HomeTips & IdeasHow Light Bulb Temperatures Affect Paint Colours: KELVINS

How Light Bulb Temperatures Affect Paint Colours: KELVINS

Posted on March 3, 2021 by KylieMawdsley

Warm bulbs, cool bulbs & everything in between…

Remember when you’d go shopping for light bulbs and all you had to think about was wattage? Not anymore. Now, it’s ALL about KELVINS.

Entryway and hallway, dark wood trim and wood flooring. Kylie M Interiors Edesign.

Of course, wattage still matters, as do lumens and CRI, but when it comes to choosing a light bulb that ENHANCES your paint colour, Kelvins are the main consideration.

Interior lighting is used to make up for the light coming from the outside, either the AMOUNT, QUALITY, or TEMPERATURE of it. Part of that is covered by KELVINS, and once you get on more intimate terms with him, you’ll realize he’s not such a bad guy – you might even become besties.

kitchen before cherry cabinets (5)

How light bulbs affect paint colours. Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray, White Dove, painted wood cabinets. White quartz, subway tile. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy blogger.

How does the cri, kelvins, temperature of light bulbs affect paint colours. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy online consultant

Light Bulb Temperatures (Kelvins) & Paint Colours 

No, not Kelvin, the kid at the store who bags your groceries, we’re talking about KELVINS (shown as K on the light bulb package), the measurement of the TEMPERATURE of light.

approximate light bulb temperatures kelvins and paint colours

The above representations are approximate

While there’s an even LARGER range of Kelvins than shown above, today we’re focusing on the ones MOST COMMONLY used in today’s homes, not those used in igloos and saunas. YES, I’m talking to the men out there who LOVE their light bulbs as cold as their beer – those cold bulbs have GOT to GO!

But, a few notes before we start…

  • There are many ways of grouping Kelvins – this is how I’ve chosen to group them for learning purposes.
  • I can’t touch on every type of bulb and temperature/wattage/etc… I can only advise on the most COMMON bulbs and Kelvins, otherwise, we’ll BOTH lose our minds.
  • I’m not a LIGHTING expert, I’m a paint colour expert who happens to put two & two together.
  • When you’re done, you’ll find a link at the bottom of this page called ‘How the CRI of Light Bulbs Affects Paint Colours’ – it’s a MUST READ!

Also, thank you to all of my Online Paint Colour Consulting clients who send in their photos – I love you! 

2500-3200K LIGHT BULBS


This is a range we’re pretty familiar with, as it’s the range of most incandescent bulbs.

The temperature of the light in this range is warm – yellow. And while some bulbs dip down to 2200K (ie: some Edison bulbs), the starting point is usually 2700K for the average home/room.

Kitchen wood cabinets, Sherwin Williams White Duck, wood beams, feature similiar to Mindful Gray. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy blogger

The lower the number is, the WARMER the light is. WARMER in this range = YELLOW (the lower you go, the more orange you’ll get, then red). For most people, 2500K is the starting point.


  • WARM PAINT COLOURS will be enhanced by these warm bulbs as they lean into each other.
  • The lower the Kelvin number is, the warmer your colour will look. If you go TOO low in Kelvins, you’ll start picking up pink-red – I recommend no lower than 2500K.
  • Warm paint colours often look their best between 2700K and 3200K.


  • COOL PAINT COLOURS will be toned down and muted by this warm light.
  • Cool colours that looked crisp and fresh in white or cool light, will lose that edge in warm light. This isn’t a bad thing, as what was once a cool clean colour in the day, can look soft and subtle in the evening – you can just expect tweaked undertones, as the colour will be distorted.
  • Some paint colours with a bit more blue in them can even look a bit greenish under the warmth of warm bulbs.

In this home office below, Sherwin Williams Sea Salt looks even MORE beautiful with warm light shining on it!

Sherwin Williams Sea Salt in home office, light bulbs. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy decorating blogger, advice and consulting

Did you notice the shift in how the paint colour looks from left to right?

