Perfect kitchen lighting is an elusive and rare phenomenon. When it’s right, it’s beautiful and perfect, like witnessing the aurora borealis. When it’s wrong, which is most of the time, it’s wrong in so many different ways. Concentrated overhead lighting can make your kitchen look like an interrogation room. Incorrect color temperature can throw off the color of food, or make the space seem cold and industrial. Inadequate natural light during the day can make a kitchen into an uninviting cavern. The list goes on.
I suffer from an underlit kitchen that relies on light from a single overhead sconce. Every time I cook, I cast a shadow over the spot I need light the most. For a while, it took turning on every single light in my dining room and living room to banish my menacing specter looming over the cutting board. But this was a highly inefficient fix, and it got me thinking about how to light my kitchen in a more functional way without making costly or laborious changes.
After digging through interior design blogs, consulting some design authorities, and experimenting in my own kitchen, I compiled a list of simple fixes and adjustments to solve some common kitchen lighting problems. Some of these solutions provide practical lighting for when you’re active in the kitchen. Others provide passive ambient lighting for when you just need a bit of atmosphere. Regardless, I focused on inexpensive and reversible solutions, meaning you won’t have to call in an electrician or ask for permission from your landlord.
Use a drafting lamps for task lighting
Alex Tieghi-Walker, owner of Tiwa Select, an online gallery specializing in utilitarian folk objects, loves adjustable drafting lamps in the kitchen for the flexibility they offer. “I have a mini collection of those Archimedes metal task lamps. I put two in my kitchen,” he says. “I like the fact that you can swing the light around to different parts of the kitchen where you need it.” Tieghi-Walker’s lamps are permanent fixtures in his kitchen, but there are also models with clamp bottoms that make for great as-needed lighting. When you’re done cooking and ready to eat, Tieghi-Walker suggests turning the light toward a wall or a piece of artwork for instant ambient light.
Adjustable Metal Task Lamp, Brass
$71.00, West Elm
Studio Lamp With Clamp Mount
Bring in table lamps for passive ambient lighting
If adjustable task lamps are a little industrial for you, consider a table lamp. Placed on a kitchen counter, a table lamp will do the same thing that it does for any other room in your house: create a softly-illuminated atmosphere that draws emphasis away from the ceiling and towards eye (and counter) level. Having a table lamp on your countertop is one of the easiest ways to alter the lighting conditions in a kitchen, especially when you are about to have dinner and want to tone things down a little for your meal.
Tala Knuckle Table Lamp
$179.00, West Elm
Pierre Charpin for HAY Portable Lamp
Install under cabinet lighting
When designers Kim and Scott Vargo of Yellow Brick Home spoke to my colleague Kendra Vaculin about easy ways to refresh a rental kitchen, they offered another solution for both task and ambient kitchen lighting: adding LED strips underneath your cabinetry to illuminate countertops. On one hand these strips—which are available online and are easy to install— function as task lighting that brightens up your work surface. On the other, they act as a more subdued source of light for occasions where overhead lighting might be unsightly or garish. Bonus: LED strips can be cut to size, and their electronic components are easy to hide.
Led Strip Lights with Adhesive Clips, Dimmer Switch and Connectors
Phillips LED Light Strip Plus Smart Wireless Light Base Kit
$80.00, Home Depot
Install color-changing bulbs for precise mood control.
Balancing proper color temperature in the kitchen can be a tricky thing. Cooler light might come across as cold and clinical, and make your kitchen feel more like a doctor’s office. Meanwhile, warm toned light, which looks great in the rest of the house, might be too yellow for the kitchen and trick you into thinking something is more caramelized or browned than it actually is. That’s why I love the Philips Hue lighting system. These LED light bulbs are controlled by an app that allows you to adjust luminosity and color hue to your exact specifications. Your kids might like them for the wild color options, but the fact that these bulbs can cross the entire temperature spectrum for white light makes them far more than an expensive gimmick. By replacing the existing bulbs with these, you’ll be able to adjust the lighting conditions in your kitchen as you see fit, and not fret about changing bulbs or installing a dimmer.
Philips – Hue White & Color Ambiance Smart Light Bulb
$50.00, Best Buy
Amplify natural light with a mirror
This won’t work for every kitchen, but if yours happens to benefit from a window and you’re looking for a way to amp up the daytime luminosity, placing a mirror adjacent to a window is an old design trick that will provide you with even more balanced diffused lighting. The larger the mirror, the more effective it will be at reflecting light. Plus, it will make a small kitchen seem more spacious than it really is.
$179.00, Burke Decor
Originally Appeared on Epicurious