Pantry Lighting Tips

Pantry Lighting Tips

Pantry Lighting Do's & Don'ts:

As a residential lighting consultant, the first thing I look at when I see pictures of beautiful homes is the lighting. Will it educate me? Will I see how it can be improved? 

This morning, when I checked my weekly Houzz update, I was struck by a pretty pantry (envious) but the lighting left something to be desired. So I decided to write a blog about pantry lighting. 

Yes, the pantry is a small space, but as any house-proud person knows, it's a place of pride - having a pantry is a bit of a luxury, organisational heaven - a dream for most of us. Those lucky enough to have one deserve to have it lit correctly. 

And remember, you can always call on me to help you figure out your lighting (my rates are very reasonable). 20 + years lighting lovely homes with lovely lighting. Autumn Morrison - residential lighting consultant and lighting sales: +44 0794346 9433 or send me a contact form and I'll get back to you right away - I love help people with lighting.

Recessed downlights typically don't work in pantries

  • Check out the top half of this pantry. Notice anything? How much darker it is than the lower half? And that's with daylight helping out. At night, I bet those shelves are pretty darn dark. The recessed downlight is switched on but not really doing anything. It's not illuminating the shelves and the lighting (straight downwards) is redundant because the under cabinet lighting is doing a fab job on the lower half. I can explain why it doesn't work, but I think I'll save that for another blog. Just try to light your pantry without recessed downlights - like in the following examples.

That being said, here's where recessed downlighting does work - can you spot the spots?


  • I know I said to avoid recessed downlights in pantries but there are exceptions. Notice the two recessed downlights over the sink. Recessed downlights are good at task lighting (when in the right position) and brilliant over sinks but not great at general lighting. Using x2 recessed lights over sinks instead of just one is a good move - together, they overlap and reduce shadows. The rest of this (incredible) pantry (more like a butler's kitchen) is relying on good old fashioned decorative lighting - in this case, a pretty glass light. This allows the tongue and groove ceiling to shine, as well as provide general lighting. Love it. Though I probably would have used x2 decorative lights instead of x1 since the space is long and thin.

Two lights work well in a long narrow space

  • This beautiful farmhouse pantry fully embraces the farmhouse style with x2 lantern pendants used as ceiling lights. This will spread the lighting across the span as well as provide a pleasing decorative element. You can use this simple but effect lighting plan for almost any design style - from rustic to minimal. 

Combining decorative lights with shelf lighting


  • I love this lighting (and this pantry). The lighting is both effective - thanks to the shelf lighting - and beautiful. Particularly important with a pass-through pantry that's on show. The glass doors of the top shelves slide instead of swing, which is good cause otherwise the doors may bang into the pendants. 

Speaking of shelf lighting

  • Hello Beautiful. Shelf lighting nailed. Shelf lighting is one of those topics with lots of nuances, warranting its own blog - suffice to say that this pantry shelf lighting works because of a brilliant combo of: 
    • Shelf height:
      • evenly spaced - the lighting looks fluid
    • Shelf depth:
      • deep shelves let the light breath and expand
    • Shelf lip:
      • to hide the LED strip
    • LED position
      • To the front of the shelf, not the back
    • LED direction:
      • pointing towards the backsplash for indirect lighting
    • LED temperature:
      • cool white LED works well here cause their crockery is white & clear plus the white backsplash
    • LED repetition:
      • each shelf is lit - some people leave out shelves
    • Backsplash:
      • the marble & white paint reflect the light beautifully

Shelf lighting gone a bit sideways (don't do this)

  • This one breaks my heart a little bit. It looks like what started out as a sweet pantry with unique shelves went pear-shaped when it came to the lighting. The most noticeable fail is the side lighting. If you can't hide it, then embrace it - if they had used long, linear LED tubes (with smooth, even lighting) instead of the spotty short ones you can see by the doors, it would have made a huge difference. Besides that, the under-shelf lighting is weird. I don't even understand how they installed it and it looks bad. There's no lip to hide it, it's spotty, it's shining straight down (notice the shadow to the back of the lit shelves) and they lit every other shelf. Not to mention the dreaded (useless) recessed downlight, which creates harsh shadows at the bottom. Momma Mia, close the door! 

