Kitchen & Cooking

How to pick the best lighting for your kitchen

Here's how to make your kitchen a brighter, safer space to cook.

Credit: Getty Images

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) is here, and it’s keeping everyone at home and away from restaurants, cafes, and bars. While takeout and delivery are options in many areas, for most folks the social distancing period means cooking more in your very own kitchen.

And if you’re spending more time in your kitchen, you’ve likely noticed some things you’d like to improve—maybe you’re thinking it’s time to get rid of your plastic bowls from college or finally cleaning your cabinets. Either way, there’s one small change to drastically improve what you already have: new, better lighting.

Lighting can make a world of difference for a kitchen. If the space is well-lit, it can truly feel like the epicenter of your home, where everyone can relax while they eat and refresh themselves. Good lighting has a lot of nuances, but the end result can be a more inviting—and safer—kitchen for you and your family.

Layered lighting
Credit: Getty Images

This kitchen doesn't have as much direct sunlight, but it uses layers to accomplish a complete look so no area is dim or forgotten.

Don’t be afraid of layering

Layering isn’t just for clothing as the weather fluctuates—it’s also how you create a good lighting system. Layered lighting is about spreading the light around the kitchen and having fixtures dedicated to specific areas so there are no dark corners.

Think about each space in your kitchen. There’s the overall room, general counterspace, and workspaces. Each of these is a layer and they all require their own form of lighting, especially since each spot serves a different function in your cooking routine.

Kitchen Lighting - Layered
Credit: Getty Images

This kitchen makes the most of its ample ambient light, but layers in other fixtures as well for a complete look.

Understand different types of lighting

OK that’s the concept of layering, so we need to talk about the different types of lights that go into a well-layered kitchen.

  • Natural light: This is literally the sun. Many kitchens have windows, or at least in a place near a bank of windows, that allow sunlight in.

  • Ambient light: This generally comes from an overhead light and covers most of the kitchen, thus setting the overall tone for the room.

  • Task lighting: This is used for illuminating workspaces so you can see what you’re cooking, mixing, or chopping.

  • Recessed lighting: Recessed fixtures can serve both as both ambient and task lights, depending on their location and design. The low-profile design can add a nice finish to a room, especially when you want a dimmable light that doesn't require a large, room-filling fixture.

Make the most of what you got

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you already have at least one form of lighting in your kitchen. In all likelihood you probably have multiple types, which is great news because it means you already have a good baseline to start from. The key here is thinking about how you can maximize your existing light sources.

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The easiest way to get started is with your natural lighting. First, wash your windows. You should be washing things regularly because of coronavirus and general hygiene, and as a bonus it helps with lighting. Second, use brighter curtains, shades, and paint colors so the sun has an easier time entering your kitchen and filling the room.

For existing light fixtures, the simplest upgrade is adding a better, brighter bulb.

For light fixtures, the simplest upgrade is adding a brighter bulb. If your kitchen feels dim, make sure there aren't any dead bulbs. Second, replace bulbs with low lumen ratings with higher ones. For recessed or track lights, use bulbs that cast a wider flood of light, which will better illuminate your space.

On top of brighter bulbs, you can easily a dimmer switch can help give you greater control over the lights in your kitchen and adjust the brightness as necessary. You can even control your lights with your phone by using a smart dimmer so you never have to walk into a dark kitchen again.

Kitchen Design Lighting
Credit: Getty Images

Using pendant lights over an island can provide critical task lighting while also adding a touch of personality.

Consider some upgrades

Even if you maximize your kitchen’s lighting potential, you might need to upgrade some of your hardware. I’m not talking about a major project like rewiring your entire kitchen, especially given that you might not be able to schedule an electrician during the coronavirus pandemic. You could make some minor adjustments on your own.

Under cabinet lighting is the easiest place to start because there are a lot of mountable options to choose from. For example, this tape light system has an adhesive backing so you don’t need to use a hammer, nails, or deal with any wiring.

Task lighting like this can be a great safety upgrade, especially if you're largely relying on overhead fixtures. If you're standing between your cutting surface and the light, you may not be able to see the knife as well. Task lighting makes sure you can focus on what you're doing.

Task lighting like this can be a great safety upgrade.

If you are comfortable tackling a DIY project, you could consider switching out the fixture in your ceiling. The key here is to pick something that provides good ambient lighting while also improving the aesthetics of your kitchen. Unless you are experienced with electricity, your best bet is to replace existing fixtures, whether that's updating pendant lights if you have those, track lights, or overhead flush fixtures. You'll still need to exercise caution, but swapping one fixture for another just like it is simple enough.

All in all, good lighting is a necessity in any kitchen. This is doubly true because we’re likely going to be staying home for a long while, so it’s time to get to work and light it all up.

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