The kitchen draws people – it’s a warm, welcoming space where people can mingle, easily set down a glass of wine, and snatch a piece of ham while it’s sliced. And if it’s true that the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the island is the heart of the kitchen. The kitchen island is used for everything from prepping food to cooking sauces, washing dishes to overseeing homework, drinking coffee to eating meals. Its lighting requires special attention because of this versatility and importance.


Pendants are one of the most popular forms of lighting over kitchen islands. But before you choose a pendant, consider number, size, and shade.

One of the biggest mistakes made is people tend to select pendants that are too small. If you favor small pendants, choose several, and cluster them together at various heights, or arrange them in a traditional line.  When grouping pendants together it’s best to stick with odd numbers for a balanced look. Remember, the more pendants you’re using, the simpler their design should be.  For example, bell pendants are perfect in spaces that require three or more pendants – their simple design will not distract from other accents in the area.

If you do find a large pendant you like, one or more will give your kitchen an upscale look.  If the fixture feels more like a chandelier than a pendant, it’s usually best to use one and let it make a statement.

Next, consider the size of your island.  Smaller or narrower islands often benefit from the use of glass pendants – ones that are clear so you can see through the fixture, intruding less into a smaller space. Longer, deeper islands look great with linear chandeliers.

Finally, consider the shade.  A clear or translucent shade will allow the light from the fixture to contribute to the overall ambient lighting of the room. But if you need task lighting more than ambient, an opaque shade will direct the light down for activities such as food prep and reading.

Recessed lighting

Recessed lighting for a kitchen island is best when the ceilings in the kitchen are a standard height. If the ceilings are high, leaving more than 6 feet between the countertop and the ceiling, recessed lighting is not enough for the multitude of tasks completed at an island.

Recessed cans should be positioned directly over the edge of the countertop. This will prevent the cook from blocking the light, and make sure the light can splash into open drawers. When choosing recessed cans, pick small 3 or 5-inch fixtures as they are best at focusing the light directly on the island.

Something in between

Looking for accent lighting that’s a little less show-stealing than pendants, but adds more style than recessed cans? Track lighting is not too ‘70s to fill that space. Modern gallery-style track lights on the ceiling add directional lighting to an island while maintaining an open, airy look.

The right bulb in the right place

Typically, you’ll want your kitchen lighting a warmer temperature – 2700-3500K.  Keep in mind, even though open-bottom pendants will help with task lighting, when they are paired with powerful bulbs they create a glaring spotlight.  Placing kitchen lighting on a dimmer will allow you to adjust.

Chandeliers and pendant lights should sit 28 to 34 inches above the surface of an island.  Because people will often both stand and sit around it, the placement of hanging fixtures should be high enough that people can see each other, but low enough they aren’t blinded by their bulbs.  The best way to determine the height is to enlist someone to help – one person standing on a ladder, altering the height of the fixture, while the other determines what works best and measures that distance from the bottom of the fixture to the floor.

Like it or not

Like it or not, if you have a kitchen island, it’s where people will end up.  It’s near the action, and its relaxed messy nature will draw family and friends.  Even though there are articles devoted to how to keep guests out of your kitchen, I say accept it, and even invite it!  But above all plan for it, and the proper lighting will help you do just that.

Sprout new ideas with our home & garden newsletter!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.