In this living room (below), look at the paint colour on the RIGHT side of the photo and then look at the colour above the fireplace. Based on the visible shift of the paint colour (Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray), I bet those are 2700-3200K bulbs!

OPen layout living and dining room. Traditional contemporary style. Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray, fireplace marble and built-in. Kylie M E-design

If you want a room with a cool colour to look clean and crisp at all times, you may want to choose a bulb with higher Kelvins, just make sure it’s a light you’re comfortable LIVING in.

3300-4200K LIGHT BULBS


Light bulbs around 3300K will still have a nice warmth to them, but their light will be LESS warm/yellow than the lower Kelvins and can come across a bit brighter and whiter looking. However, this slightly brighter white doesn’t mean you have higher lumens (even though it might look like it).

Van Deusen Blue painted built-in bookcase and Simply White. Dark wood beams, tobacco cognac leather sofa. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy advice, client phot

Benjamin Moore Van Deusen Blue and Simply White

As the Kelvins get higher, the warmth starts disappearing to the point where at 4000K you have a relatively ‘neutral bright white’ – not warm, not cool.

While this is a POPULAR range for many households, personally, I use 3000K in almost ALL of my fixtures, as I err on the side of warmth.

BTW, I will NEVER put a bulb higher than 3500 in my own home…just sayin.


  • Around 3300K, warm paint colours will look soft and warm, as they should, but will have a bit more brightness compared to the 2700K range.
  • 3300-3500K won’t ENHANCE warm colours the way the lower range can, and can still be quite pretty if the 2700K range is too warm/yellow for you.
  • As you get closer to 4000K, you’ll gradually lose warmth, which is replaced by a whiter light. Warm colours start getting a bit nervous in this range as the light isn’t catering to them as much.

Benjamin Moore Caldwell Green cabinets. Washer and dryer and quartz, farmhouse sink. White Dove walls Kylie M Interiors Edesign, client photo. DIY UPDATE IDEAS

See this GORGEOUS laundry room makeover HERE

In the higher end of this range (I’d say 3800-4200K), warm paint colours can sometimes look a BIT off, as that whiter light almost seems a bit cool, like it’s going slightly against the intentions of warm paint colours. It’s one thing to add contrast with paint colours, but a WHOLE different thing to try with light bulb temperatures. Even though 4000K isn’t COLD or blue, it’s lack of warmth can make it seem cold.

ANOTHER reason for this is because, for many years, we were used to the warmth of 2700K bulbs – incandescents. Because of this, even a bulb that’s not cold, but not overly warm either, can make colours SEEM a bit off – the temperature of the light isn’t as familiar.

Sherwin Williams Big Chill, best gray paint color. Marble countertop and walk in shower tile in bathroom. Kylie M INteriors Edesign, online paint color consulting blog

Sherwin Williams Big Chill


  • In the 3300-4200K range, cool paint colours start to perk up a bit, but will still be a bit toned-down or slightly distorted in the lower end of this range. This isn’t necessarily a BAD thing, as toned-down cool colours can look VERY pretty, they just won’t look the same as they would in a COOLER light.
  • Cool paint colours enjoy the 3500K+ range, as it will play off the more crisp, clean look of cool colours, especially as the Kelvins get higher. But remember, like north-facing light, this will compound the cool look of an already cool-looking room, as you won’t be adding any warmth for balance. For example, I appreciate how nice a cool colour LOOKS in the 4000K+ range, but I don’t appreciate how the room FEELS.

fireplace and kitchen before (3)

Kitchen cabinets painted Sherwin Repose Gray, Benjamin Moore Metropolitan, subway tile, stainless steel, white counters. Kylie M Edesign, diy blogger

Sherwin Williams Pure White

Funny enough, they (you know, ‘they’) say that the BEST light for paint colours to look their most true is 5000-6000K with a CRI of 100. Okay, I get the 100 CRI bit, but 5000-6000K? Do you have ANY IDEA HOW FREAKIN’ COLD THAT IS?

If you’re MORE concerned with how your paint colour looks (and less with the visual temperature of the room), and enjoy a mix of warm and cool tones, you might choose bulbs approx. 3500-4000K as they’ll have a more balanced light (erring on the slightly warm side at 3500).

