How To's

How to Light a Bathroom

Too often lighting a bathroom is low on the list of priorities relative to other rooms in the house. But with bathrooms becoming larger and more elaborate, proper lighting is essential to making the most of the space.

Your bath should be bright and clean.

Ample overhead and task lighting are key. But bathrooms are now a room in the house where people are spending a lot more time, so you’ll also want the ability to create an atmosphere that’s relaxing and spa–like. Having flexibility to adjust the lighting is really important, which is why you should add dimmers here just like you do throughout the house.

Start With the Ceiling and Vanity Light, Then Work Your Way Down

First, ceiling–mounted or recessed lighting overhead for general illumination. You’ll also want to light the vanity area with some excellent task lighting, which can be a fixture above the mirror or sconces on either side. And you need to light the shower and tub area. You might also consider strip lighting under wall–mounted cabinets, which makes them appear to float in space, as well as illumination for wall art.

Don’t Overdo It, But Don’t Under-Do It Either

People often have a tendency to pop a dozen can lights into the ceiling to make sure the bathroom is bright enough, but then you end up with a ceiling that looks like Swiss cheese. Everything in moderation. Though, don’t make the mistake of under-lighting your bathroom, because ample lighting is important. Another reason dimmers are key.

Avoid Direct Down-Lighting and Asymetrical Lighting.

You should avoid light pointing directly down on your head because it will be harsh and unflattering. Instead, position your ceiling light over the walkway area so you’re lit from behind rather than directly in front of the vanity. Asymmetrical lighting is another mistake. Placing a fixture on just one side of your mirror will create uneven illumination and make grooming difficult. Lastly, clear bulbs with filaments are popular these days, but they cast a shadow on everything. Go for something opaque or frosted instead.

Lighting Your Tub and Shower.

People often think one fixture is fine here, but you usually need two. Equal lighting at both ends of a tub is best. With a shower that’s 3×3 ft. or 3×4 ft. you can get away with one fixture, but if it’s larger you’ll need more. And unlike the vanity area, for safety you should place lighting directly over where you stand in the shower.

Say Y-E-S to LED

Not only are LEDs energy–saving and convenient because you don’t have to replace the bulbs for years, but they are minimal in appearance so you can get a more clean–lined, modern look in the bathroom. Plus, today’s LEDs have more wattage and the light quality is a lot warmer than before, which means you have a more cohesive look when combining them with incandescent bulbs. In addition to LEDs, we love an MR-16 bulb. It works with low-voltage recessed fixtures and gives off crisp, clear light—up to 75 watts—but it’s dimmable, so it’s really versatile.

We asked San Francisco–based designer Geoffrey De Sousa, the co–founder of the DeSousa Hughes showroom who has designed residences throughout the Bay Area, Palm Springs, and Boston, for some examples of lighting he likes to use in his bathroom lighting design projects.

GDS: With ceiling fixtures, I prefer those that give off diffused light that isn’t overly directional. The iO ceiling light, for example, offers overall illumination and the light comes out of the sides as well as the bottom.

For vanity lighting I like the Metro Vanity Light. I have this in my Palm Springs home in the master and guest bath. I mounted it horizontally over a long mirror and it can also be mounted vertically as long sconces one either side. It has four very bright halogen bulbs so it gives off an enormous amount of light, but it’s dimmable as well.

In addition, the Stiletto Bath Lights are nice, sleek fixtures you could mount as vertical or horizontal sconces. I also like the simple and modern Elf2 Bath Lights. And it would be beautiful to place a series of Latitude 5650 Wall Sconces around the room with the Latitude Bath Bar above the sink.

For shower or tub lighting, you have to think about water and safety, so look for ceiling-mounted or recessed lighting that’s “wet-location listed,” which means certified as safe in wet conditions and fully covered in glass. I like the Telsa 3.5-in. High Output LED Shower Trim and the square Model LED371 3-in. Downlight Shower Trim. They have a neat, tailored look that’s nice. I tend to use LEDs for strip lighting, and the InvisiLED Pro 24V LED Tape Light is great. You can put this below a cabinet or in a recessed niche in a shower to create a soft glow. The Tesla 2-in. High Output LED 0 to 30 Degree adjustable Reflector Trim is ideal for illuminating wall art.

What about moisture concerns?

GDS: I would avoid fabric shades on fixtures, particularly if you have a Jacuzzi tub. And cast bronze and brass are more delicate so they tend to corrode sooner. Brushed chrome, nickel, and stainless finishes do better.

Need more Inspiration? Take a look at our Bathroom Lighting Ideas for more.

Sharon Choe

Sharon Choe

As a Merchandise Manager for YLiving by day, Sharon is driven to bring quality high-design products to her customers. By night, she’s an adventurous diner and avid home cook, who runs an underground supper club in San Francisco. Her long list of vices include French porcelain, cured meats, beautiful chairs, kitchen knives and planning weddings.

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