task areas on the countertops is an attention demanding area.

The more is the brightness of light in task area, the easier it becomes to perform the respective activities of kitchen.

On the other hand, the shelves do not require a light source that is too bright as the purpose of lighting for shleves is to highlight a particular item so that it can be easily found as well as to eliminate darkness over the shelves.

What size track lights for illuminating kitchen shelves ?

The ideal size of track lights head to illuminate kitchen shelves is 3 inches in width. A bigger size track light would consume more wattage than required for the shelves.

Track lights of a particular size comes in different wattage options. So it eliminates the need of using track lights of different sizes on a single track which would otherwise not look professional.

The track heads on the track look great if all of them are of same size.

Option 3: Ceiling mounted Spot lights

Ceiling mounted spots lights for lighting shelves can also be useful if a different look is to be given to the kitchen overall. These spot lights act like semi flush mount light fixtures that are installed on the ceiling pointing downwards.

To illuminate kitchen shelves the placement of ceiling mounted spot lights is very similar to the placement of recessed lights i.e. the distance of ceiling mounted spot lights from the wall should be greater than half the length of the shelve.

The beam angle of ceiling mounted spot light to light kitchen shelves should be between 38 to 45 degrees so that light can easily cover the entire shelf without leaving any place on the shelf dark

If ceiling mounted spot lights are also to be used for lighting other areas of kitchen their beam angle should be greater than 50 degrees. The greater is the beam angle, more wider is the spread of light.

Thus, for general illumination and for task area illumination, where a more uniform spread of light is required, spot lights with beam angle greater than 50 degrees can be useful.

Option 4: led strip lights

Using LED strip lights is another easy method to get accent lighting on the shelves. This method is effective if there is a single long shelve in the kitchen or small shelves at different locations in the kitchen.

The LED light strip can be placed either only on one side of kitchen shelf i.e top side of kitchen shelf as well as on both top and bottom sides of kitchen shelf.

If the lighting on task areas is less than the LED strip lights should be placed on both the top and bottom sides of the shelf and if the task area is properly illuminated by other light sources, then the LED lights should only be placed on the top side of shelf.

Placement tip for LED strip lights

When LED strips light are to be installed only on top side of shelf then the light should be placed towards the ends of the shelf whereas when the LED strips are placed on the bottom facet to shelf then the lights should be placed close to wall.

When installing led strip lights on top of shelf if the lights are placed close to the waIl then the objects placed on the shelf may block the light of the LED strip.

Similarly while installing LED strip lights on the bottom facet of shelf, indirect lighting effect is achieved only if the LED strip lights are placed close to wall.

How bright should LED strip lights be ?

The brightness of LED strip lights is calculated for 1 foot length of strip.

If the LED strip lights are to be used for illuminating only the shelves then every one foot of shelf should have a brightness of 250 – 300 lumens.

Whereas if the task areas are also to be illuminated then every one foot length of LED strip lights should have a brightness of 500 – 600 lumens.

Lighting ideas for lighting kitchen with open shelves

In this design, the bottom shelf is getting illumination from the accent lighting on the above shelf. To give the design a little more elegance, instead of illuminating the upper shelf again with LED strip lights, recessed lights are used.

This fact is also suggested by the lighting exerts that every lighting design should have variation in the type of light fixtures used.

Here we see a kitchen with a mix of cabinets as well as shelves. This design is unique and the lighting approach should also be done accordingly. The designer has opted for LED strip lights to give indirect lighting to the entire shelf areas Whereas the cabinets are illuminated by spot lights.

There are some kitchens in which there is a gap between ceiling and top of the cabinets. In such kitchens, general lighting is not effective to illuminate the dark areas on top of cabinets. However with proper selection & placement of lights the top of cabinets can also be beautifully illuminated.

In this design, a bright ceiling mounted light source is illuminating the shelves underneath. This lighting style is simple and is incredibly effective for kitchen with smaller size as the light from ceiling reflects and is distributed evenly around the kitchen.

To eliminate the shadows under the shelf, accent lighting can be done with a strip of LED lights.

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