How to Light a Kitchen Island – 5 Great Tips

Last Updated on June 24, 2021 by The Tutor

how to light a kitchen island

How to Light a Kitchen Island

How to Light a Kitchen Island

Learning how to light a kitchen island is a key component to making your kitchen functional and beautiful. The kitchen island is the often the center and typically the focus area of your entire kitchen which is why lighting is so important.

There are so many ways to light a kitchen island and the lighting choices can be even more confusing and overwhelming. Like any other home lighting project, it is important to develop a plan on how you want to light your kitchen island first and then select the fixtures.

This how to light a kitchen island guide will take you through the types of lighting, the best bulbs to use, the installation height, and much more. This should help you to narrow your focus so that you can aim towards a smaller selection of lighting options that will work best for your kitchen island.

When you are ready, we can help you to find the most popular pendant lights available now.

Checklist on How To Light a Kitchen Island

  • Kitchen Island Size
  • Types of Lighting for a Kitchen Island
  • Selecting the Best Bulb for a Kitchen Island
  • How to Light a Kitchen Island with a Dimmer
  • Installation Tips

Also Read: [How to light a kitchen]

Kitchen Island Size

The size of the kitchen island is one of the determining factors in how to light a kitchen island.  The kitchen island is as much of a functional space as it is one that provides a special look and feel. This is where you will be preparing your meals. Chopping with sharp knives on cutting boards requires plenty of light.  Some people even sit at their kitchen island on a stool doing monthly bills. Whatever it is, you will need enough light to get the job done.

Another benefit of providing the proper lighting over your kitchen island is to highlight your island counter top. I remodeled a home a few years ago and we found a granite slab that had the most amazing veins running through it. The lights we chose above that island really brought out the colors.

The size of the island plays a big part in determining how much light you will need directly above it. A rule of thumb is to provide anywhere from 35-50 lumens per square foot over your island. As an example, if your island is 3ft x 5 ft, that is 15 square feet. So, the total lumens needed will be 535 – 750.

Types of Lighting for Your Kitchen Island

You can get lost in all the choices to light your kitchen island. There are so many options to consider but your first choice needs to be one of the three below. Keep in mind that you should always have recessed lighting as your base and primary lighting for your kitchen in general. Many of the kitchens from the past had one light fixture in the center of the room. What we had back then were poorly lit kitchens. Select one of these three to light your kitchen island:

  1. Pendant Lights – Pendant lights are the most popular and also the most versatile of all kitchen lighting options. The versatility comes in the following ways:
    1. Number of lights is not limited to that of a chandelier
    2. Ability to adjust the height
    3. The fixture can also be decorative

Some of the versatility related to the number of lights is also tied to the size of the pendant light. You can go with two larger pendants that provide most of the lumens you need, or you can go with more smaller pendants that are providing fewer lumens each but collectively deliver the amount of light that you need.

kitchen island pendant lights

Check the pricing on Amazon for these Westinghouse One Light Mini Adjustable Pendants

When choosing pendant lights for your kitchen island, consider both design and more importantly the amount of light they will be able to deliver. Make sure the light source is directed downwards towards the counter.

Browse our recommended pendant lights

  1. Linear Chandelier – Liner chandeliers are becoming popular and can be used to light your kitchen island. The styles are anywhere from vintage to modern. Installation is easy in the sense that you will be wiring just one fixture rather than multiple with pendants.

One of the limitations of a linear chandelier is the ability to cover a larger kitchen island. However, if you have enough bulbs providing the lumens needed, then you should not be sacrificing the light needed for your island.

linear chandelier

Courtesy Pianotastings

Something to remove from your shopping list is any linear chandelier for your kitchen island where the bulbs are facing upwards. You don’t want to be lighting the ceiling. Immediately remove those from your choices and focus on the one where the bulbs are pointing downwards.

  1. Recessed Lighting Only – You may not want any pendant lights or linear chandeliers over your kitchen island. This may be especially true if you have low ceilings. In that situation, pendant lights over your kitchen island will end up looking out of place. Not only that, but the light will not be disbursed well.

