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How to Use LEDs to Light Up, Under, and Inside Your Cabinets

One of the most exciting advances in kitchen and bath design in recent years is the way LED lighting can be used in and around cabinetry.

LEDs are perfect for undercabinet lighting, which has become a necessity in new kitchens. But with advance planning – more on that below – it’s now easy to incorporate useful, eco-friendly lighting inside a pantry or drawer cabinet; in a cabinet interior; or even above the cabinetry for a beautiful ambient glow (sometimes in colors!).

Three characteristics of LED make this practical: LED Undercab B

  • Quality LEDs have very long lives. In general they won’t need to be changed out during the life of your new kitchen. Which makes the idea of squeezing a light into a hard-to-access corner very appealing.
  • LEDs run cool. Like fluorescent lighting, they give off little to no heat so they can be tucked into all kinds of small spaces.
  • The energy savings makes it worth it. LEDs use very little energy compared to standard incandescents. Look for Energy Star-rated fixtures, which must use at least 75 percent less energy (sometimes up to 90 percent!) than a typical household bulb.

We recently completed our first all-LED kitchen with the help of Lucía Lighting and Design in Lynn. In guest appearances on this blog, Lucía owner Lucy Dearborn has taught us about LED technology and LED recessed lights. Now it’s on to specific task lighting.

Undercabinet Lighting

LED lighting has outclassed all other entries in this category (halogen, fluorescent and less-used xenon lights). LEDs are now warmer-toned (look for 2700K or at most 3000K color temperature), cool to the touch and last seemingly forever. They come in strips or pucks to accommodate your needs.

Lucy Dearborn cautioned that undercabinet strips should have lenses on them to avoid the “row of lights” effect. Even when hidden under cabinets, LED strips that look like a strip of neon lights reflect unattractively off shiny counters, especially darker ones. Lensing gives you the diffused yet clear light that you want.

LED Undercab C
Photo courtesy of Lucía Lighting and Design

LED strips also can be routed into the underside of a cabinet over a desk area for excellent task lighting.


Uplighting is light reflected off the ceiling, easily produced by strips of LEDs on top of the cabinets. They create instant ambiance.

“When you have high ceilings but not a lot of natural light, uplight is great,” Lucy said.

 In-cabinet lighting

Light the inside of your pantry with LED strips: Have it turn on when you open the door. The same goes for any drawers or pullouts where you might need a bit of extra illumination.

Light the inside of your glass-fronted cabinetry: LED strips can be attached to the face frame of framed cabinets,  routed into the sides of frameless cabinet interiors, or routed into the shelves. We recently completed a kitchen with Pennville Custom Cabinetry where the LED strips were routed into the shelves, giving a nice, even light throughout.

A very dramatic use of LED strips, especially in a more modern space: Recess them into a wall or the back of a cabinet, Lucy said, directly behind clear glass shelves. It makes the front of the glass shelving literally glow! An example from Houzz:

The most important step – plan, plan, plan!

Why plan? High-tech LED fixtures require not only the LED lights but also separate “drivers” or “transformers” to power them up. The power source(s) must be hidden somewhere – preferably somewhere you can access in case of problems, Lucy said.

“We like to have the power supply all in one place,” Lucy said, such as a basement or in a closet.

While the kitchen plan is being developed, discuss your goals with your designer early and meet with a lighting specialist to choose and test the best options.

Discuss your plans in detail with your electrician and cabinetmaker. With custom cabinetry, your order probably can be shipped with slots already routed out for your specific LED strips. We do this all the time with Pennville cabinetry.


The cost of LED fixtures is declining, but can vary depending on your choices.

For our client with the all LED-kitchen, we priced out undercabinet lighting fixtures that started at around $150 (for 7 inch) and went up to $300 (for 30 inch). Installation, cables and boxes are extra.

Lucy Dearborn says when specifying LED lighting for a kitchen, a guideline is 2 to 5 percent of your total project cost, not including the cost of sconces or chandeliers.

“I believe at every price point, there is something valuable for somebody,” she said.

Next: LEDs as Accent Lighting

Choosing the Right LED Recessed Lights for Your Project

For the first time, we recently incorporated high-tech, energy-saving LED lighting into an entire kitchen project. There are no incandescent, halogen or fluorescent bulbs to be found – not even in the dramatic Visual Comfort drum pendants we specified for the island. The results are beautiful, the clients love it (photos coming soon!) and in… Continue Reading