Are you looking to redecorate your bathroom? Homeowners and DIY enthusiasts have already caught on to the fact that a little extra design work in the bathroom goes a long way. A simple and inexpensive way to enhance the look of a bathroom is through careful lighting design. Good bathroom lighting is easy to overlook, but a savvy decorator can see plenty of opportunities to turn a bathroom into a relaxing, spa-like sanctuary. From fixture types to placement and beyond, we’ve got you covered when it comes to lighting your bathroom. With our handy tips, you can ensure that your bathroom redecoration project goes smoothly and has the desired effect.
Lighting Purposes: The Basics
There are three primary types of bathroom light fixtures—accent, ambient, and task lighting. Each has its own strengths and uses. It’s important to understand how to best use different lighting types so your bathroom lighting projects turn out beautifully.
Ambient lighting—fill the room
Ambient bathroom lighting is a substitute for sunlight—it distributes light evenly across the entire bathroom. This is where you’ll find most wall and ceiling lights, as well as chandeliers and pendant fixtures. Just because ambient lighting is unobtrusive doesn’t mean it can’t be appealing. Consider how to best position fixtures to bounce light evenly throughout the room. Also, consider a diffuser to better spread light and reduce glare.
Task lighting—illumination with a purpose
Task lighting helps you get things done: you know, tasks. In the bathroom, task lighting can show up anywhere you might need a little more light. Mostly, that’s going to mean near the mirror, but task lighting around the bath, shower, and toilet can also be useful. There are a number of options for task lighting—sconces, notably—but it’s important to make sure that there is adequate light, especially at the vanity, where it’s important to make sure that both sides are equally illuminated. Consider installing a mirror with built-in lighting to save space and add a little touch of magic to your bathroom.
Accent lighting—touch up and show off
Accent lights in the bathroom add that perfect final decorative touch. Good bathroom accent lighting is incredibly versatile: it can highlight what makes your bathroom unique, as well as balance the light in the room—preventing dark corners and big blank walls. Bathroom accent lighting is essential to creating a look that’s all your own. You’ll want to consider how natural light will affect your space. Just about any amount of sunlight coming into your bathroom will be brighter than any artificial light that fixtures can emit. But depending on window placement, time of day, and latitude, the amount of light your bathroom gets will vary wildly—especially since the sun isn’t there for half the day.
Placing Your Lights
Light placement is just as, if not more, important than its type. How you position your bathroom lighting fixtures can make or break an interior design. The right bathroom light placement enhances the look of a room or makes it easier to use.
Ceiling lighting is by far the most common type of bathroom lighting—virtually every bathroom is equipped with ceiling lights of some sort to provide ambient illumination. Ceiling lights can be as unobtrusive as a minimal flush mount, as decorative as a chandelier, or somewhere in between. Certain fixtures even come with an exhaust fan built in. It’s a perfect way to more efficiently use your space. Bathroom ceiling height is key, as that’s going to set a hard limit on how large a fixture you can use—keep the fixtures at least 84 inches above the floor.
Task lighting in the shower is overlooked in many home bathrooms, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Shower lighting can be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Unlike most of the other lighting here, this is where it’s important to use wet-rated bathroom light fixtures. You might consider recessed lighting for bath and shower lighting to make the fixture as invisible as possible, or a small flush-mounted light to add a bit of decor.
There’s a special art to bath lighting. Few people take baths instead of showers daily, so there’s less need for practical task lighting for your tub. That’s not a reason to neglect it—in fact, it frees you to make your design as appealing and inviting as possible. Taking a bath is a luxurious, relaxing experience, and your lighting should reflect that. Try an elaborate chandelier or some small, evenly spaced pendants to add some flair to your tub area. Lights with a dimmer are even better here for achieving that cozy, relaxing look. Fixtures here should be at least six feet above the water level of a full bath, for safety reasons.
Bathroom vanity lighting
Lights around the bathroom vanity or mirror should absolutely not be overlooked—proper lighting is necessary for proper grooming, so your lighting should be as even as possible to reduce shadows. Using lights only above the mirror isn’t optimal, as they tend to cast unappealing shadows across the face. Fixtures on both sides of the mirror can minimize this better, but in cramped bathrooms where space is at an absolute premium, it’s better than nothing. If your bathroom has enough space, try lighting both on top and the sides of the mirror. Vanity light bars are an easy and compact way to maximize the light around a vanity.
Now that you know what types of lights you’ll be working with, it’s time to figure out how to use them together. Layering different types of lights will help you achieve a one-of-a-kind bathroom look. You’re going to get a lot of mileage out of accent lighting here, as diverse lighting types can flesh out a bathroom redecoration. For example, putting a sconce on an empty wall will make it a lot more visually interesting. Or you could use a row of pendant lights to accent the bathtub area. Different lighting styles can also help you transform your bathroom to match your mood.