Dining room with Sherwin Williams Repose Gray and Pure White paint colours. Bright light bulbs. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, consultant, diy advice blogger

Sherwin Williams Repose Gray and Pure White

Now, do you want to know what happens as we carry on down this path into higher Kelvins? I run out of photos and there are a few reasons for that…

1. Interior photos are usually best taken with lights OFF (as long as there’s adequate exterior light).

2. I ONLY use photos from my E-Design clients – REAL HOMES for reality-based advice.

2. Not as many people use cool bulbs compared to warm bulbs. And if they do take a picture, it doesn’t always translate well.

How the CRI of a Light Bulb Affects Paint Colours

4300-5000K LIGHT BULBS


Hubbies worldwide REJOICED when they introduced cool white-blue LED’S! For some reason, so many men love these cool-tinted bulbs, whereas MOST women find them too harsh and unfriendly or clinical (like, ‘just lie down, cover your lower body with this sheet and place your heels right here’ kind of clinical). Personally, I would only use this temperature range in my garage…nah, I still wouldn’t (but that’s me – YOU DO YOU!).

BTW, that’s a generalization based on experience, just like most men don’t like to paint wood, whereas many women already have their paint roller wet!

For a room like this bathroom (below), a cool light/higher KELVINS will help the blue paint colour look crisp and fresh, but could also make the warm white trim look a bit dingy. It’s a balancing act!

Benjamin Moore Ocean Air, best blue paint colour. Bathroom with white wainscoting, beadboard, blue shower curtain. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, edecor and online paint colour consulting blog

Personally, I think 4300-5000K is damn cold (particularly 5000K). If you choose bulbs in this range, you’re looking at a cold blue-white light that is MOST similar to a clear, bright, north-facing day, (wearing blue-tinted glasses). The closer you are to 4000K the more neutral/less blue the light will be, the closer you are to 5000K, the cooler or bluer the light will be.


  • Whereas some cool paint colours can look pretty in warm light, warm paint colours will look flat and distorted in this cool white-blue light.
  • You may find that using higher Kelvins in the bathroom*, can cast a GREEN glow onto your skin – which is great if you’re Shrek.

*I DO understand that for those who need to see better, a brighter, cooler bulb can be helpful. But if you wonder why your cream coloured walls look a little peaked and your face looks a tinge green…now you know why.


  • Cool paint colours will respond well to a cool white-blue light, just as warm colours respond well to the 2700K range. If you are a lover of everything crisp, cold and clean – this could be the Kelvin for you. Just don’t tell your partner about this amazing ‘Kelvin’ fellow you’ve been introduced to…



I can’t tell you from personal experience how paint colours will react to cool-toned bulbs because I would never…ever…do this to my home. I know, that’s a personal preference, and I don’t mean to sway you…wait, yes I do. You subscribe to my blog to learn about what looks good and this ain’t it. Unless that is, you live in a commercial space, workshop or institution.

So, where is a 5100K+ bulb most popular?

  • offices
  • commercial applications
  • garages

Some people also use them in their bathrooms (great for tweezin’ those nose hairs), but it can cast a greenish light on the skin. Energizing, yet not ideal.

Bathroom with free standing antique tub and green floor tile with white beadboard. Kylie M INteriors Edesign

A beautiful bathroom like this would be DESTROYED by the wrong Kelvins! 

I’m sure there are men WORLDWIDE pinning a photo of my face to a dartboard, but I’m just keepin’ it real. For the MAJORITY of homeowners, 5100K+ isn’t a comfortable light to live in.


  • Warm paint colours will look greatly distorted in 5100K light, as it doesn’t have yellow/orange/red in it to PLAY with warm colours (blue light actually will absorb red).


  • Cool paint colours will be in their glory when using bulbs with this high of a number – AS WILL ELSA! (a la Frozen)

A blue paint colour like Sherwin Williams Niebla Azul (below) is going to be in its GLORY in the higher Kelvins, but you better WATCH that warm white trim!

