4 Design Tips to Brighten Up A Dark Kitchen

I’ve found that when clients have a dark kitchen, perhaps because of small windows or because of the low exposure to sunlight, they usually want to go overboard when trying to brighten up their kitchen.  So, I warn clients to consider the entire picture, not to focus only on bright or happy colors, but, to put together a palette of colors which will be lighter but not too white and jarring to the eye.  A common mistake is to go to the total opposite end of the spectrum, and make everything white and bright.  Typically, this approach creates a kitchen with little to no personality, and, in the end, will be too bright and visually cold.

kitchen off-white and dark wood

Brighten with Cabinetry

It is usually best to use white or off-white cabinets – sometimes even mixing with other dark colored cabinets.  A medium to dark wood or tile floor helps to ground the kitchen and warm it up.  As long as the lighter colors are at eye level, this will brighten the kitchen up just fine.

modern kitchen white cabinets dark wood

If the client prefers a wood cabinet, it’s best to stay with a light stained wood.  Sometimes maple or the engineered veneers can be stained to almost white.  Then, the same is true for the other elements in the kitchen as explained above with white painted cabinets.  A white counter can be used, but, adding in some dark wood in some area of the countertop, usually the breakfast bar, will add warmth and give just enough contrast for a more interesting kitchen.    D08201_5070

Reflective Backsplash Details

The backsplash in your kitchen can be a good way to brighten up the space.  You can use high gloss tiles that reflect light, or, use panels of back painted glass for an accent color (shown in above image).  When the under cabinet lights are on, the backsplash illuminated in a way that will make it glow.  Mirror is also helpful as a reflective material, but, can be quite hard to keep looking good in a kitchen.

large kitchen window brightens with light

Architectural Changes

Not everyone has the budget to enlarge their windows or to change their exterior door.  If they do, this is a wonderful way to not only brighten the kitchen, but, it helps to bring the vibrant colors from the outside in.  If there is enough room on the sink wall, for example, then take out the single smaller window and replace it with either two or three casement windows.  It’s best to use windows that have no dividers, just plain windows.  Take into consideration the fact that the window height dimensions can be enlarged as well.   If the window comes down to the countertop and then the counter is installed so as to be the “sill” of the window, this increases the counter space behind the sink and also gives the feeling of standing outside while looking out the window .  Also consider taking the window up higher, this will certainly capture more sunlight regardless of the exposure to the sun.  If there is a door to the outside, replace that door with one that is all glass, or, at least half glass.  Sometimes, there is room to widen the doorway and to install French Doors.

If there is a wall in the kitchen which, if taken down, would help bring some sun in from a window facing east or west, then this might be a great idea.  Not only will it bring in more light, but, it will help to make the kitchen more connected to another space in the house and will naturally make the kitchen feel larger.  Open floor plans for kitchens are all the rage since this makes more space for congregating in the kitchen and socializing while cooking.


Finally, the lighting design for the kitchen space is paramount.  Try to use warm LED lighting.  This new technology can be a bit more pricey, but, in the long run, it uses much less electricity and will save you money.  This light is does not emit any heat, so, unlike incandescent or halogen lights, you won’t be heating up your kitchen when the lights are on.  Make sure to have good general lighting, using recessed lights or a contemporary track light.  Task lighting is very important, so, make sure to put lights under your cabinets, and, LED again, is the best choice.  Accent lighting will brighten up the space even more.  Try to keep a wall empty somewhere in the kitchen where you can put artwork, then, an adjustable light or two which wash the wall and light up the artwork can almost feel like light is coming in from a window.  Doing this in more than one place if possible would really enhance the kitchen.


Photos copyright of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen and Bath, Ltd.