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Today's kitchens are more than just places to prepare meals. In addition to its primary food function, this room ranks as the heart of the home and center of family activity. Kids study there; parents pay the bills and write checks there; everyone reads the morning paper in the kitchen; families eat their meals there.


Such multi-tasking kitchens demand equally versatile lighting. Gone are the days when a single 100-watt fixture centered in the kitchen's ceiling was sufficient. This means that everywhere around the perimeter, where most of the work is done, is done in one's own shadow. To make matters worse, the fixture is usually undersized, and we all need more light as we get older.


Fortunately, kitchen lighting has gone through quite an evolution in the last few years not only in the type and design, but also in the areas in which it is placed.


The right recipe for lighting your kitchen depends on the size and complexity of the room. Small kitchens may require only a central ceiling fixture and task lighting tucked under a cabinet. More elaborate kitchens will demand a blend of general, task and accent lighting.


Determine what you want the lights to do. Lighting can be decorative or functional, and occasionally find fixtures that do both.


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. The kitchen table is another family focal point. A decorative pendant, operating with a dimmer control, will provide sufficient lighting. Make a statement by hanging a pendant, then backing it up with task lighting at the counter.


Consider a decorative fixture with three lights. "A trio over an island provides good light and It breaks up the kitchen but you can still see through it." The top trends in decorative finishes include wrought iron, often in rust or other earth tones. Painted finishes are also popular. Colored glass bypasses plain white in popularity. Pewter and satin nickel finishes replace the basic brass look.


You want to position your lighting so that the light spills into all the areas of your kitchen. If you are spending the money on nice cabinets, for example, you want to make sure they are lit properly. If not, the light actually creates gray shadow areas.


Lighting the spaces above and below the cabinets has become more important than ever. Available in slim, energy-efficient designs such as miniature track lights or low-voltage linear systems, under- and overcabinet lighting quickly and easily lights up counter tops and accents ceilings.


Under-counter lights have gone from option to necessity, with the advent of larger kitchens. Over cabinet lighting emphasizes tall ceilings. Today, many cabinets don't go all the way to the ceiling and by adding light above them, the result is a more spacious feeling.


The kitchen "office" or workspace is the latest trend in need of good lighting. Sometimes these are desk areas for paying bills or copying recipes. More often than not, however, they include a computer.


Computer workspaces in the kitchen introduce a new twist. Remember that the computer itself is illuminated, so you need to light the paperwork, not the computer itself.

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