Shopping for light bulbs can be as simple or complex as you make it. My roommate and I, who spend an inordinate amount of money at the nearby corner store (because it's right there!), tend to suffer through whatever light bulbs they've got in stock—more often than not they're soft white 60-watt incandescents. I realize I should be embarrassed.
But in our living room, where there are four to five lamps lighting a space barely larger than a dog house, these hazy bulbs create a warm, layered blanket of light that we love in the evenings. In the kitchen, however, where we try to use them in lieu of our fluorescent ceiling fixture, they fail—in the kitchen, it turns out, you actually need to be able to see.
What every kitchen needs, as much as a sharp knife or a mixing bowl, is great light. Of course a great big window, where perfectly clear natural light filters in during the day, helps quite a bit—but cooking dinner (save for a few steps), is an evening task. And as much as I'd like to report that you can light a whole kitchen with vintage-inspired, sepia-toned Edison bulbs or milky incandescents, you shouldn't.
The lighting experts at Batteries Plus Bulbs—specifically Jori Gohsman, one of their Senior Category Managers—were kind enough to set me straight: Here's what kind of light bulbs are good for your kitchen, and how to get plenty of cozy vibes while still lighting it up right. I won't be offended if you skip to the end for their suggestions, but what follows is how we got there.
The first thing you need to know is that Kelvin is actually more important than wattage when it comes to selecting a light bulb; that's what will tell you the color temperature of your bulb on a spectrum of cool (indicated by a higher Kelvin) to warm (lower Kelvin).
Cooler bulbs are easier to see by, so that's what you want to rely on in the kitchen—whereas warmer bulbs give off that cozy, casual vibe that makes lounges and restaurants so inviting. Besides affecting visibility, the color of a bulb can also change the dynamic of a space just as any other element of decor can.
Here are the different options you can shop for, starting with the most kitchen-friendly:
And on the other end of the spectrum, best for rooms where knife work isn't required, are the warmer options:
I am sure that many of you froze in your seats when I mentioned traditional incandescents, which are known not just for their warmth (2700K) but for being known energy hogs (they put out more heat than light, according to National Geographic!). There are, fortunately, more energy-efficient and longer-lasting alternatives:
But with so many ups and downs to each, the bulb style you choose is a personal (or even political) choice as much as an aesthetic one.
So let's say you're outfitting a kitchen with cool white light (via fluorescents, CFLs, or LEDs), which will give you good visibility throughout the space. You might add in a few daylight bulbs, by way of directional LEDs perhaps, to brighten your work stations.
But what if sometimes, you want to be able to set the mood in your kitchen ?
I asked Jori if layering decorative bulbs, with their warm amber glow, in space that's already outfitted with cool whites and daylights (like a kitchen) would ever be a good idea. "You can get away with having both," she said—and I cheered!—but recommended instead installing a dimmer for more control over brightness, or even opting for color-changing LEDs so you can control the temperature (as you dim them, they'll cool all the way from 3,000 to 2,200 Kelvin).
So the tiny lamp with a soft white bulb in my kitchen, which emits a soothing yellow light we simply cannot see by? It can stay! Because it's nice when we're not using the kitchen as a kitchen. But as soon as I start cooking, it goes off and the overhead goes on—because I like the idea of keeping all my fingers intact.