Bathroom lighting design

Holly Eddins

Bathroom Lighting Design

Do you find yourself not wanting to look at yourself in your bathroom mirror in the morning? It may simply be because you have poor lighting. Lighting naturally creates shadows and if you don't have your lighting properly planned, you may find that your newly remodeled bathroom isn't the happy place you thought it would be.

I'm writing this article as a result of numerous questions from my neighbor who is remodeling. Being a lighting professional, they have lots of questions for me regarding their bathroom lighting. It really seems to be a daunting task for them. In Bathroom lighting design, there are many decisions to make. From design and placement to what fixture to use to what light bulbs are best. I'd like to take you around the room to give you a rule of thumb when planning your own bathroom lighting design.

Shower Lights

Showers are a space that you no doubt need a form of recessed lighting. It's very important to use a recessed fixture that is made for the shower and rated to work under conditions of humidity and possible contact with water. In addition you'll want to use a light bulbs rated to use in the shower. Most products will be clearly marked as such.

Personally, we have a dimmer on our shower light. It allows for a slow wake up by anyone getting into the shower before the light of day. But it's important to provide enough light to allow you to shave and see what you are doing.

Bathtub Lighting

Depending on the height of your bathtub and if it is separate from your shower, your lighting solutions here will be different. Let's assume you have a separate bathtub here. If not, you won't do anything different than what I've outlined above. Typically, you will be using recessed lighting above your bathtub area. It is not necessary to have water rated fixtures and light bulbs in this spot. One or maybe two recessed fixtures aimed at the outside of the tub will provide what you need. Aiming to the outside of the tub will provide light to see what you are doing yet will cut down on any glare.

Mirror and Vanity Lighting

This area might be the most crucial spot to get it "right." Improper lighting when you are trying to apply make-up or shaving can be the pits. Lighting companies have come up with a number of functional and decorative choices for vanity/mirror lighting.

Topping and flanking your mirror with vanity strips is one way to provide light. Insure that you purchase vanity light bulbs that have a lower wattage or frosted glass so you don't blind yourself. The mistake I've seen many make is that their light bulbs are too powerful and then they unscrew several of them to take the light level down. This totally defeats the purpose of having a vanity strip as it is suppose to distribute light evenly.

What we decided to use is our home is wall sconces. And now that I think about it, we used it in all three bathrooms. The master has 3 as we have a long vanity and there are holes cut in the glass where the sconces sit. The other two bathrooms have the sconces flanking the mirror. When you choose to have more than two, it's important that the spacing be such that the light is coming from either side of each sink. Spacing here is not as critical; just insure that they are evenly spaced. Most folks tent to stand in front of the sink and you wouldn't want to have the sconce right in front of your face! Their height should be about eye height. This will need to be adjusted slightly according to the type of sconce that you choose. Bottom line is that you don't want to be able to see the light bulb itself when standing and looking at the sconce.

Ceiling Fixtures

If you are lucky enough to high ceilings in your bathroom, go for a small decorative fixture like a small chandelier. The rule of thumb on the size of chandelier is calculated by taking the width of the room added to the length of the room. (Or if you are installing multiple lighting fixtures, use the dimensions of the area that this fixture is meant to light.) That number should equal the diameter of the fixture. Ie. A master bath that is 15' X 13' would need a chandelier or decorative fixture about 28" in diameter.

Recessed Lighting

I'm all for recessed fixtures in your overall bathroom lighting design. What I don't care for are ceilings that look like swiss cheese. After you've planned for all other lighting, it would be prudent to fill other lighting needs with recessed lighting. If using recessed in the toilet area, locate the can in front of the toilet and not right over. No reason to be in the spot light!

Use recessed to light dead areas or to light sitting/reading areas. Yes, some bathrooms are big enough for reading or lounging areas. Above a bench or reading area is a perfect place to insert a recessed fixture. Now, I'm going to throw this in now. My neighbor wants to put a sconce above the toilet for reading purposes. Use the same rule of thumb as mirror sconces and place the fixture at about eye level.

Night Light

Some sort of lighting that can be left on all night is not only a safety solution but will allow you to make the middle of the night trip to the bathroom without totally waking yourself up. Lots of folks use a night light and if you don't have much space in your bathroom, this is a great solution. I love to use accent lamp lighting when there is room. A small lamp with a long life light bulb or compact fluorescent light bulb in it provides a wonderful accent light day and night. Either place on your vanity or on a small accent table.

There are numerous components to bathroom lighting design. The above should get you started in the process or at least give you the confidence that your electrician is putting junction boxes in the correct spots. One last suggestion I'll make is to put all of your bathroom lighting on dimmers. Many of us use our bathrooms as a serene get away. To achieve this; lighting is a huge component. Having the ability to dim the lights will provide the perfect atmosphere.

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About the Author
Holly Eddins has over 10 years experience in the lighting industry. If you'd like to get more information from Holly about Lighting Design or Choosing the right Light Bulbs for your applications visit her website at All rights reserved

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