Choosing the Right Bulb
It’s also important to consider the light source you’re using—there are plenty of bulb options for your bathroom lighting project that can make sweeping changes in how a bathroom looks.
Traditional incandescent bulbs emit a warm and cozy glow that’s perfect for a retro look. However, they don’t last as long as CFL or LED bulbs, and use more electricity. The look of these bulbs is timeless, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of your electricity bill. The expansion of LED bulb options in recent years means you can find the perfect color temperature for your light.
Compact fluorescent lamps are a supremely versatile choice for bathroom lighting. CFLs have a longer lifespan than traditional incandescent bulbs but use a fraction of the electricity. They generally have a cooler color temperature, but CFLs come in a wide range of styles and color temperatures, so you can find the perfect bulbs for you.
The hottest new lighting technology on the block ironically gives off very little heat. Light-emitting diodes are small, bright, and last even longer than CFLs and incandescent bulbs, using even less electricity. In fact, LED lighting uses as much as 80% less electricity than a traditional bulb and last 25 times as long. Those savings come at a cost—LED bulbs can be a lot more expensive than a comparable CFL, and not all of them are dimmable. That said, prices have only dropped since their introduction, and LED bulbs have only become more flexible and technically impressive.
A Perfect Bathroom, No Matter the Size
Depending on its size, you will have different concerns about how best to light your bathroom. Our bathroom lighting guide will help you figure out how to design the bathroom of your dreams, no matter its size.
Little rooms, big ideas ○ With space at a premium, it might feel impossible to adequately light a bathroom. But there’s no reason to fret—there are plenty of options for redecorators to make something special. The key here is to work with the space you have. Can’t use a ceiling-mounted light? Try using big, bright lights around the vanity to compensate. Is the sink recessed, preventing you from lighting around the vanity? Consider a lighted mirror. Efficient space ○ For those with a small bathroom (generally less than 50 square feet), it might be difficult to find space for light fixtures. While even the most basic of bathrooms typically come with a ceiling light, it might be difficult to install, say, a hanging pendant. That said, there are no shortage of elegant, beautiful bathroom ceiling lights that take up very little space.
Unlimited options ○ None of this is to say that those with large bathrooms have it easy. In fact, large bathrooms need even more light. While a tiny bathroom could be fully lit by a single window, a large bathroom begs for more design—otherwise, it may feel boring and bleak. You won’t be able to get away with just vanity lighting—it’s important that the whole bathroom is considered, with lighting for each of the bathroom’s areas (shower, sink, toilet, etc.) and consistent illumination that links those areas. With enough space, the sky’s the limit for your bathroom lighting fixture options. Unify the room ○ With such a large space, it’s important to have a look that’s consistent throughout the bathroom. You may want to use track lights that run the length of the bathroom—or at least the sink area—to evenly illuminate the whole area. Or a large chandelier that pulls focus to it. Touch up dark spots ○ With large bathrooms, a few poorly lit areas will be inevitable. It’s important to identify where those dark spots are going to be and work to minimize them. Empty walls are often a culprit, as are unused corners. While small bathrooms can easily bleed light from one area to another, larger ones don’t have that luxury. Consider additional ceiling-mounted fixtures—or track lighting—to improve your ambient lighting and make sure the whole room is joined in brilliance.
Now that you’ve mastered the basics of lighting your bathroom, it’s time to move onto more advanced topics. In no time, you’ll understand exactly what fixtures work best and how to customize your bathroom lights to your every need. Bathrooms have unique needs compared to other rooms, so it’s worth putting some extra thought into your lighting setup.
Staying dry ○ Bathrooms can become quite wet, which doesn’t bode well for electrical fixtures. For safety and maintenance, it’s important to use fixtures that won’t be damaged by water. Look for a UL wet rating or damp rating when shopping for lights—this should be marked on the box, but be sure to ask for help if you aren’t sure. Wet-rated fixtures are best above showers and bathtubs, where water exposure is a constant, while damp-rated fixtures are ideal for sink and mirror lighting.
Take control ○ A bathroom is often your first stop before taking on the morning or a luxurious retreat to ease away stress at the end of the day. Using dimmers and other switches can help you take control of your bathroom. For example, you might turn the ambient lights off and the bath lights low to create a cozy, relaxing atmosphere.
Alternatively, you could flood the room with ambience and use bright task lighting around the mirror for a shadowless room perfect for grooming or applying makeup. Whatever your needs may be, a flexible bathroom lighting setup can meet them. The bathroom has the potential to be your favorite room in the house. We hope that with these tips, your next bathroom redecoration project goes smoothly. Whether you want a minimalist washroom or a relaxing spa, this is the information you need to get started on the bathroom of your dreams.
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