I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about how important it is to have lighting fixtures that look good as well as providing the light you need, but today I want to talk about lighting fixtures that work best when you don’t even realize they’re there at all: under cabinet lights. If your chandeliers, pendant lights, and sconces are the stars of your space, it’s the under cabinet lighting that ties all the other layers together, giving you even, all-over lighting and a warm, inviting glow throughout an entire room.
The thing about under cabinet lighting is that it’s really easy to overlook. If you don’t have it, you probably won’t think to miss it, and if you see it in a room, you might not know it’s there (you’ll just think the room looks nice!). Side-by-side, though, the difference is actually pretty striking. Upper cabinets can cast a pretty big shadow, and even if you don’t find yourself grumbling over a dark work station, topping it off with a basic bar-style light will not only make it easier to see, but also beautify your backsplash, illuminate the stuff on your counter, and bring out the warmth and color in your kitchen as a whole.
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Under cabinet lighting is technically a subset of accent lighting, and as such it’s sort of a catch-all term for a lot of different kinds of lights, ranging from tiny spotlights to long, lean bar lights, depending on what you want to draw attention to and how. In a kitchen, long lights can help highlight a backsplash, but that’s far from their only use. Small spotlights inside glass-fronted cabinets or recessed shelves are great for both drawing attention to the items on your shelves, and for adding depth to your room. Backlit bookshelves or entertainment centers are particularly striking, adding a bright glow, texture, and definition to a large chunk of your room that’s ordinarily left unlit.
That’s the real charm of under cabinet lighting: it makes it easy to correct problem spots in just about any room in your home. If you’ve got a dark, shadowy corner or just a gap between your normal lighting fixtures, adding in a set of hidden lights can help keep your space feeling bright. Because most under cabinet lights are generally soft, dim, and warm-toned, they’re also great for creating a cozy ambiance. Especially with the rest of the lights in a room turned off, under cabinet lighting gives a feeling similar to candlelight – whether it’s hidden in your crown molding and casting dim light up toward the ceiling, illuminating a shelf or cubby, or just chasing back the shadows.
One of the great perks of going to the trouble of wiring for under cabinet lighting is that you can install extra outlets at the same time. On the surface, this might not seem like a huge deal, but if you’ve ever caught yourself juggling a lot of appliances between a single outlet, it can be a godsend. Under cabinet power strips come with another added bonus, too: not only do you have more outlets, but they’re also evenly spaced along your wall, lined up roughly with where you’d put your appliances, which can help get rid of the tangle of cords on your countertop. Even better, many models have USB plugs as well as standard ones, meaning you can charge your devices in your kitchen without an adapter, and without stealing a plug from your toaster.
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Maybe my favorite use of under cabinet lighting, though, is as a night light. Sure, cutting out shadows and making your room radiant with light is nice at any time of day or night, but not having to stumble through your kitchen or bathroom in the dark? To me, that’s priceless. Even relatively muted, subtle under cabinet lighting can make it easier to navigate your home in the dark – whether it’s accent lights that let you see without wrecking your night vision, baseboard-level lights designed to keep you from stubbing your toes on the way to the bathroom, or just a single, beautiful ray of light leading you to your coffee machine on a too-early morning.
Okay, so admittedly “install a bunch of extra lights and leave them running all the time” is about as far as you can get from a “green” home upgrade. That said, putting low-wattage, LED fixtures in strategic places throughout your home is actually a pretty good way to keep from going overboard with your lighting. Instead of turning on every single light in your kitchen and still having to cut your vegetables in the shadow of your cabinets, you can simply turn on the light above your workstation. A little light in the right place not only means a whole lot less frustration, but also that you don’t need to flood your whole room with light just to use it the way you want to.
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