Sherwin Williams Niebla Azul with warm white trim. Beige carpet, Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy design ideas and advice. Consulting blog

Light Bulbs, Kelvins and White Paint Colours

Because white paint colours reflect the most light (having the highest LRV’s), they’ll be SUPER responsive to the Kelvins you choose.

If you give a paint colour with a high LRV a light that is tinted with yellow, blue or another colour, your walls will do one of the following:

  • reflect some of that colour back at you
  • the undertone in your white can be muted or distorted


Warm white paint colours will have undertones of yellow, orange or red. If you give them light with a yellow (or orange/red) hue, this light will ENHANCE the warm colours in your white, making them look a bit stronger. This is shown in the laundry room below. I would assume these bulbs are approx 3200K…

Laundry room diy updated. Green cabinets, White Dove walls, Benjamin Moore, board and batten. wood look floor. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy update ideas blogger

See this GORGEOUS laundry room makeover HERE

On the other hand, if you give a warm white paint colour a light bulb with higher Kelvins/blue, the warmth can be dulled.


Because true white paint colours don’t lean warm or cool, they’re very susceptible to tossing back what you throw at them. Give them a warm light, they’ll give it back. Give them a cool light, they’ll give it back.

In this bedroom below, Sherwin Williams High Reflective White looks gorgeous in natural light. If the bulbs have a lower Kelvin, you could expect the walls to look warm. If the bulbs have a higher Kelvin, you could expect the walls to pick up a blue hue.

Bedroom with cathedral, vaulted ceiling, board and batten, High Reflective White, drapes and black rod and chandelier. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint blogger and expert consultant


Cool white paint colours will have undertones of blue, violet or green. If you give them light with a blue hue (higher Kelvins), it will enhance the cool undertones of your paint white a bit more.

However, give cool white paint colours a light bulb with a yellow hue (lower Kelvins), the cool undertone of your white could be dulled. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can actually add a bit of balance, as cool colours that are dulled can still look good.

In this gorgeous powder room, Benjamin Moore Super White (which is a cool white), looks a touch warmer with these bulbs. Again, while warm colours can look considerably off in cooler light, cool colours can look pretty in a warmer light!

Benjamin Moore Super White, best white paint color, powder room small bathroom, shiplap, round mirror, black faucet, Kylie M Interiors Edesign - modern farmhouse style

When opposites DON’T attract

Now, I’m sure you can figure out which Kelvin you and your paint colours love to live in, but what happens when you and your PARTNER like opposite ends of the scale? Well, you could flip for it, or you can check out these tips…

  • If you have a partner who LOOOOVES the cool white-blue light of the 4500K+ range and you’re more of warm white lover (2700K range), 3500k can be a reasonable place to settle. Reasonable meaning it caters slightly more to the warm end of things than the cool end. 4000K is actually more reasonable. #imslightlypassiveaggressive
  • If you have mostly warm colours in your home, they could decide it for you, as warm colours do best in warmer, lower Kelvins and can actually look BAD in cooler, higher Kelvins. Remember, warm bulbs (lower Kelvins) ENHANCE warm colours.
  • If you have mostly cool colours in your home, they could decide it for you. Cool colours look their best in cooler, higher Kelvins. However, keep in mind, that unlike warm colours, which can look TERRIBLE in cool light, cool colours can look quite pretty in warmer, lower Kelvins as well – just a bit different.
  • Generally speaking, if you prefer to live in ONLY cool colours, you might prefer bulbs with 4000K+. However, you may want to add balance with texture and warm accents, otherwise your room could look a bit stark and icy.
  • In my experience, we humans generally enjoy a softer, warmer looking environment, as it’s psychologically, a more inviting look. Sure, we can add a bit of freshness to that, going up to the  3500K range, but BEYOND that is unfamiliar territory. Again, this goes back to the fact that many of us were raised with incandescents.
  • In my own home, I don’t have a variation of more than 500K between fixtures IN a room and BETWEEN rooms. This way, I can add a bit more function where needed (3000K in my task lights) while keeping softness in other fixtures 2700K). This helps a room feel balanced and flowing when all of the lights are on, without having a warm light battling a cool light. Sadly, the cool light will ALWAYS win because they tend to look darn bright!

