Aesthetic Lighting Help

Lighting the Kitchen Island

An internet search of “kitchen island lighting” will deliver a host of options and opinions covering placement. Which one to believe? Here are a collection of my thoughts on adding light over a kitchen island.


It is unlikely that an island in the kitchen has ever been as popular as today. It remains one of the most requested aspects of new home construction and images of fashionable islands overflow on Pinterest and Instagram. That said, the islands build today (2021) are different than those build even as short as five years ago. Islands are bigger, wider and more aesthetically significant. Coupled with taller ceiling heights, the answers that made sense in 2016 may not be valid today.


Some people immediately associate island lighting with a trio of small pendants. This implementation is so ubiquitous, many think there is no other solution. Pendants still remain a wonderful and stylish option, but preferences have shifted. Gone are the tiny cobalt blue halogen glare bombs! There are now more fashionable updates. Regardless of choice, the bottom of the pendant should always be positioned 36” from the top of the island.

The pendants selected and the quantity used should be proportional to both the island and the room.

Short/small islands will look best with two or three pendants with a diameter of 4” to 8”. Longer islands will need more pieces. Try for an uneven quantity of lights. This will always appear more balanced.

Narrow islands should also stick with the 4” to 8” diameters range. Wide islands will look better at 8” to 15”.

Smaller diameter units should be closer together; larger diameter can be farther apart. I like the distance between shades to equal the diameter to diameter and a half. For example, if the shade is 10”, then there should be a space between of 10” to 15”.

Square islands can amplify their unique style with four pendants, one near each corner. A round island could be dynamic with a single larger diameter pendant at the center. Unusual island designs should invite creative lighting solutions.

A ceiling height of 8’-0” demands a smaller pendant height. Many smaller pendants have a height of 8” to 15” and those will work well. Most new construction has 9’-0” ceiling height minimums and often times can be 10’-0” or 12’-0”. The short fixtures will simply look out of place unless hanging elevations are staggered. Seek out lighting that measures 18” in height and consider those as tall as 30”.

 8’-0” Ceilings9’-0” to 12’-0” Ceilings
Small Islands Narrow Islands4” to 8” diameter 8” to 15” height4” to 8” diameter 18” to 30” height
Large Islands Wide Islands8” to 15” diameter 8” to 15” height8” to 15” diameter 18” to 30” height

Island Lights / Linear Pendants

Over the last five years, the popularity of linear island lights has skyrocketed. This is a result of growing island sizes, multiple islands and a rejection of ultra-small pendant.

Choose a length that is somewhere between 1/3 and ½ the length of the island. The width must also be commensurate with the island. Narrow islands should stick with a 4” to 8” width. Wider island can user wider luminaires. As with the pendants, taller ceiling height can accommodate taller fixture heights, but if your ceiling is 8’-0”, select a height in the 12” to 15” range.

…but, I Have a Pot Rack!

While not nearly as popular as they were years ago, users still swear by pot racks for the same reason they are favored in commercial kitchens. That convenient placement does however hinder illumination. The only sure fire answer is confirmation that the ambient light, typically provided by recessed cans is well laid out for the room size, ceiling height and finish/color. Light must be delivered onto the working surface of the island from behind the user, so an ineffective design will result in a substandard amount of light on the island.

How Much Light?

Yes, the light from a pendant will deliver concentrated light to the work surface, but in a well-lit kitchen, the yeoman’s work will be accomplished by the ambient light. As with the pot rack scenario, remember that pendants work in tandem with the recessed cans. Together, they deliver the light that is needed, where it is needed. Individually, they can only do a partial job.

Islands in the kitchen will be with us for the foreseeable future. To maximize their functionality, intelligently selected lighting is essential. To make the room look its best, proper proportions must be considered and as you can see, there are many parameters to arrive at those choices. Take the time and do it right for the best results. You’ll be glad you did.

2 replies on “Lighting the Kitchen Island”

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