Lighting for an Enlightening Bathroom

Lighting for an Enlightening Bathroom

Bathrooms have become private sanctuaries, outfitted as a space to relax, refresh and escape. Multiple lighting sources can help set the escapist mood.

People often think that if they install a single, high-wattage fixture in the center of the ceiling it will provide enough illumination, says Randall Whitehead, professional lighting designer based in San Francisco and author of “Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide” (Wiley, 2008). In fact, a single overhead light source will create uncomfortable glare – and unflattering shadows on your face.

Layering different sources of light will help eliminate shadows and provide sufficient illumination for tasks like shaving and applying makeup. Different qualities and intensities of light will create a sense of drama, says architect Russell Hamlet, Studio Hamlet Architects, Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Task lighting

The fist layer to consider is the hard-working light at the vanity and mirror, where most of the “work” is accomplished. A fixture placed above the mirror only illuminates the forehead. A recessed down light placed over the sink will create dark shadows under eyes, nose and chin, visually aging you.

The best task lighting is a pair of vanity lights flanking the mirror. The proper height for placement puts the translucent part of the fixture approximately 5’6” above the floor. This positions the lighting around eye level.

“If people sharing this bathroom vary greatly in height, then I would recommend a long fixture that provides a more democratic illumination,” says Randall.

Tub and shower areas also need to be lit sufficiently so that users can see what they are doing. Recessed fixtures with white opal diffusers are commonly used and relatively effective. Make sure that all light fixtures are rated for used in damp locations. They will have a blue UL label if they are approved.

Ambient lighting

Providing a layer of indirect lighting in the bathroom adds a warm, overall glow to the space. An overhead fixture or recessed cove lighting can provide gentle ambient illumination.

To consider incorporating daylight in the bathroom as a general lighting, consider a skylight or Solatubes, tubular lighting fixtures that “pipe” natural sunlight into an interior space. LED-equipped smart Solatube fixtures have motion-activated sensors and provide an amazingly versatile “green” solution for bathroom lighting, says Marie Lail Blackburn, certified master kitchen and bath designer and principal at MLB Design Group, Seattle.

Accent lighting

Use accent lighting to emphasize an object or surface to impress guests. For example, LED tape light placed in a cabinet toe kick can make a vanity cabinet appear to float, says Hamlet. In bathrooms with higher ceilings, pendant-hung fixtures or a chandelier can provide “fill” light, or general illumination.

Decorative lighting

Nobody wants to fully pull out of REM sleep when using the bathroom late at night. The blue LED of Kohler’s nightlight toilet is one way to provide low-impact night-time lighting. The gentle light can be a comfort to the very young and the very old.

Using dimmers to ramping up or down the intensity of existing bathroom lighting can be helpful, making a bathroom safer while providing a way to create different moods.

Motion-activated, toe-kick lighting in the master bathroom can be especially useful, allowing the user to find their way through the room safely without switching on a bright light.


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