White kitchen cabinets, Pure White Sherwin Williams, gray paint island, Cambria black quartz, modern pendant lights. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, decor and paint color blog

LRV and Paint Colours: The ULTIMATE Guide you Need to Read

There you have it! Do you feel any BRIGHTER? Are you positively GLOWING with new knowledge and feeling like a real chLAMPION? You should, you learned a lot today!


Check out my Online Paint Colour Consulting

as well as…

the excellent SEARCH FUNCTION you’ll find on the right side of the home page. Type in any word and have access to 385+ articles at your fingertips!

The best paint colours for any room from Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams. Popular Edesign blogger Kylie M Interiors. Diy decor and design advice. Market

Chat soon,

Kylie M Interiors, decorating blog, e-design, online colour consulting expert. signature


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  1. This post is perfect timing! It’s so much to take in, now adding lighting to the exposure and undertone considerations! My last place had a different bulb in every fixture and I hated it, but couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I had cool grey walls and warm lights shining on them which was so uncomfortable, like little pools of yellow on the wall. I just want that continuity of light throughout the whole house. But then there’s all “you have to have warm in the living room and cool in the kitchen and warm in the bedrooms and natural light in the bathrooms.”🤦🏻‍♀️ can I just tell the electrician to put 3500 in everything?

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      YES! That’s what this blog post was about, helping you figure out the light you like to live in as well as what suits your paint colours. I think 3500K could be a GREAT happy medium between things! I don’t have a variation of more than 500K between the fixtures in my own home!

    2. I have a question Kylie! I have a eye disease and I luckily come across your Pinterest page today. Sometimes it seems like the led lights affect my eyes. Do you recommend led or regular bulbs. For a room with warm tones?

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        Hi Tina! Well, if the LED bulbs affect your eyes and I’m not a doctor, but it seems to me that the old-fashioned incandescents could be better while giving you that lovely warm glow!

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      Hi Jessica, it all depends on what you want it to DO. If you want it to stay soft and warm (as it is a warm colour at heart) then something in the 2700K range would work, although it could tweak the green undertone a bit. If you want it to go GRAYER, you may want to inch up a bit, try something closer to 3500, maybe 4000K, just make sure you enjoy LIVING in those lights too!

  2. Hi! Thanks for this article. Can you recommend a bulb to use with
    SW Agreeable Gray? I have this color on my first floor and love it in natural daylight but not a fan of it in artificial lighting. It looks more beige/tan/pinkish to me in the artificial lighting and I want it to lean more gray (how it does during the day). Any suggestions?

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      Hi Angela, I might try a bulb around 3500K-4000K and see how that feels. This could cut back on the warmth of it without having your room look cold! Bring a few bulbs home to try and return what doesn’t work!

      1. Thank you for this post!! Ever since they stopped selling the old style bulbs I have HATED the lighting in my house. The places I’ve been shopping for lightbulbs only ever have Soft White or Daylight and I can’t stand either one. Yellow or blue , what to choose… Just checked the kelvins and one is 2700k and the other 5000k. 🤦🏻‍♀️ I’m going to head to a lighting store with my newfound knowledge and find something a bit more middle of the road.

  3. Thank you so much for these 2 articles, that makes so much sense and explains why my previous rented house felt so cold, the light was nearly blue in some rooms ! Do you have any specific stores you would recommend that have a good variety of bulbs ? I am in Eastern Canada and went to home depot and Kent but the selection was small and it was hard to find bulbs where both CRI and Kelvins were indicated on the box.

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      Hi Emilia, I’d LOVE to send you to a great local store, but we’re on opposite ends of the country! LOCALLY, I go to McLarens and Illuminations. I do believe Illuminations has some locations on the east coast! Hope you’re keeping well my fellow Canadian!

