With the changing seasons and low light, a kitchen with the wrong aspect can start to feel like a dark, dreary space. While in summer, kitchens might feel light and joyful, they can turn dark and moody in the winter, leaving the space feeling cold and unwelcoming. But fear not, there are clever design tricks at hand that you can work with to brighten the space and embrace natural light.
'More brightness in a kitchen can increase the enjoyment and the functionality of the space,' echoes Eugene Colberg, principal at Colberg Architecture. 'Plus, you need to see what you're doing: reading recipes, cutting things, making sure you are picking up the cayenne pepper and not the cinnamon. Kitchens are the hub of the home, so they must be bright, welcoming, and easy to navigate and work in.'
Clever lighting is one clear way to help brighten the space, but everything influences how bright the space is, from the furniture to the color scheme. Read on for the best ways to make a modern kitchen feel brighter.
10 ideas to make a dark kitchen feel brighter
The location of the kitchen greatly impacts how light and bright the room is - as Eugene points out, kitchens are usually on the perimeter of a property. 'They are normally at this part of the structure because they require light and ventilation, and by default get natural light, but this can vary greatly.'
So how do we brighten up these spaces? According to Eugene, it's all about kitchen lighting. 'When it comes to creating a brighter space, there are two light types to pay attention to make it feel brighter: one is adding more ceiling lights, and the other is via under-cabinet lighting.'
'Recessed and track lighting in the ceiling can make the room brighter overall, however, when one uses these in the modern kitchen, you’re typically facing the countertop, prepping, and cooking,' says Eugene. 'When the light is behind you, what you have in front of you is a shadow.' This means, even if your lights are perfect, we have to consider other ways to keep our kitchens bright.
1. Encourage natural light with a frameless window
Because our kitchens typically face the rear of the house and onto a garden, there is ample potential to maximize natural light and allow it to flood a dark kitchen. 'Think about creating a large opening to the rear or using cleverly designed skylights to manipulate the natural light flow into darker spaces,' says Lior.
Let the light shine in through a larger floor-to-ceiling window and create a reading nook or window seat to encourage you to stop, take a moment, and look outside. Opt for a window without panes, like in this space by Amos Goldreich Architecture. Here, the kitchen extension is finished in brick, to complement the tone of the London stock brick of the existing house, but the material can be quite a dark material for a wall.
'The large, frameless glass window acts as a window seat internally, offers views to the garden, and fills the kitchen with light,' says Amos. Upon entering the kitchen, visitors also get a tunnel-like view straight into the garden.
2. Don't just rely on white
While the temptation may be to paint a dark room bright white to try make the most of the light it does get, this can sometimes just leave your space looking grey and washed out - after all, your beautiful white won't look the same as it does in a south facing room, and you might find its a color to avoid in a north facing one.
According to architect Lior Brosh of Brosh Architects, you can have a bright kitchen regardless of the color. 'Even black, dark kitchens can be bright – you just need to work with the natural lighting at hand.'
3. Or go for a color pop
For another way to approach a dark kitchen, a pop of color might be just the ticket to brightening your space and is a colorful kitchen idea that adds real character.
Where a dark kitchen can have a moody, cocooning feel, a simple lick of paint on your cabinets or backsplash could be a real game changer. Sawyers Design has used this method in this otherwise dark kitchen, turning the room from a moody interior to a cheery space with bright red cabinets, complemented by sunshine yellow dining table chairs, livening up the space.
For a bright red color pop, try Farrow & Ball's brand new paint color, Bamboozle, one of the 11 new shades to recently come on the market. Be one of the first to use this distinct fiery hue in your kitchen for some added wow factor.
4. Mix and match your light sources
Your kitchen can be bright and beautiful with an array of lighting sources. Think task lighting mixed with sconces, recessed lights, and perhaps even pendant lighting hanging over your breakfast bar or kitchen dining table. If you have dark cabinets, get a soft glowing lamp to brighten a dark corner. 'The next best thing is to increase brightness in the kitchen using lighting,' says Eugene.
This piece from Tala is built in beautiful and lightweight aluminum and the delicate pink works with the dim warmth given off by the LED bulb. You can place it on a countertop or update it to create an easy-to-apply wall sconce.
'If possible, consider your lighting scheme at the planning stage to maximize opportunities,' says Charlie Bowles, director, of Original BTC. 'You need two types of illumination. Shadow-free task lighting for cooking and prep, and ambient lighting for when you simply want to unwind or entertain. Most kitchens will benefit from a central lighting source plus a combination of practical, space-saving wall lights and spotlights.'
Your lighting will come together if you can control your lights fully and create different moods at the flick of a switch. Asking your electrician to install several circuits means you’ll be able to introduce texture and depth.
We love these cute ball-like task lights and they're popping up everywhere at the moment. The frosted glass gives them an ethereal glow and they look perfectly pretty in any room of the home, not least on a kitchen worktop. This one comes with a handy dimmer switch.
5. Use mirror in a clever way
You can also easily create a bright and light kitchen by using the latest mirror trends to your advantage. This kitchen clad in antique brass mirror, adds light to the space for a modern backsplash look.
While mirrored backsplash is nothing new, backsplash is moving towards warmer, more copper-like tones to give the look an updated lift.
