When we had our kitchen done, the builders put in under-cupboard lighting. Without asking me, they put them right at the back of the cupboards, next to the wall...

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We are about to replace these lights with some new ones, and I was wondering whether this was actually the best place for them. My feeling is that they would be better off nearer the front of the cupboard, so the light would come further forwards, illuminating the work surface better. Where they are now, a lot of the light is going to be lost behind the fittings.

On the other hand, I don't want to put them too far forwards, as the wooden trim that hangs down under the cupboards (which you can see at the top of the picture) would block the light.

To clarify, my interest here is in getting the maximum amount of light out of the fixtures. They will be out of sight, so aesthetics is not an issue.

Anyone able to advise? Thanks

  • 2
    The reason most fixtures for under cabinet are at the back is wiring, the wires are required to be in a wire way or conduit if the wires are exposed. Moving the fixture forward adds cost to you as most locations require a box and the wireway, the NEC allows flex over Romex with the connection in the fixture but the look is ugly compared to a back mounted fixture where you can not see the flex coming out of the wall.
    – Ed Beal
    May 18 at 13:19
  • 2
    You could to try both positions temporarily before affixing them permanently. You could even have one light front and one light back at the same time on different cabinets using double sided foam tape to hold the fixtures. May 18 at 14:03
  • 2
    What kind of replacement light? The fluorescent tube emits light 360° around along its length, throwing light back to be reflected off the tile, down to be reflected off the counter, forward toward the front of the counter, and up to be absorbed by the cabinet. LEDs tend to emit light mostly straight out of the fixture which will, probably, be aimed straight down, losing much of the reflected light from the fluorescent tube.
    – FreeMan
    May 18 at 14:13
  • 3
    Fluorescent lights waste a lot of energy by emitting light 360 deg around even with reflectors some of the light is blocked by the tube. LED’s have a much narrower beam angle so all the light is focused on the the area. Straight down would be my preferred location as a little conduit is not a big deal to me but many of my customers have wanted the lamps in the back not so much for lighting but looks.
    – Ed Beal
    May 18 at 16:12
  • 3
    LEDs put the most light perpendicular to the strip, so you want them overhead to whatever you do on the counter, which is typically about 1/3rd from the front, 2/3rd from the back. Sometimes visual concerns outweigh this as the last thing you want is for your eye to catch a light source...
    – dandavis
    May 18 at 16:19

3 Answers 3


In our kitchen, we have relatively low upper cabinets compared to many. It was quite dark underneath, despite good ceiling light, because there were no under-counter lights. What I did to help light underneath is to use some self-adhesive LED strip lights underneath the front edge of the cabinets (about an inch behind the front lip). They're only about a quarter inch thick so they're not visible at all when looking at the cabinets, and do a great job lighting up the whole work surface area, from the front all the way to the back.

Since they're low voltage, I was able to get by with using much smaller and unobtrusive wire to them, running to their power transformer to give a nice clean look.

  • Did you experiment with the position? I'm interested to know why you chose to put them near the front, as that's what I'm trying to decide. May 18 at 14:04
  • Did mine at the front as well, as that is above where you work on the worktop. Seems obvious really.
    – Solar Mike
    May 18 at 15:08
  • @SolarMike That was my feeling, but I wanted to hear from others. Thanks May 18 at 16:08
  • 2
    Did the same, self-adhesive LED strip lights are great under the counter. Don't put them at the back, because you don't want them to be directly visible. When I first put mine in I put them just behind the front wood trim so that the thrown light came just to the edge of the countertop because I thought it looked cool, Don't do that! Because, if you are working toward the front of the counter but above the surface then what you are working on won't be lit. Instead move the LED strip a little further from the front edge so that light is cast about 6" or so above the front of the countertop.
    – Glen Yates
    May 18 at 16:22
  • 2
    @AvrohomYisroel, I set it near the front of the countertop so it would be about centered, to throw light as equally as possible over the whole countertop depth.
    – Milwrdfan
    May 18 at 18:28

By having them at the back, whilst the wiring is easier to implement, the throw of the light is coming from the wrong side - it's throwing light toward you, not illuminating the front of anything you place on the bench, and you're seeing the front. This can result in odd shadows that might make it hard to read any writing on items on the bench, or may just look odd to the eye. Additionally, flurescant tubes like the one in the image might not be the best choice - they are not instant-on, and the light may seem quite harsh.

I would recommend using LED strips as others have mentioned, which makes wiring easy (low voltage) as well as giving you the ability to move the source of the light forward to better suit your line of sight. Yours don't look so deep, but if the cabinet was deeper, I would actually arrange the LED strips travelling front-to-back in rows, to provide very even light from above.

As a bonus, many LED strips allow customisation of the colour and temperature of the light, allowing you to "tune" the strips to match the ambient light of the room, or to create a few modes such as one for getting a drink in the night.

  • 1
    I agree - have them near the front, and find a way to make the wiring work to the rules where you are. Right at the front isn't always ideal depending on what you have in the way of trim under the cupboards - the light might be a bit too visible (especially if you ever sit down in the kitchen) though this is also improved by modern LED designs
    – Chris H
    May 19 at 8:03
  • Thanks, all great advice May 19 at 15:06
  • Best case, you end up with a design where you can't see the light source while you're working. That way you don't get any glare, but still get the benefit of the light. Front edge seems to work best for this.
    – Cullub
    May 19 at 17:56

You can use something like the IKEA IRSTA for a light, which combines the pros of wiring at the back and light from literally all kitchen cabinet bottom so no ugly shadows at all. I have this and it's really ideal.

In my old kitchen, fluorescent lights were mounted at the back of where your wooden trim sits, and since the bottom of cabinet is white it reflects light down and you'll have plenty of light at the work surface.

  • Thanks for the link, they do look pretty good, although significantly more expensive that LED strip lighting. Out of stock in Ikea, but I guess I could search around to see if anyone else does similar. May 19 at 15:08
  • 1
    The tech of the IRSTA isn't difficult, it is basically a LED strip pointed sideways into two sheets of acrylic, one diffuser, one clear. Good luck!
    – Mrten
    May 19 at 20:17
  • Hee hee, most of these things aren't that difficult once you take them apart! Thanks for the link, that site is amazing. May 22 at 13:25

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