Kitchen Island Lighting: 3 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make


The decisions that come with a kitchen renovation seem endless: cabinet face frame style and color, countertop material, backsplash, knobs vs. pulls (and which ones?!), appliances…and on and on and on.

Decision fatigue sets in fast, and yet renovating a kitchen is a huge investment, so you feel the pressure to make decisions that are as timeless as possible.  Keeping a “this is a marathon, not a sprint” mindset is essential (albeit not always easy). Just when you’re feeling like you’re at mile 10 in the 26.2 mile race with nary a water station in sight, you’re faced with yet another decision: Lighting.

And not just one lighting decision. Multiple. You’ve got to consider task lighting, ambient lighting, under-cabinet lighting…and of course: lighting for the kitchen island.

Kitchen lighting is a topic that could cover multiple blog posts, so for today, let’s narrow it down and tackle just island lighting. Let’s look at 3 common mistakes and how you can avoid them:

Blocking Your Sight Line

Ahhh… the siren’s call of pendants! It’s easy to be swept up by the allure of pendant lighting over a kitchen island. There are so many beautiful fixtures out there these days. And let’s face it, pendants in a kitchen are like jewelry in an otherwise fairly utilitarian space. You look through the kitchens of Pinterest, Houzz, Instagram, and magazines and it’s often the pendants that first catch your eye. But…they can also block your eye. Think carefully about where your own island is located in your kitchen. Is it directly opposite the cooktop and sink area? Is the cooktop or sink in your island? If you plan to spend lots of time cooking or cleaning (even if you don’t necessarily want to be doing those things!), think about what your view (or anyone’s view in that spot) will be looking out over the island. Is there a family room just beyond and a TV that you’d like to be able to see?

Now, If you’re on the shorter side like me (5’4”), pendants won’t be an issue either way. They’ll be above your sight line. But it’s another story for my husband. If our cooking/cleaning area were behind our island and he was trying to catch a game on TV while working there, the pendants would very much be in his way and be very annoying. (And as the lighting-decision-maker in the house, I would rue the day I decided on pendants!)

So first and foremost consider function. How do you use your space? Will the pendants be something you admire while you toil away? Or will you resent them each time you try to have a conversation with guests in the adjoining family room and find yourself talking to a light fixture? It might be best to keep a clear sight line and simply put recessed lights over your island. This also gives your kitchen a clean, uncluttered look. Or, if you truly can’t give up on pendants, go for clear glass ones.

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Right Light, Wrong Height

Let’s say you’ve decided on the pendant route. The next decision is how high to hang them. Pendants are like drop earrings. They look best with a good amount of “hang.” Too high and they’ll look like some weird hybrid between a flush mount and a pendant. Hang your pendants approximately 30-34” from countertop to bottom of the light fixture. Here are some nice examples:

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Like the idea of mixing shapes or sizes? You can also play around with staggering the heights a bit. Make sure the lowest one hangs within the guidelines.

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On this note, purchase pendants with an adjustable cord, chain, or pole. And be sure that the maximum extension length suits your needs.

The Incredible Shrinking Pendant (Or Island)

You don’t want your lights to look too puny for your island, or your island to be dwarfed by your lights (although we are seeing an uptick in large, dramatic island pendants these days).

Size can be very subjective. Basically, it’s all about scale. You need to think about the size of your island, the height of your ceilings, and how many pendants you’d like to hang. The larger the island and the higher the ceiling, the bigger the light fixtures can be.

If you like the idea of hanging three pendants, sketch your island. Center the first pendant over the island. Be sure to sketch it showing its widest diameter so you can get a sense of the scale.  Can you space the other two pendants at least 28” apart? Is there at least 12” of space from the edge of the island to the pendants. If so, you should be good to go!

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If you like the idea of two larger pendants, do the same sketch with two larger pendants and see how it looks. Can you space the twop pendants at least 30” apart and still be at least 12-18” from the edge?


Of course, if the idea of all this sketching has you down, there’s always single light fixtures meant for kitchen islands as well….maybe we can visit those options in a future blog 🙂

Ohhhh….and whatever you ultimately decide, please, put it on a dimmer!

Thanks so much for stopping by!


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