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Whether you’re delicately mincing garlic, measuring ingredients for a pizza dough, or just grabbing a glass of water in the middle of the night, kitchen cabinet lighting is just as important as choosing the just-right veining in a marble countertop. Think about it: We add lamps to our nightstands and desks to help lessen the strain on our eyes while reading or working late into the night, but when it comes to cooking, we seldom turn on more than the ceiling fixture in the room. 

So how do you add this much-needed feature to your own space? According to James Veal and Christine Stucker, cofounders of Brooklyn design firm Stewart-Schafer, it all starts with proper planning. “A huge mistake we see a lot is lighting that’s just an afterthought and glued underneath the cabinet, sometimes with double-sided tape,” says Stucker. Here, the duo shares how to get it right and set the mood to sharpen your chef skills. 

Where to Start

If you’re tackling a remodel, Veal stresses the importance of making lighting an early priority. “It should be a part of the overall plan, with specific hidden coves,” he says. “We prefer for it to be hidden and disappear. It should go completely unnoticed.” In a rental (or if you need a temporary fix), some quality LED strips are quicker to install—and less permanent—than a full gut job. 

Fluorescent, Puck, or LED?

While fluorescents and pucks have been popular options in past decades, the duo doesn’t recommend either option for the kitchens of today, especially the latter, which can get hot and create uneven pools of light. “LED is the future,” says Stucker, who prefers it for its longevity and quality. (It’s also environmentally friendly!) The downside is that it is a relatively new technology, which can make compatibility an issue. “It’s important that you hire an experienced electrician to avoid issues like buzzing and flickering when dimming,” she adds.

How to Choose the Right Product

“Cheap LEDs can create individual spots, which is a big no-no,” says Veal. Instead, you’ll want the light to be diffused evenly, so pay attention to pooling while shopping around for your strips or ropes. To complement a more ambient overhead fixture, he recommends a cooler light with a higher brightness and Kelvin (the unit that measures the hue from cool to warm), which is similar to sunrays and can help you focus on the task at hand better without the room feeling too harsh. Now you can set the mood by dimming your ceiling lamp without having to worry about chopping in the dark.

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