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Explainer Smart Home

Cheap ways to fix what ails your dark kitchen

Your kitchen's too dark, but we'll help you make it brighter.

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Don't worry, you won't bust your budget on these easy kitchen improvements.

Ry Crist/CNET

Lighting can make or break a living space, and doubly so for the kitchen. A kitchen with no windows can feel claustrophobic. Add in low-quality light bulbs, and you'll dread the time you spend cooking and cleaning. Luckily, there are some simple ways to dramatically improve your kitchen's lighting and make everyone who works in it happier along the way.

Find well-tuned lights

Dinner by candlelight is lovely, but at the end of a long day at work, you don't want to be falling asleep over the cooktop. The good news is you can have your cake and eat it, too: color-tunable light bulbs will let you adjust the color temperature in the kitchen, lending you the flexibility to use cozy light for entertaining and bright light to energize yourself for a night of culinary experimentation. 

We love the Lifx white light bulbs if budget isn't an issue for you, but if you're not sold yet, you can always pick up an $8 Wyze bulb to try out tunable light temperature without breaking the bank.

Check the CRI

A lightbulb's Color Rendering Index basically tells you how accurate colors will appear underneath it. The metric ranges from zero to 100, and in the kitchen especially, installing bulbs scoring closer to 100 improves the aesthetic and color-quality of the space overall, making the colors of your countertop appliances, your displayed dishes and your fresh produce really vibrant.

The problem is, most light bulb boxes don't advertise their CRI rating. In general, incandescent bulbs have higher CRI ratings, and fluorescents (CFL) often have worse ratings (think about how soul-sucking rooms lit by that fluorescent light paneling can feel). But when it comes to the more common LED lights of today, it can be hard to know what the CRI rating is. Often, if you want to find CRI ratings for a particular bulb, you'll have to search for them on the company's website.

Luckily, we test the CRI of our lights, and Lifx bulbs are a solid (if more expensive) option -- especially if you want color-changing cabailities. For the more economically minded, our top pick is the GE Reveal. Most high-CRI lights cost a couple bucks more than your average bulb, but the price is worth the quality-of-life boost.

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Ry Crist/CNET

Install light strips

You spend so much of your time staring at your countertops when you're cutting veggies, mixing batter or reading recipes, but the cabinets overhead often make that space dark, putting a strain on your eyes the whole time.

 Solve this problem by installing light strips under your cabinets. These products range from super cheap $15 generic strips to top-of-the-line connected Lifx strips, and they all help keep your workspace properly lit, while hiding underneath your cabinets, out of sight and out of mind -- that is, until you need them.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Paint, paint, paint

If you look up how to brighten any room in the house, the first two suggestions are always going to be "paint" and "use natural light." And those are great suggestions... if you have the time and money. Installing a window isn't in the budget for most people, though, and if you rent, painting can be a tough sell for the landlord.

But if you really want to transform how your kitchen feels, and you can paint, put it on your calendar. Bright cabinets and surfaces will reflect what natural light you have, making a world of difference for the workspace. 

Even if you don't like the minimalist, white-on-white aesthetic of many modern kitchens, pushing yourself to use a bright neutral shade for your base will help the colors of your countertop appliances, your prominently displayed dishes and, most importantly, your food really pop.

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