 See our recommended Recessed Lighting Options

Another consideration is to go with recessed lighting only over your kitchen island. If designed properly, this method can be extremely effective. In this scenario, I would recommend the following:

  1. Lay out your recessed lights initially to provide adequate light throughout your entire kitchen without special consideration for a kitchen island.
  2. Add smaller recessed lights (3-4 inches) directly above your kitchen island
  3. Put those smaller kitchen island recessed lights on their own switch with a dimmer
  4. Each of those smaller lights should have more lumens (per light) than the other recessed lights in the kitchen.

This method will do a few things for you:

  1. It will provide a heavier lighting accent over your kitchen island when needed.
  2. It will provide adequate task lighting for your meal preparation
  3. It will allow you to create additional mood lighting in the evenings. Imagine turning off the main recessed lights in your kitchen. Turn on your under cabinet lights. Then, turn on the recessed lights right above your kitchen island but dim them down to a low level. Your kitchen will now look like a night club.

In this picture below, you can see the recessed lighting around the kitchen. Rather than install pendants, you would put small recessed lights in the same three places. In this particular case, I think the recessed lights may be an improvement versus the low light levels that these pendants are providing.

recessed lighting over island

What Are the Best Bulbs for Over a Kitchen Island?

One important ingredient in how to light a kitchen island is selecting the right light bulbs. Selecting the wrong light bulbs can be a huge mistake after you took so much time to plan and select the right fixtures. Before you make a decision on the bulbs, make sure you read these two articles, then proceed below:

Understanding the Kelvin Color Temperature Scale

How to Choose the Right Light Bulb

Now that you have read the two articles above, you may already have an idea as to what I may say next. For your kitchen island, the optimal color temperature will be anywhere from 3000k – 3500k. This will provide the right balance of color for the island. A temperature of 2700k will be much too warm and 4000k and higher will make your kitchen island look like an operating table in the hospital.

Although you have choices between halogen, incandescent and LED… your only choice here is going to be an LED bulb. First, it is the most efficient and long lasting. Second, it will not give off the heat that the other bulbs will. This is especially important in a kitchen that can get over heated when the oven is on. Finally, you just have many more options now with LED and the other bulb options are almost completely phased out.

What you do not want is one of those decorative vintage style LED bulbs. They are for visual effect only and will not provide any light for your kitchen island.

Finally, whichever bulbs you choose, they absolutely must be compatible with a dimmer.

How to Light a Kitchen Island with a Dimmer

I recommend installing a dimmer switch to control the lights over your kitchen island. This would be the case regardless as to what type of lighting you choose. You absolutely need the ability to dim down the lights when needed to provide an evening ambiance.

When shopping for a dimmer, make sure that you select one that is specifically made for LED lights. Otherwise, you will not enjoy your experience in the kitchen. You may see slight flickering and even some buzzing. Going cheap on the dimmer will be a mistake after you have taken so much time to get your kitchen island lighting right. Read Why Do LED Light Buzz When I Dim Them?

I provide my choice in dimmers at the bottom of the Recommended Recessed Lighting page. 

Installation Tips

This is not a how to install kitchen lighting article as that will be covered elsewhere on the site. However, this should give you the confidence to give it a try if you are comfortable working with electricity. This is just to provide you with some basic installation tips. Some of this was briefly covered. Here are some bullet points to follow:

Pendant Lights or Linear Chandeliers should be anywhere from 30” to 36” above the kitchen island. This will allow enough room for the light to provide coverage and also will allow for taller individuals to be able to see without an obstruction.

If you are using pendant lights over your kitchen island, you should space them anywhere from 30-36 inches apart. You should also keep them at least one foot from the edge of your counter. With that in mind, you can calculate how many pendants you will need and then how many lumens each bulb will need to be.  In the example above (3ft x 5 ft), I would use two pendants that are 15 inches from each end of the counter. That will space them 30 inches apart from the center (See below).

The lights over your kitchen island should be on its own switch and it should be a dimmer.

Remember to determine the total lumens needed to light your kitchen island. This was covered above.

Related Questions

What type of lighting is best for a kitchen?
The best lighting for a kitchen is managed by utilizing recessed lighting, pendant lights as well as under cabinet lights. All three in conjunction with one another will help to provide the best possible lighting for a kitchen.

How big should a pendant light be over an island?
The size of the pendant light is not as important as the total lumens the pendant light provides over your island.

How do you measure a kitchen island light?
The light fixture should be anywhere from 30”-36” above your over your kitchen island.

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