Bathroom Lighting Ideas and Tips

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Light your bathroom for function and dramatic decorative effect.

Bathrooms are the perfect place to play with light and its effects. There are so many elements that can capture light, reflect it, and refract it.

However, not many of us stop to consider the importance of good bathroom lighting.

Although it may be one of the smallest rooms in the home, a bathroom is used regularly throughout the day for very task-oriented activities, so this area needs proper lighting for applying makeup, shaving, styling hair and all your daily hygiene tasks.

A Well Lit Bathroom Shines

Good bathroom lighting will brighten the space, and make a safe, pleasant, efficient and comfortable atmosphere. Plus, the more decorative lighting adds to your bathroom ambience, the more alluring, rather than business-as-usual, your bathroom space will become.

Natural window light is one of your best bathroom light sources when available. Make use of all available window light if possible.

Explore your options in both natural and artificial bathroom lighting to create a functional and unique lighting plan in your new bathroom. Get the balance just right and you have a wondrous result; a bathroom washed in natural light by day, transformed at nigh with soft ambient light, dramatic accent lighting or candlelight to create the perfect romantic retreat.

Natural Bathroom Lighting Options

Skylights open up a bathroom and provide natural light where windows might compromise privacy in your bathroom.

The best and most effective complement to your bathroom is to make use of natural daylight. Not only does the room look better bathed in warm natural light, but you look better too; imagine drenching yourself in light as you take your morning shower, or looking out at your garden while you soak in a tub of warm water.

Thankfully, modern low-E glass solves the problem of drafty, inefficient windows so you can capture and incorporate your beautiful views without losing costly heat or air-conditioning.

If privacy allows, you may want to use a large window, a bay, or a bank of smaller units adjacent to the bathtub to add luxury to the room. In a contemporary bathroom design, install clean-lined casement windows.

To blend with a tradition bathroom décor, consider an elegant arched window or a standard double-hung unit with muntins (strips of wood or metal that separate and hold glass window panes in place). If your bathroom is adjacent to a patio, deck, hot tub, or private garden, think about including a pair of French or sliding doors.

Natural window light gives the modern style bathroom a clean, crisp look with monchromatic color scheme and natural wood flooring.

Your view doesn’t have to be the ocean or snow-capped mountains, a pretty tree or some well-positioned plants can make the indoor view worthwhile. However, if you are too close to neighbors, a skylight, roof window, or glass blocks are a batter way to introduce natural light without compromising privacy or aesthetics.

Artificial Bathroom Lighting Options

No matter how much natural light you have in the bathroom, there are times you will need artificial light to supplement it. Artificial lighting is the easiest way to change a mood and control lighting levels as desired to suit your activities. A simple flick of the switch and your bathroom can change from a bright, busy grooming area to a softly lit, calm and quiet Home Spa getaway.

There are three types of artificial light sources you can consider for your bathroom: task, ambient and accent lighting. But to use them to your best advantage, you need to understand the dramatic options each can offer.

Ambient Bathroom Lighting

Ambient, or general lighting, is illumination that fills an entire room. Simply put its standard general illumination. Besides this, good overall ambient lighting can be used to control contrast, cut glare, and smooth out shadows.

Ceiling light fixtures, including suspended up lights, or wall sconces of all kinds are the main fixtures of choice, plus a portable light or two if your bathroom is big enough. Indirect fluorescent lights are useful, particularly for recessed lighting that reflects light off the ceiling; these may be referred to as “cove” lighting.

Good overall ambient light is important in a bathroom, where many activities will be task driven and require good, bright light without too many shadows.

Light Dimmers are essential for controlling the level of light according to activity; bright light for grooming, low light for relaxing at the end of the day.

The key to good ambient lighting is making it inconspicuous. It should be merely the backdrop for the rest of the room, not the main feature. It changes the surrounding environment; always providing light but never become obvious.

Some options to provide adequate ambient bathroom lighting include:

Up light sconces attach to the wall. Sconce diffuses, which come in different shapes and sizes, can be open at the bottom, at the top, or both.

Ceiling fixtures are a simple, practical general lighting option. Pendant styles should be at least 80 inches from the floor.
Suspended up lights tend to reduce glare and provide a welcome glow in the bathroom.

Task Lighting in the Bathroom

Use light fixtures over or on both sides of a vanity mirrror to provide good task lighting.

As the name implies, task lighting is purely functional in purpose. Every bathroom has basic areas to light: the vanity, the mirrors, the bathtub, and the shower interior.

The amount of light you need for each task may vary, so try to match the light source to the activity.

You can mount light fixtures over or on each side of the mirror as task lights for grooming, or you can project a beam of light from a recessed fixture; this will give you the type of vanity lighting movie stars and performers use when putting on makeup. Find plenty of vanity lighting options online or in your local home improvement center.

When lighting a vanity mirror, be sure position the light fixtures to reduce shadows and glare. Make sure any light sources in wet spaces are UL-listed for safe use near water.

The best bathroom task lighting fixtures and sources include:

  • Down light sources attached to a wall beside or above a mirror to provide the essential layer of lighting for grooming. The bulbs must be around 150 watts and need at least three lights to distribute shadow-free lighting.
  • Makeup mirrors often have their built-in light source that can be switched on for shaving or applying makeup.
  • Vertical lights are warm, fluorescent vertical light bars that can serve the same purpose as sconces behind the mirror.

Overall ambient lighting and good task lighting are requirements in the bathroom, but use accent lighting to give your bathroom a more stylish look.

Accent Bathroom Lighting

Often the most forgotten in the bathroom but always the most dramatic, accent lighting gives your bathroom a more stylish look.

Use accent lighting to draw attention to display areas, architectural details or artwork.

These elements are often placed along the room’s perimeter.

Try using decorative candle sconces or beaded-shade lights to provide a relaxing evening atmosphere for soaking in the tub.

An under-cabinet accent light can illuminate a display or serve as a nightlight.

For drama, use spotlights (low voltage halogen for energy-efficiency) or wall washers (recessed can lights and track lights are two options) to emphasize artwork or points of interest.

Consider these bathroom accent lighting options:

Use candles to give your bathroom a more romantic mood when you want to relax for a long hot bath.

  • Decorative candle scones often have glass votive shades to protect the wall from flames.
  • Small table lamps with beaded shades change the quality of light by tinting it with jewel tones.
  • Under-cabinet lights can be installed at the bottom of vanities or cabinets. LED rope lights are perfect under or over cabinets where they are hidden from view but provide nice accent lighting that enhances the finishes and surfaces of your bathroom vanity and cabinets, flooring and decorative trim and moldings.
  • Float some decorative votives along with your favorite bath salts and suds in your bath for a bit of dramatic accent lighting to set a more relaxed mood.
  • Nightlights provide low light for relaxing in a bath or navigating a darkened room or hallway.

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