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Restaurant Style Lights: Pendant Lights For A Better Kitchen Island Bar

Adding bar style seating to a kitchen island is a great way to create a relaxed, casual gathering space. While traditional dining rooms keep guests out of the kitchen and away from the food prep, a kitchen island bar is great for getting everyone involved and making sure you don’t exclude your cook from the fun. Hanging restaurant style lights above your kitchen island can go a long way towards enhancing this intimate, restaurant/bar like atmosphere, both by improving the mood lighting and by enhancing the ambiance of the space itself.

Cilindro Pendant 522-1SC-LA from Elk Lighting
Cilindro Pendant 522-1SC-LA from Elk Lighting
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Restaurant style pendant lights are generally pretty simple in design, with basic, colored glass shades and a wire, cord, or rigid metal post that connects them to the ceiling. But this design is also incredibly iconic – they’re the same kinds of lights you’ll find hanging over almost any booth or bar stool in any restaurant or bar you walk into. Mimicking that style is a great way to make your kitchen island feel like a fun, casual spot for socialization. Red is probably the most common color, but restaurant style lights can come in basically any color or combination of colors, as well as a wide range of finishes, so it’s easy to find pendants that are in this basic style, but with a look that will match your kitchen.

Piedra 1-light Genuine Stone Pendant 10147-1 from Elk Lighting
Piedra 1-light Genuine Stone Pendant 10147-1 from Elk Lighting
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While most pendant lights you’d find in an actual restaurant stick with a simple glass shade, when decorating a kitchen island you have a bit more room to get creative in terms of the size and shape of your light. While the vast majority stick with a very conventional design, many other lights are widened or elongated, tapered or rounded out, or even flared or squished. Shapes range from fat round globes to long, lean cylinders and everything in between. Obviously, some of these designs are less conventional, but hanging a row of matching pendant lights with colored glass shades (regardless of the shape) will still give you that restaurant-like look and feel.

Kaolin 1-Light Pendant 31144-1 from Elk Lighting
Kaolin 1-Light Pendant 31144-1 from Elk Lighting
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The actual light produced by restaurant style lights is just as important as the appearance of the fixture itself. The kinds of large, open kitchens where you’re likely to find an island large enough to sit at are also the kinds of kitchens that really need a lot of well-chosen lighting fixtures to work well. All that open space can easily feel amorphous, and defining individual areas with lights is a good way to add visual cues and boundaries to a space that isn’t walled in. A few pendants that cast pools of warm, dim lighting can give a bar-like ambiance to your kitchen island, both drawing attention to the space and giving visual cues to its function.

Confections Fudge 1-Light Pendant 31130-1 from Elk Lighting
Confections Fudge 1-Light Pendant 31130-1 from Elk Lighting
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As with the lights in actual restaurants, you don’t want these pendant lights to be too bright. The lighting above a kitchen island seating area isn’t the same kind of lighting you need in a prep space. You probably aren’t going to accidentally chop off a finger if you can’t see clearly, and lower lights can make food look more appetizing, so you don’t need to turn on the high beams. Restaurant style lighting is very much about mood lighting rather than task lighting, so choose your bulbs accordingly. The only exception to this rule is when prep work is also done on the kitchen island – say, if you have a built in sink, a butcher block, or even a range top. If that’s the case, you either want to double up on your lighting (with brighter lights over the prep space and dimmer ones over the seating), or simply stick with a brighter light for safety.

Kersey Pendant 10342-1 from Elk Lighting
Kersey Pendant 10342-1 from Elk Lighting
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How many pendant lights you’ll need for your kitchen island depends both on the size of the island and the size of the fixtures themselves. The wider your island, the more lights you’ll need, and the bigger the lights, the fewer you’ll need. Since both of these factors can vary pretty widely, there’s really no hard-and-fast rule for exactly how many lights to use. That said, this is a good place to apply the rule of threes; having exactly three pendant lights feels both intentional and elegantly symmetrical, and will pretty much always be visually pleasing. More or less can work, but three is generally considered to be ideal. For a very large island, aim for an odd number of lights for a similar effect, but first and foremost make sure not to crowd your pendants or space them out so much that you don’t have adequate lighting.

Gemstone 1-Light Pendant 542-1 from Elk Lighting
Gemstone 1-Light Pendant 542-1 from Elk Lighting
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Restaurant style lights tend to be hung a little lower than your average lighting fixtures, but in a kitchen island application you want to be careful not to hang the lights too low. No one that sits at your counter should be in danger of hitting their head, and you definitely don’t want anyone to be staring directly into a light bulb. As a rule of thumb, pendants should hang anywhere from 60″ 72″ above the floor, or between 28″ and 34″ above the surface of the counter, but these are measurements you definitely want to test against the heights of your family members (and your island, stools, and counter!) before you commit to a final installation. Restaurant style lights are meant to add ambiance, not an irritating distraction!

What do you think of these restaurant style lights? Do you like the low-light, intimate look and feel of a bar-inspired lighting? Let me know in the comments below!