9 Small Kitchen Lighting Ideas for Big Results

One of the most important details in a modern kitchen is the lighting. Great lighting in a small kitchen can make the space feel larger and function better. Get inspired by these 9 lighting ideas that will make a big impact in a small kitchen.

Types of Lighting

Before you start planning the lighting and picking the fixtures, you should understand the three types of lighting used in lighting design. They are general (ambient) lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. Think of each type as a layer of light with a specific purpose.

Interior designers consider all three types when designing a project. This creates a well-rounded design and ensures that your space is adequately lit.

Here is a quick overview of the three types of lighting.

Ambient Lighting

Also called general lighting, ambient lighting is meant to provide overall illumination for a room. It should provide uniform light throughout the room, without depending on other light sources. Ceiling lights are often the primary source of ambient light.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is just as it sounds. It brightens an area enough to perform tasks like reading, writing, or cooking. Proper task lighting should create high illumination for a designated surface or area.

It’s good practice to be able to turn task lighting on and off independently of other lighting in the room.

Desk lamps and pendant lights are examples of task lighting.

Accent Lighting

When you want to draw attention to a specific point in a room, use accent lighting. This can include highlighting architectural features, artwork, plants, or items in a collection.

Accent lighting has more flexibility than the other types of lighting in terms of fixtures and their placement. Wall-mounted fixtures, downlights, uplights, and backlights are great examples of accent lighting.

While it’s not required lighting, accent lighting creates a well-rounded room design.

Lighting Ideas for A Small Kitchen

Idea #1 – Recessed Lighting

A small kitchen with recessed lighting

Recessed lighting is popular for all spaces. But because of its versatility, it’s especially good for small kitchens. LED recessed lights are small and unobtrusive, and work great for general, task, or accent lighting.

Recessed lighting is more functional than decorative, so combining it with fixtures is a great way to add detail to the overall design.

Idea #2 – Under Cabinet Lighting

Example of under cabinet lighting in a kitchen

Installing lights under the cabinets is the most effective way to illuminate your workspace as you prep, cook, and bake. Since they are mounted to the bottom of the upper cabinets, they are positioned perfectly between you and the countertop which eliminates shadows.

There are several types of lights that can be installed under cabinets. They include slim fixtures, puck lights, and LED strip lights.

If your cabinets do not go all the way to the ceiling, you can also add above cabinet lighting that shines upward and reflects off the ceiling. The can help a small kitchen feel larger, and also creates a nice ambiance when the overhead lights are off. 

Idea #3 – Lighting Centerpiece

Small kitchen with a centerpiece chandelier light in the middle

A centerpiece light is a fixture that becomes the focal point of the design.

If your kitchen has a low ceiling, a flush mount or semi-flush mount fixture can look stunning and fit perfectly in a small kitchen design.

Idea #4 – Pendant Lighting

Idea for pendant lighting in a small kitchen

Pendant lights are a kitchen staple. They are ceiling-mounted lights that suspend a single light bulb in the fixture. They come in a variety of designs and can be hung at different heights.

You’ll typically find pendant lights installed over a kitchen island. However, some small kitchens don’t have the space for a center island. That doesn’t mean you can’t use pendant lighting. A group of two or three pendants above a peninsula can be the perfect combination of task lighting and a focal centerpiece.

Idea #5 – Inside a Cabinet

Small kitchen in cabinet lighting example

Cabinet lighting can be functional and decorative. If you have cabinets with glass doors, it can provide a soft illumination for the entire kitchen. It can also make a small kitchen feel larger.

If you decide to add lights inside the cabinets, there are few ways to do it. If you light the cabinet from the top, you’ll need to use glass shelves so that the light can travel throughout the cabinet.

A second option is to use LED strip lights and install them vertically on both sides of the inside face of the cabinet. This will light the entire cabinet whether you use wood or glass shelves.

Idea #6 – Backlight Open Shelving

Example of open shelf uplighting in a kitchen

Open shelving is both an aesthetic choice and a great storage solution for small kitchens. It can be used to display a mix of dishes and decor.

It also creates an opportunity to feature the shelving using backlighting. This is done by installing LED strip lighting where the shelf meets the wall.

Idea #7 – Wall Sconces

Wall sconce above a sink in a small kitchen

Wall sconces can be a great choice for ambient or task lighting in small kitchens. Need to add more light to the kitchen but can’t fit a ceiling light? A wall sconce fixture could be a great solution.

If you have a place in your kitchen without upper cabinets, consider opting for wall light. It can be used illuminate a dark corner or install one as a task light directly above the kitchen sink.

Idea #8 – Track Lighting

Kitchen track lighting

If recessed lighting isn’t possible in your small kitchen, track lighting can be a good alternative. These ceiling-level adjustable spotlights (aka heads) are mounted to the ceiling on a fixed track and can be aimed in any direction.

If you decide to use track lighting in your kitchen, I recommend installing the tracks in a symmetrical pattern across the ceiling. Then use multiple heads to direct the light as needed.

Idea #9 – Light Up Drawers

LED lighting inside a small kitchen drawer

Drawers shouldn’t feel like an endless black hole, especially not in a small kitchen. Adding a small LED light inside the drawers will illuminate the space.

A drawer light is typically installed on the inside face of the cabinet above the drawer, and controlled by a sensor so it turns on automatically when you open the drawer. Besides being practical, this is the kind of detail that makes it look like a professional designed the kitchen.

Small Kitchen Lighting Design Tips

Now that you have some ideas to light your small kitchen, use these interior lighting design tips to pull the area together. These are especially important in a small space to prevent it from feeling cluttered.

Use Lighting to Define Spaces

Lighting can define a space. If you have an open floor plan, have your electrical fixtures wired in a way that the kitchen is controlled separately from other spaces like the breakfast nook and family room.

The light fixtures should also be organized in the ceiling so that they are placed and aligned in a logical way.

Keep Scale in Mind

Nothing makes a small room look overcrowded like furniture and fixtures that are too large for the space. You may have fallen in love with a stunning chandelier, but if it’s too large, it can look out of place in the room.

When shopping for fixtures, pay attention to how low a light will hang so you don’t have to dodge pendants as you walk through your kitchen. You also don’t want to choose lights that are too small for the room and won’t provide enough light for the space.

Color Temperature is Everything

Color temperature scale for halogen and LED lights

Color temperature is the hue of white that a light gives off. It is measured in kelvins (k). The lower the kelvin number, the warmer the hue. Warm lighting (~2700K) has yellow hues, while cool lighting (~5000K) has bluish-white hues.

Cool lighting is bright when illuminated. It’s commonly used in commercial spaces, so it can look too harsh in a home. Warm lighting feels more welcoming in most residential settings.

As a rule of thumb, sticking to a color temperature around 3000K for residential setting is a safe bet that’s not too yellow or too white.

Don’t overdo it

It can be easy to get carried away with lighting in a small kitchen, so try not to overdo it.

Limit the number of fixtures in the ceiling to what’s necessary, and keep hanging fixtures to a minimum. If you are using pendant lights above a peninsula, don’t also hang a chandelier in the middle – do one or the other.

In Conclusion

Whether you’re doing a total kitchen renovation or just a small makeover, updating the lighting is one of the best improvements you can make.

Hopefully I’ve presented you with some ideas that will provide the decorative and functional lighting you need, and make a big difference in your small kitchen.