'Mirrored glass used as a splashback most definitely creates a feeling of space and light in any kitchen,' says Jane Powell of Roundhouse. 'Silver mirror adds brightness, whereas bronze or copper will add warmth and a more luxurious feel. It’s also easy to pair with any number of other finishes and colors within the kitchen space.'
Alternatively, consider an island clad in mirror, to give the illusion of more space and almost a floating countertop. If going for a simple wall mirror, you might want to think about a convex-style mirror which tricks the eye even more to really stretch the space. 'A well-placed mirror is particularly useful for illuminating dark corners. Hand slumped convex glass mirrors have a divergent reflection, which amplifies the light, creating the illusion of space and adding drama to darker rooms,' says Natasha Reid of Reid and Wright London.
6. Set your island aglow
For the latest in countertop trends, a glowing island or countertop is a fabulous modern kitchen idea that will bring light into your kitchen and give the design a real statement boost. This lit countertop elevates the typical statement marble island in your kitchen with a translucent backlight that turns the stone luminous. It creates unexpected wow-factor and will certainly go far to brighten your dark kitchen.
'With certain worktop options offering a translucency waiting to be backlit, one can create a new dimension to the central showpiece and make it dazzle,' says Alice Hood, senior design consultant at Roundhouse.
Roundhouse worked with interior designer Zoe Murphy at Stealth Designs and lighting designer, Marcus Steffen from MS Lighting Design to create this dazzling kitchen. The island has been styled with warm neutrals and metallic. In this example, swooping waves found in onyx are accentuated to give a soothing feel.
7. Be careful with cabinetry
If you have a small kitchen, the space is prone to feeling cramped and therefore dark, so it's about how you make the space feel bigger that will go far to brighten the room.
'If your aim is to make your kitchen look bigger, then the best way to achieve this is by not filling the room full of cupboards and leaving plenty of light and space around windows, so avoid wall cupboards,' says Helen Parker of deVOL.
Instead, opt for shelves that will avoid this tunneling, cramped look taken over by imposing cabinets. Alternatively, Irene Gunter, founder of Gunter & Co also suggests removing cupboard doors. 'When all the cupboards in a kitchen have solid fronts, it can sometimes feel a little imposing,' says Irene. 'To break up the monotony – as well as lighten the overall look of the kitchen – we design wall cupboards with a variety of glass fronts.'
'To maximize the flow of natural light, I suggest keeping it simple with transparent glass,' says Irene. 'If clients prefer not to have the contents of their cupboards on display, I recommend smoked glass.'
8. Use wood in your scheme
If your kitchen is dark, and you want to keep the color scheme in place, think about the materials you are using throughout.
Soft-colored, light wooden kitchen flooring is a simple change you can make that will immediately brighten the space. 'Adding the wood and teak adds warmth and light to the room which could feel cold without the natural materials,' says Elizabeth. In this scheme by Michael Del Piero, the black kitchen is instantly brightened with the addition of a soft wood table.
If you're looking for the perfect solid wood dining table for your kitchen, La Redoute have a selection for all price points. This table extends for extra seating and is a beautiful shade of solid pine wood.
9. Use natural materials that reflect the light
Breaking up those blocks of dark color on the wall with other colors or materials is a simple way to bring light into a dark space. Your kitchen backsplash is the perfect place to play around with clashing colors, mixing and matching to find the perfect combination that balances out the darkness.
This deVOL kitchen divides up the dark green of the space with a gleaming white marble backsplash that light bounces off and diffuses around the kitchen. The backsplash cascades down and covers the countertop too, giving the space a cohesive look.
10. Bring extra layers of light through LED strips
LED lighting is a great lighting addition to any kitchen, giving a feel of a professional kitchen, and providing a handy spotlight on a dark worktop that might need some extra light while you're chopping or preparing food. It's also an energy-efficient way of adding lighting to the space, and pretty easy to do yourself. 'Lighting technology today is so advanced and led strip lights [like these from Amazon] can be concealed in unusable locations which can then transform and completely brighten up the space,' says Lior.
'Under-cabinet lighting can be a great way to brighten up a dark kitchen,' says Eugene. 'Even though the space might feel brighter with other forms of lighting, what is key for the kitchen to feel brighter overall, especially while cooking and using the space, is under-cabinet lighting.'
What lighting is best for the kitchen?
The answer vastly depends on the style of the kitchen and its size. 'The effectiveness of lighting depends on the kitchen’s footprint, ceiling height, exposures or where the natural light is coming from, among other factors,' says Eugene.
Ultimately, it’s not the number of light fixtures, but the amount of light and whether or not the space is well lit, that matters.
Think about how big the space is and if any dark corners are looking poorly lit and dark. Focus on layering the light and mixing and matching to find what works best. You want overhead lighting too. In the kitchen, recessed lighting can work well as it's a busy, often cluttered space, so a statement light in the kitchen might take up too much visual space. Mix the recessed lighting with pendants over the breakfast bar or banquette seating.
Finish it off with warm colored LED lights under cabinets and small lamps on countertops in darker corners. 'Regarding lamps, a floor lamp is probably not a good idea in a kitchen because it can be knocked over and there is no natural place to put it. If the kitchen is large or part of a bigger room, go ahead and try it,' adds Eugene.
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Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.
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