Lighting Over An Island

Lets talk about kitchen island lighting ideas. Kitchens and breakfast areas are two of the areas in a home that require the most functional lighting. The last thing you want when you are cooking dinner is to not have enough light over your work space.

Hanging lights over an island can be a really tricky decision. Island lights can become the focal point of your kitchen and have a dramatic impact, so in addition to providing the right lighting over your work areas they should complement your interior design.

You need to have the right size light and the right number of lights to make your island or bar stand out. There are a lot of factors to consider before you choose your kitchen island lights.

how to light an island

You need to consider the size of the island, the ceiling height, the finish that compliments your kitchen and whether you have a range hood over the island. You should also consider all the different styles and what type of light will fit your needs.

I’ll take you through some dos and don’ts for lighting your kitchen island.

How Do You Hang Lights Over An Island?

The first step, which is the same with many home projects is to know the length of your kitchen island and the width of the island. Also measure the distance from the bottom of the island to the ceiling. Armed with this knowledge, you can tell how many and how large your lights should be.

Most island lighting requires a light box installed in your ceiling, which makes this beyond a DIY project for most people. If you are doing a kitchen remodel placing the lights above the island is something the electrician will do early in the process so it’s a decision you must make at the beginning.

How Big Should A Light Fixture Be Over An Island?

Sometimes a picture can be worth a thousand words. Choosing the perfect fixture depends on the proportions of your kitchen, and the size of your island. As a general rule of thumb larger islands look better with larger pendants or fixtures and more fixtures. Lets look at a few examples.

Here are a few rules to live by for island lighting that apply to all kitchens:

  • Don’t put pendants closer than 2 feet apart.
  • Do distribute lights evenly over the island.
  • Don’t place lights within 6-12 inches from the edge of the island.
  • Do hang approximately 1 pendant every 24-30 inches.
  • Do hang wider/larger fixtures if you have a large island or your island is deep.
  • Do hang lights 30-36 inches above the island (if your family is very tall, add 6 inches). You never want lights to be at eye level.

Based on these rules as an example let’s say you have a 5 foot island. First subtract one foot from each edge. This leaves 3 feet in the middle. Based on this you should hang two lights. The space is too small for three lights.

Proportion Is Important

The larger the island, the larger the fixture it can accommodate. In the photos above you can see that deeper islands look better with pendants that are larger in scale. A chandelier can be a nice thing to hang over very deep island. For example, in the photo below, the pendants look a little small relative to the size of the island.

Proportion Is Important

The larger the island, the larger the fixture it can hold. In the photos above you can see that deeper islands look better with pendants that are larger in scale. A chandelier can be a nice thing to hang over very deep island. For example, in the photo below, the pendants look a little small relative to the size of the island.

island lighting

With lighting we are often tempted to go too small. Lighting can be a great way to really make a statement above an island, so size up. Think of your lights like you think of jewelry for your outfit.

Square shaped islands are unusual, but if you’re planning for one consider a chandelier instead of pendant lighting. The proportion of a chandelier tends to match the size of the island better. Here’s an example in the photo below. This fixture has a lot of dimension that a single pendant wouldn’t.

island lighting

If you are on the fence between putting two lights or three, use the rule of threes. Having three lights can give the room a more balanced feel than having two, as long as they fit.

Can you hang pendants if You Have Low Ceilings?

Most of the images you see are these gigantic kitchens with 10 foot ceilings. It is still possible to use a pendant with an 8 foot ceiling. Here are three things you can do with 8 foot ceilings:

  • Use a row chandelier that doesn’t hang down quite as far (see examples below)
  • Use lights that are clear so that your view isn’t blocked.
  • Hang them a little lower than 30″ above the island.

What If You Have A vent over Your Island?

Many islands have a cook top in them with a vent hood above. This makes adding lights even more tricky. You can hang smaller pendant lights on either side, but be careful because it can look like too busy. Sometimes it’s better to use recessed lights if you have a hood above the island.

If you have a range hood above your island consider raising your lights up a few inches to protect them from the heat of the cook top. If you want to learn about choosing the right vent hood, read this article.

island lighting with vent

Pendants Vs chandeliers over an island

I define a chandelier as a light that has more than one bulb. If your island is just on the border of needing three lights verses two, using a multi-light fixture can be a great option. Here are two examples of what these look like.

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Should you use Dimmers in kitchen lighting?

One of the reasons that kitchen lighting is so important is that you need to be able to see when you are cutting an onion. But it can feel too bright if you aren’t in the middle of cooking. If you are installing new lighting why not get dimmers? They can be a really nice for a kitchen especially if its part of a larger living area. You can get just the amount of light you want.

I hope this helps you decide how to choose the lighting for your kitchen island. Please put any questions you have in the comments. Look for a future post on where to buy affordable pendant lights and chandeliers that look great over an island.

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  1. Charlotte Sult says:

    how do you know where to place your pendants front to back?

    1. Charlotte,

      That’s a good question. They should hang in the center front to back.


  2. Lynn Starkman says:

    What should you do if your ceiling over the island is sloped?

    1. Lynn,

      That’s a great question and I found a few examples for you. The lighting rules are the same, you just need to look for lights that have a sufficient drop to get near enough to the counter to light it properly. Here are a few photos to show you.

      You can use recessed lights over the island, but if the vault is really high it might leave the space feeling too dark for chopping or things that require a little bit more light.

      I hope this helps. You can see lots of examples in Pinterest if you look at “kitchens with vaulted ceilings”


  3. I have a 70” square island. What size should the chandelier be? Thank you

    1. Sarah,

      If you want to go with a single fixture, I would use one that is at least 24-36″ hung in the center. That gives you at least 17″ from the end to of each side to the fixture. (70-36=34) divided by 2.

      If you want to use two fixtures the island is large enough to put two hung evenly spaced 15″ pendants that are 12″ from the ends.

      Does that make sense?


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