Should You Have Lights Over The Kitchen Island? Designers Unanimously Agree If They Are Worth Budgeting For

While we all understand the need for good general illumination, are special lights above the island all that important? Experts have a definitive answer

A kitchen with pendant lights above the island
(Image credit: Estudio Recente)

Lighting is one of the best ways to upgrade the look and feel of the kitchen, but when it comes to specific areas of this room, how important is it to light every element? Is it worth investing in special island lights when you already have ambient lighting around?

To answer this completely valid question, we reached out to experts who offered key advice and suggestions on kitchen island lighting. Read on.

Should you have lights above the island?

A kitchen island with pendant lights above it

(Image credit: Sarah E. Elliott. Studio credit Branca and Co)

Whether you have a small, standalone kitchen island or a kitchen island with seating, the need for lights above is crucial, as per experts.

'If there is an island in a kitchen, lighting will add two main features: illumination for better cooking and design interest to an otherwise plain surface,' says Julia Mack, founder of Julia Mack Design.

Lights also help highlight the materiality of the island; so if you have a special, bespoke piece laid out, then the light will shine focus on its design.

'Since the island is usually a working space, you require lights in a specific direction to aid in that work,' says Jane Lockhart, founder of Jane Lockhart Design. From chopping, dining to even children doing their homework on the island, a focused light goes a long way.

What type of lights are best?

A kitchen island with track lighting above

(Image credit: Renato Navarro. Studio credit Ticiane Lima Arquitetura e Interiores)

Kitchen island lighting can be of three types: pendants, chandeliers, and track lights, where all three add style, functionality, and versatility to the room.

'Any type of lighting over the island can serve your needs,' says Jane. 'Single pendants in a row over the island is still popular. However, for more modern looks a single horizontal bar of strip lights with continuous lighting across the counter surface has risen in popularity.' What's better, track lights with individual fixtures can be turned, and you can pivot them as per your needs.

Pendants and strip lights aside, chandeliers too are a great fixture of choice as these add an ornamental touch to the room and disperse light around the room. Plus, choices are galore in this style with rectangular chandeliers, cluster chandeliers, and many more.

How many lights are ideal for the island?

A kitchen with pendant lights above the island

(Image credit: Estudio Recente)

'To determine that, first, take into account your kitchen island layout, and measure the island and the ceiling height,' says Julia. 'This will help to determine the proportion of the light fixture that will look right in the space. High ceilings can accommodate a multi-light pendant whereas a lower ceiling will work better with a more simple linear fixture.'

'Consider lighting that has several bulbs instead of one singular bulb, as this will enhance the function over the kitchen island and add to the more general illumination in the space,' says Julia.

What are the rules to hanging lights above the island?

A kitchen island with a pendant hanging above

(Image credit: Phil Crozier. Studio credit Reena Sotropa + Alanna Dunn)

For hanging kitchen island pendant lighting, 'you need to make sure they are equally spaced and hung high enough to not hit your head when you lean over the island,' says Jane. 'This would start at 36" above the island but can be higher.'

Make sure you hang the fixture such that it enhances the shape and function of the countertop below them. So centering just a couple of pendants above the space is usually best.

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Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast).  Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.