Rising gas and food prices may have put a damper on your plans to remodel this year, but there are some economical ways to update your kitchen. According to the American Lighting Association, just merely changing out the decorative lighting fixtures over the breakfast nook or center island can have a big visual impact, creating a fresher, more up-to-date look – and it is less considerably less expensive than replacing the cabinets or countertops. Perhaps that 1960s pendant that came with the house or the 1980s island light is clashing with the stainless steel fridge or dishwasher you bought a few years ago.
If your kitchen’s only source of lighting is from recessed cans, consider adding a few fixtures to serve as aesthetic and functional focal points in the room over the casual eating area and/or the island.
First, a must-have update for your kitchen is the installation of dimmers for all of the lighting. “The greatest benefit of installing dimmers in an existing kitchen is that the quality of the resulting light will inevitably appear much more comfortable and flexible than what you had before,” explains Joe Rey-Barreau, education consultant for the American Lighting Association (ALA) and an associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design.
“It might not be immediately obvious, but dimming will allow you to adjust the lighting level to the specific task at hand,” says Rey-Barreau. “For example, during food preparation and cooking, the lights can be at full output. At other times – after dinner, early in the morning, or late at night – when task lighting requirements are not as demanding, the lights can be set to a more comfortable level,” he says.
If you have no idea which type of decorative lighting would suit your décor, visit your local ALAmember lighting showroom for some expert advice. The experts on staff can help you select the most appropriate fixture for your space. For example, a few glass blown glass pendants or perhaps a chandelier designed specifically to suit the configuration of a kitchen island may be the perfect complement for your appliances, sink or faucet hardware.
Todd Phillips of Quoizel, a leading lighting manufacturer, keeps track of the latest trends in kitchen design. “What’s popular right now is what I would describe as Cleaned Up Americana. This is representative of the classic, familiar shapes and elements we all recognize, but with a bit sleeker appearance and on-trend finishes such as bronze and brushed nickel,” he says.
“Handcrafted, hand-forged designs are also gaining in popularity,” Phillips says. “The key work is clean. Think of a black or bronze finish paired with opal white glass, or perhaps natural Mica to create a warmer tone.”
Today’s modern kitchens are in the middle of the style spectrum, not too steeped in traditional style that could appear dated, but not too outlandishly contemporary either. “Transitional is still the operative word,” Phillips says. “Finishes are still neutral, simple and clean. Along with beige, white, bronze and brushed chrome, I’m starting to see more polished chrome. I also find the more custom designs are a bit bolder in their use of color in the kitchen and in the lighting,” he adds.
Of course, there is no denying technology’s influence on interior design. “While high-tech consumer products are now a part of all aspects of our lives, the high-tech revolution has only more recently begun to affect kitchen design – and lighting in particular,” Rey-Barreau says.
This phenomenon is most apparent in recessed lighting. “Both compact fluorescent and LED bulbs are much more complex than the traditional incandescent we grew up with,” Rey-Barreau says. “This new level of sophistication is affecting lighting fixture design, and therefore we are seeing many more products with a high-tech look in other parts of the kitchen.” Stainless steel appliances, high-tech refrigerators, stoves, microwaves and kitchen faucets have all become highly stylized and feature-driven. “Since technology is only going to become more advanced and sophisticated, it’s likely that kitchen design in general will follow this trend,” he says.
According to Rey-Barreau, the kitchen is a logical place to introduce technology. Some of the LED lighting products that are now readily available – undercabinet and in-cabinet lighting, pendants, recessed – are perfect for the kitchen. Although LEDs are higher in cost than comparable incandescent, halogen and fluorescent, they provide much higher energy efficiency than any of those, and they have an extraordinarily long life.
“Another advantage to LED fixtures is that they generally provide a more modern look, which can easily update the overall look of the kitchen. LEDs are a recent introduction in the market, so those fixtures tend to be more sleek and streamlined,” Rey-Barreau says. “If your objective is to simply update the light source inside existing fixtures, there are LED replacement bulbs available now for use in most standard types of incandescent, halogen and compact fluorescent fixtures.”
One advantage to LED lighting is that it is easy to dim. However, there is a caveat: some LED sources can be dimmed via standard incandescent dimmers, while others need to be matched with specific models. Most manufacturers provide a list of recommended dimmers for their LEDs.
In addition to professionally trained experts, many ALA-member lighting showrooms also offer lighting labs that demonstrate how the different color temperatures of compact fluorescent and LED bulbs will look in your kitchen in various applications such as recessed, under-cabinet, soffit (above cabinet), or inside glass-front cabinets.