Kitchen Lighting

Kitchen Lighting: A Q+A with Lighting Designer Gregg Mackell

Lighting designer Gregg Mackell shares his insights on how to light the heart of the home: the kitchen.

Q. What considerations should be taken into account when lighting a kitchen?

A. Creating balance, lighting task areas, and providing good ambient light are really important to good kitchen lighting design. Start by filling in the task lighting. If there are upper cabinets, use undercabinet lighting. Where there are peninsulas, sinks, islands, or other workspaces, make sure they have good task lighting. This can be accomplished with either architectural lighting, decorative lighting, or a combination. Once task areas are taken care of, add some ambient lighting. Ambient lighting is very important for creating a good feel in a space and can be accomplished by cove lighting, pendant lights that glow out and light the ceiling, or possibly even uplights from the tops of the cabinets. Finally, I would look to add some accent lighting. This could be art lighting, lighting within cabinets, art niches, or other details. I’ve designed some kitchens with a single switchleg and others with twenty. Every project is a bit different, so look at what you have to work with and fill in the blanks. If all of these layers of light are assembled in a balanced way, your lighting composition will be great. I also like to dim everything even though I’ve never had a client complain about their kitchen being too bright.

Q. What are the best kinds of light sources to use?

A. I specify a combination of sources in most kitchens. Many decorative fixtures work best with incandescent or halogen lighting. For recessed lights, I use either halogen or LED depending on the project, the client, and the location. For all linear sources, I now use almost exclusively LED lighting. Many people believe that LED lighting will replace all other sources within the next few years. The LED sources available are getting better and more efficient every year.

Q. How about efficiency? How can we incorporate energy-saving lighting in the kitchen? 

A. I typically stay away from compact fluorescents in kitchens because of the large apertures required, the warm-up time, and the cost to dim. For recessed lights, Halogen IR technology has been my bread and butter since the 1990s, but I’m transitioning to LED sources now that there are options with good punch, dimmability, and color rendering. The cost is still a barrier to some applications, but that is headed in the right direction as well.

Q. What are some common pitfalls people run into when lighting their kitchens?

A. Most production homebuilders have set a really low bar when it comes to kitchen lighting. Their $10 recessed glare bombs are sold as an upgrade and tend to fill the kitchens of many homes. What you’ll find is that if you upgrade to light sources that reduce the glare, the kitchen will feel better and brighter. Another pitfall is going with the least expensive undercabinet lighting. This can lead to melted chocolate chips, constant maintenance, or meat that looks grey and salad that looks brown.

Gregg Mackell is a founder and principal owner of 186 Lighting Design Group in Denver, Colorado. After getting a jumpstart in Illumination Engineering through the University of Colorado’s Architectural Engineering program in the 1990s, Mackell has worked on projects ranging from arenas, lodges, and resorts down to lighting of single pieces of artwork. As a speaker, Mackell has given talks at the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD)’s annual conference, AIA meetings, universities, and other events. Under Mackell’s direction, 186 Lighting Design Group has designed the lighting for over 1,000 custom residences from Los Angeles to New York and Calgary to St. Lucia. His work has won international lighting design competitions and been published in magazines around the globe.

Comments are closed.