Smart Lighting For A Kitchen: A Practical Guide

When I first moved into my house, it was fairly dark due to it just having two simple, A19 bulbs at either end of the kitchen-diner room. Whilst I have since changed these to spotlights to provide more light, I avoided buying smart spotlights due to the cost (up to $50/each for Hue or LIFX spotlights) and just got ordinary LEDs.

But now I want more sparkle and pizzazz in my kitchen (yes, I just said ‘sparkle and pizzazz’..!), and so I’ve decided to add smart lighting to various areas. But since a kitchen is a fairly complex room with various floor and wall height obstacles (such as counter tops and cabinets), you need to plan any new lighting carefully.

Smart lighting in a kitchen should be seamless and fit into the existing kitchen, instead of standing out like a distraction. Smart LED strips and spotlights can be good additions to your kitchen as a result.

My current kitchen (before adding smart lighting)

As mentioned at the start of this post, my kitchen started off looking like the following (shortly after moving in). It was a fairly dark room due to having just 2 A19 bulbs and the fact that it was north facing, meaning it didn’t have much natural light coming in:

My current kitchen without smart lighting
My kitchen with just two bulbs.

I therefore replaced one of the A19 bulbs with linked spotlights, and another with a light fixture. This helped brighten the room up a lot, and all bulbs here are dumb because I haven’t seen any reason to buy smart bulbs for these:

My kitchen with dumb lighting in the ceiling
My kitchen with extra (dumb) lighting installed.

But what I have started to notice is that the kitchen can feel a little… boring at times, and also chopping food on the counter tops can be a bit dark even with spotlights overhead (it’s easy to block the light from these with your body or head).

As a result, I’ve decided to add smart lighting to my kitchen. I discuss exactly what I’ve gone with at the end of this article, but before I cover that, I wanted to generally discuss what you need to consider when adding smart lighting to your kitchen – including the mistakes that can result in a poor overall effect.

Floor-height smart lighting

There was a time where the phrase “floor height lighting” would be laughed at: “lights go on the ceiling, why do you want them on the floor?!“. But strip lighting – such as standard LED strips or smart strips – have transformed this area, allowing you to put lighting low down to create a really nice effect:

Kitchen with strip lighting in various areas
Kitchen with strip lighting in various areas

Whilst strip lights can be used anywhere, they create a particularly nice ambient lighting effect when placed at foot-level – such as under a floor cabinet in a kitchen.

They can either be stuck to the underside of the cabinet, pointing the light downwards, or they can be stuck onto the plinth/moulding board which will cast the light outwards.

Before sticking them down, it’s worth experimenting with both directions because the type of flooring you have can sometimes cause the light to ‘bounce’ when facing downwards – creating a weird effect.

In terms of installing the LED light strips at this level, it’s worth knowing that whilst you can hardwire strip lights, it’s more usual that smart strips are plugged directly into a wall socket:

The contents of a Hue Lightstrip V3 Plus box, containing the lightstrip (which connects to a transformer), and a plug adapter (to plug in to the transformer).
A Hue Lightstrip V3/Plus, and the plug adapter.

So unless you have a socket nearby, you’ll probably need to install a socket under the cabinets and plug into this. Alternatively, you could run a power strip into the required location:

A power strip at floor level in the kitchen
A power strip at floor level in the kitchen

In other words, the key things to remember about floor-level smart lighting for your kitchen are:

  1. Smart light strips are best, but double check whether they look best pointing outwards or downwards before sticking them down.
  2. Make sure you know how they’ll be powered, and ensure that there’s a relevant power source nearby (ideally hidden away so you don’t have visible cables).

Smart lighting for the counter level

Whilst one of the most common areas for kitchen lighting is directly below the wall-mounted cabinets (see the next section for more on this), you can also have lighting directly above the counter top line. For example:

Nordic kitchen with above counter lighting
Nordic kitchen with above counter lighting

This can be quite a neat place to put strip LED lighting because you’re likely to be preparing food on the counter, and so some extra lighting here can be really useful.

This can also create a nice effect when combined with below-cabinet strip lights as seen in the above photo.

The only downside with this location is that you have two main choices for installing the strip light:

  • Plug it into one of the wall sockets which will inevitably be placed around your kitchen wall. The flaw here is that you’re likely to see some wire, unless you run cables behind the wall.
  • Drill through part of your counter, and run the LED strip light cables down under the counter. Then plug the light into a below-counter socket. This can work well if you have a wooden border running along the top of your counter (in the UK we call these ‘plinths’), but obviously this won’t be practical if the drilled hole would be visible to everyone.

In other words, you need to be careful about hiding the wiring of above-counter lighting. Running it into the wall is probably your best bet, otherwise you can quickly ruin the whole ‘sleek yet elegant’ effect of smart kitchen lighting.

Smart lights below wall-mounted cabinets

As mentioned earlier, mounting lights under your cabinets is one of the most popular ways of adding lighting to your kitchen. This can take the form of an LED smart lightstrip:

Dark kitchen with light strip below wall cabinets
Dark kitchen with light strip below wall cabinets

Or spotlights/puck lights which shine down onto the counter:

Kitchen with spotlights under cabinets
Kitchen with lights under cabinets

The method you go for mainly comes down to personal preference, although spotlights (or similar puck-style lights) often require more installation space and will result in more electrical cable than LED strips. You can also buy battery powered versions, but these aren’t usually smart and can be inconvenient because they’ll run out of battery fairly regularly.

