Photo credit: 148 Straith Street Staunton, VA 24401 (Flickr)
It is truly amazing how much of a difference under cabinet lighting can transform the ambiance and functionality of a space. If I had known this, I would have invested in under cabinet lighting a long time ago, even though I don’t own the place. I recently installed under cabinet lighting and cannot figure out how I ever lived without it. The area is so dark without it that I am certain I left the house with way too much make-up on way too many times. There are probably a lot more, and a lot better options available if you can hardwire the lighting, but I am so thrilled to be able to say that renters can also enjoy this upgrade because there are fixtures that you can plug into the wall.
My first purchase of this type of lighting was based on convenience. These lights are long, skinny, and bulky so I didn’t think it was a great idea to have them shipped in. I just got the best looking one from one of the big box hardware chains and thought I’d be able to enjoy the new lighting that evening. I was wrong.
As I unpackaged them and plugged them in, I realized to my great disappointment that the lights were the “wrong color.” They were so pee yellow (i.e., “too warm”) that I had to go back to the store immediately and return them. It takes at least ten times longer to return things at that store than to buy them so I usually try to avoid that, but apparently there is a line and they had crossed it.
After that return experience I spent days researching plug-in lighting to minimize the odds of repeat disappointment. Picking the right lighting is so much more complicated than just finding a fixture that physically fits into the space you are trying to light. I’ve listed all the criteria that went into my decision and why these factors matter, and include links at the end of my top two picks.
While the fixtures cost more than I originally wanted to spend, I am very happy with the outcome. And honestly, for the difference that this simple tweak makes every single day, it was money well spent. It seems like such a minor change, but the benefit is huge.
This is the reason I jumped down this rabbit hole, so this is the first consideration. The Kelvin (K) rating indicates how cool or warm the light is. A higher number means the light renders cooler, while a lower number means the light will be warmer. Some fixtures allow you to adjust the warmth with a built in switch, which is nice if you want to be able to change the ambiance of a room, or if you’re not sure which setting you’ll like. But it is surprisingly difficult to find a decent color (hue?) of light these days and not all fixtures render light equally well, so please do not stop reading here.
Color Rendering Index (CRI)
This number indicates how similar the light color produced by the fixture is to incandescent light. A higher number indicates better color rendering. The highest I’ve seen is 93. At this point, I wouldn’t want anything less than 90.
You want there to be a diffuser on the light fixture that distributes the light produced by individual bulbs and reduces “hot spots” unless you want to be able to see the light emitting from each bulb individually. A diffuser will allow the fixture to produce more even light distribution. Not all diffusers are created equal.
I like the look of continuous light that makes a counter glow evenly along its length. I do not like it when you can tell by the glow or reflection off counters exactly how long a fixture is not. To avoid dark zones, my strategy was to light as much of the linear under cabinet length as possible rather than purchasing just one light per cabinet or the minimum fixtures to provide adequate lighting for the space. Cramming in several fixtures may provide more than enough light, but the lighting will be even, if that makes sense, rather than in spotlit zones separated by darkness. I am not sure how to determine the maximum distance between fixtures that will provide lighting that looks continuous other than trial and error.
Currently I have seen white, black, and bronze, although it should be possible to customize the color of the fixture by painting it. When painting you always want to do sufficient surface preparation so the paint adheres properly. I would not want to pick white unless the fixture would not be visible from any viewing direction, or the surrounding colors are in fact true white. I just don’t like the look of bright true white (which is what they always seem to use for electrical equipment) against a white that is not true white because it makes the off white white look dirty and/or becomes an unintended focal point because it is so much brighter than everything else around it.
Hard wire vs. plug-in
If you can hard-wire, this will be the cleanest installation and avoid cables running everywhere. If hard wiring is not an option, there are fixtures designed to plug into an electrical outlet. Two strong candidate plug-in brands are GetInLight and Dewenwil on Amazon.