  4. Wow! This is going to either end or exacerbate some arguments at my house. In my mind – we’re done! Thanks so much for a truly (oh, no! don’t do it) enlightening (I did it) and very useful post.
    I refuse to wear sunglasses in my own home now that I have guidance written in stark, cold, blue-white, 5100 Kelvin English.

  5. I JUST painted 2 walls in my bathroom Palladian blue. Could not figure out why they looked so different, in fact I repainted one white, as I didn’t like the 2 tones. Then I received your email and fabulous lighting blog. Turns out I had 2 different bulbs in 2 different lights. Changed a bulb, and already see a difference. Talk about excellent timing and help for me. THANKS. You should do a TV, JUST DECORATING tips show!

  6. This all makes so much sense now especially combined with your CRI post! I just redid my entryway and put in 3000K LED w/ CRI 90 and it is my favorite room in the house and the paint looks amazing (agreeable gray). I finally found my happy place with 3000K but am learning it isn’t commonly stocked. Can you recommend any go to brands that carry 3000K in all styles?

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      YES YES YES, this is what I love to hear! It’s that magical combination that pulls a great paint colour together with the vice you want in your home! And no, I’m not particularly married to one particular brand at all, and kind of grab bulbs on a one-by-one basis :).

  7. Kylie, I thought my phone was listening into our household conversations this week when this came across my feed! My husband and I were talking about this very topic for our basement lights being put in. I want 3000, he wants 4000, colour chosen was SW Zircon (so cold!). I compromised with the 4000 but changed the colour to BM Revere Pewter to bring a bit of warmth back in. I truly can’t believe the difference Kelvin makes, that sneaky fella! Thank you for solidifying what I tried to tell hubby this week…he doesn’t always take my word for it so I told him to ask his buddy Kylie (no joke, you’re the paint marriage counsellor here haha), and you delivered!

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      IT’S FATE or Kismet, or something like that ;). Seeeeeriously, evne if you could bump it down to 3500K that could help. Personally, 4000 is not warm enough for me, but going from Zircon (damn cold) to Revere Pewter would ABSOLUTELY help the 4000K feel better!

      I’ll put another notch in my headboard for another marriage saved ;).

  8. Oh My! There is so much to know and thank you so much for sharing. By the way, I love your new home! It is so classy with a relaxed west coast feel. I wish I had found your website before making some costly mistakes in our new home.
    Do you think that where I live, Vanderhoof~ (the Geographical Centre of BC, ) I would need different KELVINS?

    Do you do road trips? I have a wine cellar!

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      Hi Corinne – you had me at wine cellar ;).

      And thank you, we love our home too! Now, with where you live, I would THINK you’d want a bit more warmth, to counteract the grayer colder days, but you’d also want brightness, so som LUMENS in there. I’d think somewhere around 2700-3000K could be your sweet spot!

      And YES, once this darned Covid is done, we’re definitely going to be on the road – can’t wait to meet you!

  9. This is really interesting. We have daylight bulbs (5000K) which I would have never thought of but our decorator suggested since our house felt soooo dark when we moved in. Some people have commented that it is very bright but it works for us. We do have lower kelvins in our table/floor lamps and ceiling fans. Our last house had tons of natural light everywhere and I really missed it. When we moved in I felt like the paint color was blah, but with the daylight bulbs – I can actually see the color. The builders used SW Creamy on the trim (which is everywhere and we don’t have the $$ or time to repaint) so I wanted something to combat the yellow. Thanks for the great info – when it comes time to replace these lights I may look for lower kelvin daylight bulbs.

  10. Hi Kylie just dropping in to say EXCELLENT post!!! Very informative I thought I knew about lighting but after reading this I knew nothing until know. 😉

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  11. Very interesting and informative article! Thank you!
    Could you please recommend Kelvin range for a north facing living room?
    It has moderate natural light. I’m considering SW Repose gray color.

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  12. Hi Kylie,
    I just painted the walls in my kitchen Stonington Gray with Chantilly Lace on the ceiling. I have honey oak cabinets and I noticed in the evening when the overhead light with a single incandescent bulb 100 watts is on the cabinets look even more orange, Any suggestions on how to tone down the orange with lighting?

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