This is a benefit of LED strips in general: they are one big, continuous strip (they appear as such even if they’re joined), resulting in just one cable at one end. This is a lot easier to manage than having various wires running between different lights.

Whilst below-cabinet lighting creates a really nice effect, they aren’t always practical. Remember my kitchen?

My current kitchen without smart lighting
My current kitchen without smart lighting

You’ll notice how I have four different wall-mounted cabinets, installed at three different heights! Plus two are interrupted by a window, and another two are interrupted by the metal splashback and extractor hood.

What this means is that I can’t practically have smart lightstrips because they’d look quite odd and inconsistent. The same is true for spotlights mounted on the underside of the cabinets.

It’s much better to use lightstrips or spotlights when you have one or two continuous run of wall cabinets, all installed at the same level.

If not, you should probably either skip trying to install lighting here, or instead purchase wall-mounted lights which angle downwards towards the counter. This can be a nice way of still having extra lighting in your kitchen when your wall cabinet runs aren’t too great.

Other areas you can have smart lighting in your kitchen

So far I’ve mainly spoken about using the obvious kitchen features to house extra lighting, although the great thing with smart lighting is that you can be creative and install lighting wherever it makes sense to. For example the below kitchen has lighting in a few areas that I haven’t spoken about yet:

  • Inside cabinet lighting. This works really well with cabinets that either have no doors, or have see-through doors as they really focus the eye on whatever’s inside them.
  • Lighting below the counter/breakfast bar area. Below counter lighting often takes the form of LED strip lights, and they create a nice effect as they can either complement floor-level strip lights, or take the place of it by providing subtle yet effective lighting.
  • Low-hanging lights. These are quite popular above tables and counters/breakfast bars, as they provide nice, direct light overhead.
Kitchen with various smart lighting installed, and set to a purple-style color
Kitchen with various smart lighting installed, and set to a purple-style color

Lighting in these areas can really help change a kitchen from a mundane, boring one, into a fun-yet-functional one. And of course. whilst I decided that having smart bulbs in my ceiling lights wasn’t suitable for me, it may be suitable for you meaning that you’ll have smart lighting in all areas of your kitchen.

Other considerations for your kitchen smart light project

Whilst smart lighting is great, especially in a kitchen, there can be some flaws and ‘gotchas’ to watch out for if you want your project to be a success:

  • LED light strips can have ‘dots’ or ‘bumps’. This is because the actual LEDs within the light strips may be sparsely spread out, meaning that you can see the individual ‘light bumps’ when looking directly at light strips.

    This effect can be worsened when they’re installed quite close to a shiny surface, such as porcelain white tiles. The solution is to install LED light strips in a diffuser, which is a semi-opaque channel that will act to diffuse (spread out) the light from the light strips, softening the effect and reducing the chance of ‘light dots’ appearing.
  • Controlling all your smart kitchen lights can be a problem, especially if you have different brand smart lights that’ll inevitably come with different smartphone apps.

    Being able to group lights can therefore be key (if you use the same brand smart light), since you can issue a single voice or app command to control all the bulbs at the same time.

    Beyond this, a smart hub such as SmartThings or HomeAssistant can also be useful.
  • They can be expensive to buy and install, especially products from the higher end of the market. A 2m (7ft) length of Philips Hue lightstrip is $75. If you need to buy 4 of these ($300, and pay a contractor to install a couple of sockets ($100), you’ve spent $400 on smart strips alone.

    Whilst some people won’t mind this, when you can pick up similar (dumb) lightstrips for a fraction of the price, it does make you reconsider your choices.
  • Casting light over your counters and floors will show lots of dirt. Yes, I know we all think that our houses are spotless, but in the cold light of day (well, light of… smart lights!) you’ll start seeing lots of extra dust and dirt.

    This is where it’s important to experiment with your smart lights before installing them or taping them down. Maybe pointing smart lightstrips downwards will hide some of the dust and dirt, instead of pointing them outwards.

What smart lighting I’m adding to my kitchen

Okay, now that I’ve spoken generally about smart lighting in a kitchen, what am I going to do with my own kitchen? Well, the annotated image below sums it up:

My smart lighting plans for my kitchen: with smart lightstrips under the floor cabinets, and smart wall-mounted lights (facing towards the counter) on some walls below wall-cabinets.
My smart lighting plans for my kitchen

I’ll add smart light strips below the floor cabinets, because this will create a nice effect. I’ll play around with whether they face outwards or downwards (and whether to use a diffuser) before taping them down.

Because I then have inconsistent wall-mounted cabinets, I’ll install specific, wall-mounted lights which can fit a smart bulb. These will be angled such that the light is cast onto the counter.

Overall this will require me adding a new wall socket for the light strips, and run some extra cabling for the wall-mounted lights. Luckily I’ll be tiling right after doing this, which will help cover up any mess I make to the walls from running cables everywhere!

This is my current plan and whilst I can’t see it changing, I’ll update this post if it does. Also please be on the lookout for future posts and videos on this, as I’ll be documenting what I do step-by-step.

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