Lighting designers are appalled at the use of the standard glaring center fluorescent light in kitchens. "A center light does not offer enough flexibility," says Shirley Purcell of Isthmus Lighting, Madison, Wis.

She prefers "layering" lighting using recessed cans, under-cabinet lights, and accent lights.

Lighting expert Phil Blosser of Blosser Electric says the bright central light behind the user's head casts a shadow on the counter that makes it hard for them see. Purcell also suggests remodelers plan for the changing needs of clients during their time in the house. The lighting should be flexible enough to meet the needs of aging adults or growing children.

Beyond the practical aspects, lighting also makes a room look beautiful. Just as landscape lighting showcases a home's exterior, Blosser says, kitchen lighting can highlight cabinets, glass, countertops, and art. He says a room without proper lighting can look flat and one-dimensional. The wrong lighting makes crystal look like plain glass and makes silverware appear dull.

Recessed: These fixtures should be evenly spaced (approximately 30 to 36 inches apart) to provide even illumination at the working plane. Center the fixtures on each set of upper cabinets so the maximum amount of light falls on the shelves of the upper cabinets while the doors are open.

Pendant: These fixtures should be evenly spaced over the island. The number of fixtures depends on scale. Grouping smaller pendant lights over a large island can be just as appealing as one larger fixture. Care should be taken to match the style to the deacute;cor of the room and to manage the proportions of the fixture(s) to the size of the surface. Under cabinet: By placing these fixtures on a separate dimmer, the task lighting can be dimmed to create mood lighting.

In Cabinet: Lighting can be placed in cabinets with glass doors to illuminate display items. The lighting provides accent lighting to brighten any kitchen.

Pendant: A decorative accent, they also help define spaces in the kitchen. A pendant or several pendants help separate the working kitchen from an entertainment area or a nearby family room.

Puck: Low voltage fixtures are usually placed inside a cabinet with a glass door to highlight decorative items.

Recessed: A common mistake made by builders and remodelers is placing recessed lights directly over the counter. This leaves users standing in their shadow while cooking. Purcell suggests placing recessed cans about 18 inches out from the edge of the cabinet. This offers both general lighting and counter coverage.

Under cabinet: These should be used over countertops for task lighting. You can place them under all the cabinets or just in specific task areas. The lights are usually about 1-inch deep and can be hidden under the lip of standard cabinets. Purcell says decorative fixtures are available for cabinets without lips. She usually runs the wiring behind the cabinet and brings it across the bottom of the cabinet to the unit.

Working with a Professional Lighting Designer

  • To evaluate designers, look at their portfolios or visit their showrooms.
  • Ask how the designer charges. It may be hourly, fixed cost, or a percentage of the project.
  • Ask about the services they include. Some offer only plans, others schedule periodic jobsite tours to check the work.
  • Make an appointment with the designer. The client must be present for selection, but you may choose not to attend.
  • For the first meeting, the designer should have a layout of the project, a basic estimate of budget, an idea of how the room will be used, and knowledge of future plans for the room.
  • It is helpful to have low- and high-end versions of the budget. This gives the client the option to spend more for a more elaborate design.
  • Some designers offer an energy consumption analysis. This may help your clients decide on the budget.
  • After the design is done, the designer should meet with the remodeler and electrician to address any construction constraints.