Shelf lighting backlit (don't do this either)

  •  At first glance, you might think this swanky pantry has got the lighting figured out because they certainly splashed out on it, but alas, if you look at the jars - especially the top row - you might see what the problem is. The LED lighting is at the back of the shelves, creating a silhouette out of what should be lit. Which is fine if all you want to do is light the shelves and not the contents. But if you want to see your pantry goods, then light them from the front, not the back. On a side note, you can see how effective shelf lighting can be on own and that you don't need recessed downlights (no downlights in this space and the floor has decent lighting)
    • SILHOUETTE: 'a dark shape and outline of someone or something visible in restricted light against a brighter background' - AVOID

Shelf lighting from the front (and top)

  • Might not be noticeable at first, but one of the reasons this small space seems so voluminous (in addition to the generous, front lit LED shelf lighting) is the uplighting at the top of the unit, visually lifting the ceiling upwards. This is particularly great in small spaces to keep them from feeling cave-like. And if you look to the right of the image, you'll see the LED strips to the front, under a lip, shining backwards. This lighting is a bit pink for my taste, but all in all, it's a winner.

Subtle LED shelf lighting for dark pantries


  • This is a classic, practical, pretty, well-thought out pantry. In addition to the beautiful doors, marble counter top and clever step ladder - the LED shelf lighting submits to the dark finish, instead of washing it out (and once again, no recessed downlights). The LED lighting does a good job of lighting the goods while remaining quite subtle. I love the wall lights to either side of the pantry, nice touch, very homey.

Wall light instead of shelf lighting

  • This pantry has a real human touch to it, low tech. Maybe it's not the best photo but I bet it's pretty in person. This pantry is built around a staircase, and has different ceilings heights and planes, which can be problematic lighting-wise. They've come up with a solution by taking advantage of the taller ceiling to the front by using a pendant to make the space seem welcoming and a part of the kitchen vibe and then they used a small, spherical wall light to the back for soft, general lighting. Plus it's a kinda sweet. This is the opposite of an intimidating panty.

Push the boat out on pretty lighting


  • Make a vignette out of your pantry by celebrating every detail, like this small but stunning pantry has done. Talk about a welcoming space. The pendant finishes off this pretty space beautifully. The lighting sends ripples of texture across the tiles, as well as makes the sink shine and warms up the tap finish as well as the wooden shelves and flooring. Adorable. 

Contemporary ceiling light for a compact pantry

  • Sometimes a ceiling light is the best way forward, especially if you have lots of shelves with different dimensions and heights. LED shelf lighting would be way too busy for this multi-purpose pantry, as well as fussy and there's no room for wall lights or a pendant. So glad they went for a ceiling light instead of recessed downlights, which would be inadequate & create shadowy lighting. The ceiling light will provide virtually shadow-free, ambient lighting for this small space which has lots of nooks and crannies. Not only that, they've selected a ceiling light that picks up on the vernacular of the barn doors. It's a win. 

Sometimes you gotta just go basic

  • Okay, so this pantry isn't exactly stunning but it's a work horse and the lighting meets the demands perfectly. It's a bright, basic ceiling light without spending a small fortune. They probably don't have it on a dimmer but hey, get in - you find what need quickly - and get out. Job done. 

Classic ceiling light for a more traditional pantry

  • Everything about this pantry is tasteful, including the white glass sphere ceiling light. White glass globes are a fail-safe lighting choice - it's very hard to get them wrong. There are many subtle differences, which I can review with you if you would like me to help you pick out the perfect one for your space. Contact me (my rates are very reasonable). 

Last but not least - remember to let your light shine - even in your pantry

  • Pantries have come a long way since they were called larders. Makes sense since the kitchen is now the heart of many homes and the pantry is an extension of this vital space. Pantries are quickly catching on as spaces to be enjoyed, not shut away in some dark corner. In the same way powder rooms allow us to go a bit wild on style, so can the pantry be a reflection of your inner light. After all, you'll be using it just about every day - make it something that you love and it will love you back. (that applies to all lighting decisions, by the way)

 My name is Autumn Morrison and I own & operate Lighting Guru Ltd, an independent, 5 star website providing quality lighting specifically for homes. Furthermore, I provide one-to-one lighting consulting (at a very affordable rate) to homeowners who want help with lighting choices. Please feel free to read through my testimonials, it may help further explain how I can help you with your lighting. Or send me a message and I'll get back to you straight away.

Please consider sharing this article with anyone who is building their dream kitchen and is planning a pantry as well as people in the trade, such as joiners and kitchen designers. Lighting is a speciality and there is always something to learn - even for me and it's all I do 24/7.

To see more inspirational images of pantry lighting (and also what to avoid), visit my Pantry Lighting Pinterest board - or better yet, follow me on Pinterest to see great lighting.  

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