8 clever ways to light kitchen counters for super bright results

There's a right and a wrong way to light kitchen counters. Brighten up this important food prep, and perhaps wine drinking, space with clever lighting and a little Trompe-l'œil for best brightening effect.

kitchen lighting
(Image credit: IKEA)

If there’s one room in the house where you want to have ample lighting – it’s the kitchen. That said, for one reason or another, many kitchens don’t come equipped with proper lighting on all fronts to ensure safe and efficient food prep. Chopping and slicing usually happens on your counters, right? So installing the most efficient kitchen countertop lights that are beautiful and functional is a must. 

Lighting your kitchen counters can be challenging, but there are several things that you can do to enhance kitchen lighting in this particular spot.

Kitchen counter lighting ideas

Below, we spoke to a handful of design experts to get their insights on the best ways to light your kitchen counters. From cheap and easy solutions to more extensive renovations, here’s how to get the most light into your food prep space:

1. Try adding LED rope lights

kitchen LED lighting

(Image credit: IKEA)

LED rope lights are by far the easiest and cheapest way to add high quality lighting to your space. They’re made to stick underneath your cabinets (or anywhere in your home) without any additional tools or installation problems—and they come down just as easily as they’re put up, which is a huge win for renters.

'You can tuck rope lights under the upper edges of your upper cupboards and light them up. They can run along the edges and be completely hidden from view,' says Jen Stark, founder of Happy DIY Home. 'When you want to light up this space, you can simply switch them on.'

2. Choose a light color counter

kitchen lighting

(Image credit: @love_in_1000_square_feet)

You’ve probably seen the difference a light and airy wall color can make in a small bathroom or guest bedroom – but the same effect works with kitchen countertops. If your kitchen tends to feel dark or cramped, consider replacing the countertop material with something lighter like Andrea of @love_in_1000_square_feet has done in the space.

If the cost of kitchen remodel isn’t in the budget, or you’re renting, consider picking up a light colored contact paper with a marble or quartz-like look. The quick and easy DIY project will have the same brightening effect as the real deal.

3. Flood the kitchen with natural light too

kitchen natural lighting

(Image credit: @love_in_1000_square_feet)

Sunlight and fresh breezes make the kitchen feel much more bright and airy, says Jenny Burkett, director at Pyramid Builders. If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen with a window, you’ll want to accent the space as much as possible. Consider removing any curtains that block the light and add a delicate shelf in its place that will let the light in.

4. Layer up with under cabinet lighting also

kitchen lighting

(Image credit: @weepingwillow.farmhouse)

'Design with a variety of fixtures to provide a comfortable, layered approach to lighting for any time of day,' suggests Burkett. This could mean adding a combination of under-the-cabinet lighting, wall sconces, and even decorative desk lamps on the counter top.

5. Consider pendant lights

White kitchen counters with silver detail and glass pendant lighting

(Image credit: @homesweetlakehouse)

Veronique of @homesweetlakehouse  chose pendants to light these glossy kitchen counters and if you want to add or enhance the mood lighting in your kitchen, a pendant light might be able to assist. However, don't always expect one or even two to light the entire kitchen. 'Pendant lights over the counter provide not only a decorative touch, but necessary task lighting,' warns Burkett. 

6. Be careful with placement

kitchen lighting

(Image credit: Lamps Plus)

When adding lighting to your kitchen, you want to make sure that your recessed downlights are directly above counter edges, adds Andre Kazimierski, CEO, Improovy. 'Too often, recessed downlights end up behind countertops—creating harsh shadows and making it difficult to see what you’re doing.' he explains. 'Instead, by putting them above counter edges you ensure that the light reaches where it needs to be while also illuminating upper cabinets and open shelves.'

7. Consider adjustable drop lights

kitchen lighting

(Image credit: @weepingwillow.farmhouse)

Add creative, uniquely designed drop lights above your countertops, suggests Benjamin Stenson, CEO at The Norsemen. 'Deciding on drop lights means you have an option to adjust them while prepping meals on your countertop. Use your creativity when shopping for these lights and opt for something that not only fits your style but also works with where your countertops are located and how much additional lighting you’re hoping to add to your space.'

8. Opt for multi-light fixtures

kitchen lighting

(Image credit: IKEA)

Like drop lighting, opting for multi-light fixtures will enhance the lighting of your standard ceiling fixtures in your kitchen, says Jeff Shipwash, owner and founder of Shipwash Properties LLC. 'For example, if I have a light fixture above a long counter or island, I like to change that fixture to a multi-light fixture that will run parallel to the counter,' he explains. 'This spreads the light over the space and makes it appear brighter and more modern, too.'

Which type of lighting is used for kitchen counters?

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to the type of lighting used for kitchen counters – but you’ll want to make sure it’s as bright as possible to ensure your kitchen is a workable and practical space for preparing food and doing other detailed tasks. LED lights are a great option if you’re looking for brightness—and also happen to be very eco-friendly and long lasting.

How do I add more light to my kitchen?

There are plenty of clever ways to add more light to your kitchen these days. The easiest way is to invest in LED light strips, which can easily be installed with little-to-no tools under your existing cabinetry and removed when you move (great for renters!).

Can you put a lamp on your kitchen counter?

There’s no rule that says you cannot put a lamp on your kitchen counter if you have the room. The right lamp will add a soft glow to the otherwise bright space, which can offer a great atmosphere if you’re simply enjoying a glass of wine or a casual meal rather than prepping food. That said, you might want to ensure your lamp is far away from water sources if it doesn’t come with a water resistant electric cord.

Kaitlyn McInnis

Kaitlyn is an experienced travel and lifestyle writer with a keen interest in interior decorating and home optimization. An avid traveler, she's currently splitting her time between her apartment in a century-old châteauesque building in Montreal and her cozy chalet in the woods (that she built with her own two hands... and many YouTube tutorials!). Her work has been published in Travel + Leisure, Tatler Asia, Forbes, Robb Report Singapore, and various other international publications.