Light Your Way

Kitchen Track Lighting

Kitchen track lighting helps both with your kitchen’s task and decorative lighting.


In the 1970s, kitchen track lighting became one of the most popular types of lighting. Since that heyday, its use has dropped off, but it can still be a very effective tool for kitchen lighting. While there are some common mistakes made in using track lighting, there are still some tasks that it can perform better than any other sort of lighting. Kitchen track lighting is lighting that is placed on one or multiple tracks located on the ceiling of the kitchen. The track itself is powered, spreading electricity to all of the various fixtures that are on the track. Most track lighting systems make use of halogen bulbs, such as low-voltage 12V light bulbs, that are called “parabolic halogen reflectors”. These are lights that reflect light from the back, creating a more intense beam of light on various locations.

The lighting is extremely flexible, as it allows you to move the lighting from place to place on the track, depending on your needs. In general, this is less useful in the kitchen than it is in other spaces of the home, because most of the installations in the kitchen are fixed. Still, this flexibility can be quite useful for when track lighting is used as accent lighting.

When To Use Kitchen Track Lighting

Track lighting over a kitchen island

It is quite common to have a track lighting that traces countertops.

The answer to, “when should I use kitchen track lighting?”, used to be “for absolutely everything.” This is no longer the case. However, there are still a number of different tasks for which track lighting is ideal, often even better than its rival, recessed lighting fixtures.

As Task Lighting

The first possibility is to use track lighting as task lighting in some very specific areas. Under-kitchen-cabinet lighting is usually the best task lighting for lighting your countertops, but not all countertops are right next to cabinets. As a result, other sources must be used to properly light those countertops.

While one option is to use a pendant light or lights, pendants may not fit with the style you are looking for in your room, and the light from pendants is not as intense and you might want for your task lighting. Instead, track lighting provides a possible source of light for countertops that are not near cabinets.

The track lighting must be placed carefully, however, so as not to create shadows or glare. If the countertop is only used from one side, then the lights should be placed on the opposite side of the counter top to prevent people’s shadows from getting in the way when they use the counter.

If the counter is used from both sides, you should actually light the counter top from the left and right of where the people will be standing. This way, they will not cast shadows if they lean over the countertop.

Track lighting shone onto cabinets

Shining track lighting onto cabinets provides both excellent task lighting for looking through cabinets and attractive ambient lighting when the cabinet is closed.

In either case, you should be careful to avoid glare. If the counter is a reflective surface like granite, people shouldn’t have to look down into the reflection of a bright light. You can either move the lighting to the side or use a filter on the light to diffuse the light that is produced.

Track lighting can also be used for cabinet task lighting. Most people don’t light their cabinets, and those cabinets are often a source of frustration. Aside from the difficulty of reaching up, it is also extremely difficult to see what is in the cabinets.

A solution for this is to shine track lighting on your cabinets. When your cabinets are closed, the track lighting provides some nice accent lighting, showing off the wood of your cabinets (or showing off your dishes if your cabinets have glass doors). When they are open, the track lighting serves as task light, making it easier to see what you are doing when you are getting dishes.

As Accent Lighting

Kitchen track lighting can also be used as accent lighting, and this is when its flexibility really comes in handy. When kitchens were considered more of a functional space, the idea of putting decorations in it seemed silly. However, now people love to decorate their kitchens, using everything from works of art to ornate spice racks. None of these decorations will stand out, however, unless they are lit properly.

Kitchen track lighting provides flexible, targeted accent lighting that can be pointed at whatever decorations in your kitchen you want your guests to look at. It can even be combined on the same track with your task lighting, allowing you to add a few accents without creating a substantial amount of installation.

When Not to Use Kitchen Track Lighting

The primary reason that track lighting fell out of favor as the main source of kitchen lighting wasn’t the result of changes of taste. It was because track lighting actually has some serious drawbacks when used for certain types of illumination.

This track lighting will fail even as task lighting.

Track lighting should never be placed behind people using kitchen appliances.

Track lighting’s primary difficulty appears when it is used as the primary source of task lighting for the kitchen. It was very common to put the track lighting behind people as they used countertops, stoves and other tools. Because of the strength of the beam, this cast extremely strong shadows all over what it was that people were trying to work on, which could even be dangerous. So, if kitchen track lighting is to be used as task lighting, it shouldn’t be shone from behind the people you are trying to help.

The second problem with track lighting as a primary source of lighting is that it doesn’t light people’s faces very well. Because track lighting casts strong beams of light, people’s faces get harsh shadows when they are lit primarily by track lighting. Use track lighting to light things, while using pendant or wall lighting to light people’s faces.

Putting It All Together

Kitchen track lighting has fallen out of favor, but it is still a very useful source of lighting:

  • As task lighting, it can light countertops that are not under cabinets and light the inside of cabinets
  • As accent lighting, it can accentuate the decorations or details of your kitchen.

On the other hand, kitchen track lighting should not be used for some things:

  • It should not be used as task lighting from behind people or from directly above a countertop.
  • It should not be used to light people.

Despite its flaws, track lighting remains an important part of kitchen lighting design.


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