In 2020, I moved from a glorified closet into a one-bedroom apartment. After getting the essentials — a couch, a massive order of kitchen gear from a restaurant-supply store — I started chipping away at the less immediately necessary things that make an apartment feel like home. High on that list was an alternative to the overhead light in the kitchen, which has a greenish, Saw-movie-style cast and is so bright that it highlights every thumbprint smudge and crumb on the countertops. Probably on some level looking for the opposite, I bought Hay’s LED light bar in a warm egg-yolk yellow color, expecting to have to augment it with other lights.
Since then, the Hay light bar has been my workhorse kitchen light, and I’ve also evangelized it to several friends. I love this thing. It’s very bright — when I first plugged it in, I felt like I was in a knockoff Queens rental version of a Dan Flavin installation — and it’s a pretty good dupe for a neon light, which uses electricity to illuminate neon gas, creating an even glow as the gas reacts inside a glass tube. Unlike other LED light bars or light strips, where you can pick out individual bulbs, the glow of the Hay light bar is fairly smooth and seamless, creating a warm, ambient glow that’s closer to restaurant signage than an e-sports setup.
“I think the Hay light is an excellent sub-$100 vibe hack,” says curator Elizaveta Shneyderman, my dear friend and the owner of several cool lights, who has the yellow Hay tube propped up in the corner of her living room. (In addition to yellow and a warm white, it comes in a cool, deep pink; blue; and haunted-house red.) Shneyderman likes that it can be “hidden above a room” to provide ambient lighting or displayed more prominently “as a statement piece or design object.”
I’ve heard about a new use for the light bar from almost every person I’ve asked about it. Mine is tucked above my kitchen cabinets, where the light can bounce off the ceiling; Strategist writer Dominique Pariso has her warm-white Hay tube mounted above a countertop in a kitchen that gets, she says, “absolutely zero natural light,” where it lights up her prep space “really nicely, which is great for when I’m chopping and mixing.” When I spoke to Business of Home editor Caroline Biggs about dining chairs, we ended up talking about the Hay light, and she said that she recommends it to “people who can’t paint, because they cast a lot of color. You hide it under a console and all of a sudden have a pink wall.”
My one gripe with the light bar’s design is that the switch is about a foot and a half from the end of the tube; if the light is positioned somewhere high, you may have to stretch to turn it on and off, which can jostle it out of place. (I anchored mine to the top of my cabinets with cheap Home Depot pipe hangers, which fixed the problem; the bar also comes with plastic mounting clips.) Shneyderman uses an extension cord that she unplugs to turn it off. The colored lights are also quite saturated — I like a dim, weird lighting scheme and dig the yellow light on its own, sometimes supplemented by the cooler white light from a smart garden. But for a use-optimized versus vibes-optimized work space, balancing it out with other lighting or going for the warm white color is probably best.
Still, the vibes are worth it. I asked Shneyderman why the Hay tube feels more fun than something like the Philips Hue bulbs and light strips, another popular kind of colored LED light. “I think technically something like a Hue bulb can produce the same effect,” she says, “But because the Hay colors are pre-selected, it’s like a thousand options were combed through into a smaller and more agreeable set. It’s curated color.”
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