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Today's kitchen is the hub of the house, an area in which a variety of activities take place - everything from meal preparation to paying bills to kids doing their homework. Because of its multi-functional status, it's important the lighting is versatile and can enhance the varied moods of the room.

Remodeling professionals say many homeowners who embark on a kitchen remodel fail to carefully think about lighting.

"Lighting is one of the most under-designed components in the home-and one of the most important," the National Association of the Remodeling Industry tells web site visitors.

Members of the American Lighting Association say there are three types of lighting:

  1. General lighting provides an area with overall illumination. Also known as ambient lighting, general lighting radiates a comfortable level of brightness.
  2. Task lighting helps you perform specific tasks such as reading, sewing, cooking, homework, hobbies, games, or balancing your checkbook. It can be provided by recessed and track lighting, pendant lighting, and portable lamps.
  3. Accent lighting adds drama to a room by creating visual interest. As part of a decorating scheme, it is used to spotlight paintings, houseplants, sculptures, and other prized possessions, or to highlight the texture of a wall, drapery or outdoor landscaping.

Functional fixtures will provide well-diffused general lighting perfect for moving about the room safely, peering inside drawers and cabinets, and performing chores. While large, surface fluorescents have been popular in the past, the latest looks revolve around recessed lights and low voltage, industrial styles, often with a metal finish.

Recessed downlights assure even illumination. Install them over the stove and sink areas to create adequate task lighting for cooking and cleaning.

"When you add new lights over the sink or stove, the whole area comes alive," said Barry Levett, owner and president of House of Lights in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. "Those are the areas where Mr. and Ms. Consumer spend lots of their time."

The kitchen table is another family focal point. A decorative pendant, operating with a dimmer control, will provide sufficient lighting, the ALA says.

The ALA and NARI offer these additional tips for lighting your kitchen:

  1. Be prepared when you go out shopping and researching. Bring a picture of your kitchen to the lighting showroom or store. Know your kitchen's dimensions, the ceiling height, where the doors are, and how much space there is between the cabinets and the ceiling.
  2. Know how much of your kitchen you're willing to tear apart, particularly whether the ceiling will be coming out.
  3. You may want to ask a lighting professional for assistance. It's sometimes easier when they can actually see the kitchen.
  4. Use the same color bulbs throughout the kitchen.
  5. Decide what kind of lighting you want before walls and cabinets are installed. Don't wait until the project is over to determine that your kitchen is too dark. The wiring needs to be installed in the walls, behind the cabinets.

Mark Raissen, director of lighting design for Lamps Plus, says your wall color should be factored in, too.

"Keep in mind your choice of wallpaper or paint scheme," said Raissen. "Dark tiles or wall colors need more light than lighter, more reflective decorating schemes."

Also, today's modern kitchen with an office or workspace will also need adequate lighting. Sometimes these are desk areas for paying bills or copying recipes. More often than not, however, they include a computer.

You should light the paperwork, not the computer itself.

Every kitchen is individual and task lighting depends on cabinet layout and computer location. Too much light can wash out the screen.

"Consider a fluorescent task light for the computer," said Steve Birdwell, salesperson for Bay Lighting & Design in San Francisco, Calif. "Be sure to cover the keyboard and work materials."

Halogen undercabinet lighting offers another option. "Sometimes, there is not enough space for a wall light or a table top lamp in this workspace," said Levett. "But a small halogen desk lamp might work well, putting the light where you need it."

No matter how many lights you install in your kitchen, the experts recommend circuiting them separately so the lighting is zoned. This allows you to create ambience by mixing the various lights you turn on.

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