Kitchen Culture
March 30, 2012 - 3:19pm

The iconic image of the kitchen as Mom’s domain, where she disappeared for an hour or so to prepare a homemade feast for the family, is now quite archaic. Kitchens are undeniably the hub of the 21st Century home—a place to share quality time, enjoy a meal, entertain guests and do homework. With the kitchen at the center of daily life, designers pay more attention than ever before to the space.

“You are seeing the kitchen from more parts of the house, so the look needs to be more decorative, the transitions [to the rest of the home] need to be seamless,” says kitchen designer Daniel Lenner, CMKBD, of Morris Black Designs in Allentown, PA.

And this focus on kitchen design trends impacts lighting in a big way.

Wide Open Spaces

The evolving nature of the kitchen’s role in the house plays an important part in driving today’s kitchen lighting techniques.

“The kitchen has become almost like a family room,” says lighting designer and expert speaker Joe Rey-Barreau. “There are a lot of things happening in there, and with that there has been a growing need to create kitchen lighting designs that fulfill multiple functions.”

Layering general illumination, task lighting and accent lighting is important to maintaining the aesthetic quality and the functionality of the space. In addition to recessed lighting spaced strategically across the ceiling and undercabinet illumination, both of which have typically been part of a kitchen’s lighting scheme, decorative fixtures, such as pendants and chandeliers, provide both ambient and task light.

“As kitchens have become larger and taller, there’s definitely been a trend to do more decorative lighting,” Rey-Barreau says. “Large-scale chandeliers that you used to see just in the foyer [are] now [being installed] in the kitchen.”

Large, open floor plans have also made more room for grander center islands, which provide extra storage and work space.

“The center island has become an important part of the kitchen,” Rey-Barreau says. “So, it’s become necessary to address it from a lighting perspective.”

While pendants arranged in a series remain a popular over-island choice, large chandeliers are increasingly an attractive option as the breadth of these islands grows. This development has even given birth to a new genre of fixture, the oval chandelier, says home furnishings designer Karyl Pierce Paxton, President of Pierce Paxton Designs. The oval fixtures in her collections for Savoy House were top sellers for the company at the June 2006 Dallas Market.

“The oval chandelier is definitely an example of kitchen design trends driving lighting product design,” Pierce Paxton says. “There was a need there, and we jumped to fill it.”

Other manufacturers have followed suit. Companies such as Progress Lighting, Sea Gull Lighting, Thomas Lighting and Hubbardton Forge include elongated fixtures in their lines.

“Hubbardton Forge offers 22 different styles of hand-forged, configure-to-order pendants,” says Alison Burnside, Public Relations Specialist at Hubbardton Forge. “[We] also offer many larger pendants and fixtures of varying designs that would be used individually and are designed to fill a larger kitchen space.”

The Devil’s in the Details

Joining forces with the kitchen’s new culture, decorative trends in countertop, flooring, cabinetry and plumbing fixtures also impose a sizable impact on lighting. One of the most prominent trends in kitchen design con-tinues to be polished granite or marble countertops, Lenner says. While versatile and attractive, these specular surfaces create a major challenge for lighting designers installing undercabinet lighting.

“[Specular] countertops are the toughest task for kitchen lighting designers today,” says CLC-certified lighting designer Norm Brown of Norburn Lighting & Bath in Burnaby, British Columbia. “The undercabinet light shines down, and it is basically like looking into a mirror; the fixture shows up on the surface.”

As a result, lighting designers have had to devise special ways to shield undercabinet task lighting in these circumstances. Another trend that has really taken off in recent years is coordinating lighting fixtures with the plumbing fixtures. Lighting manufacturers have partnered with plumbing counterparts to create a suite of coordinating products. Checkolite Intl., for example, has secured licensing agreements with several companies, including Price Pfister, Moen, American Standard and Delta.

“We started with these brands because we were trying to create more of a suite in the bathroom and the kitchen,” says Lawrence Bibi, President of Checkolite. “It helps people really put a room together.”

The company’s current Price Pfister line comprises pendants, chandeliers and island lights that coordinate with Price Pfister faucets. Checkolite plans a large introduction of island lights and track lighting for the upcoming January Dallas Market, which will include fixtures that coordinate with Delta’s Victorian faucets.

“It’s a logical connection,” Rey-Barreau says. “They’re the two things in the kitchen that are a more finished product that’s permanently installed.”

Designers’ use of glass insets in cabinet doors is another kitchen trend that is driving a clear lighting response.

“The glass insets have opened up the possibilities for low voltage lighting inside the cabinets to create an ambient glow or to show off what’s inside,” Rey-Barreau says.

As a result of taller ceilings and homeowners’ desire to accessorize, builders are also dropping cabinets down to create a space where people can display collectibles, which imposes the need for extra accent lighting. Beautiful tile flooring opens up an opportunity for accent lighting, as well.

“We’re doing linear lighting in the kick spaces between the cabinets and the floor,” Brown explains. “You need an intense light down there to really appreciate the tile.”
 As the kitchen continues to function as the center of the home, consumers demand the best materials, fixtures and appliances.

“They’re buying all the top-end stuff and doing everything from entertaining to cooking in their kitchens and spending more and more time there,” Brown says. “They need better lighting to appreciate it.”

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