When it comes to the bathroom design, there’s no question that the
brightest ideas depend on light or, more appropriately, lights. To
that end, a well-lit bathroom requires a savvy lighting mix that
enhances both aesthetics and function, providing a beautiful,
restful, soothing environment that simplifies bathroom functions
without taking attention away from the design itself.
In fact, lighting experts agree that in the all-important
bathroom, lighting not only contributes to how the room is
perceived, but how the owner perceives him or herself.
“Good lighting is essential for people to see themselves in a
complimentary light,” says Todd Phillips, president of lighting
manufacturer Quoizel, Inc., based in Goose Creek, SC. “Whether
consumers are putting on makeup or combing their hair, they want a
positive view of themselves, which can only be accomplished by
using the right light source.”
A Complex Room
Like the rest of the house, the bathroom reflects consumer’s
changing lifestyles. More spacious and multi-functional than ever
before, these once-utilitarian water closets have become glamour
havens private retreats designed for relaxation, escape and
self-indulgence. In addition, bathroom design has become
increasingly complex, requiring more sophisticated lighting choices
and an increasingly knowledgeable designer.
“The bathroom is the part of the house with the densest
assortment of materials and finishes,” says Dan Blitzer, Manhattan,
NY-based continuing educator for the American Lighting Association,
based in Dallas, TX. “You have wall tile, floor tile, shower tile,
faucet hardware, towel bars, wallpaper and paint all in a space
often smaller than 100 square feet.”
For that reason, today’s more complex bathrooms whether built
new or recently remodeled demand intricate lighting solutions. Task
lighting must be bright enough to do its job, but work well with
indirect accent lighting designed to soften the room’s ambience by
providing a warm glow. Lighting fixtures and finishes must
complement, rather than compete with plumbing accessories, tile,
paint and wallpaper.
Think of lighting the bathroom the same way you would think of
creating the perfect ensemble, suggests Blitzer. “You want
everything to coordinate so that anyone walking in views the room
as a whole. Everything should work together as opposed to
supporting one astonishing fixture.”
“When we look at the amount of money that people invest in
building or renovating bathrooms, a proper lighting plan has the
potential to deliver dramatic results, costs only a small fraction
of the project budget, and yet it is often lacking or overlooked,”
said Gary Taylor, president of Living Lighting, in London, Ontario,
Yet, despite the fairly minimal investment, compared to the
overall cost of the room, the right lighting can make a bathroom
appear far more elegant, beautiful and livable, lighting experts
agree. “Lighting is an inexpensive way to make the bathroom shine,”
says Todd Langner, v.p./marketing and development for Kichler, a
lighting manufacturer based in Cleveland, OH. “There’s a great
opportunity to match the finish of the plumbing accessories with
the light fixtures. There is a huge array of styles in the
marketfrom very ornate poly-resin cast products to sleek satin
nickel fixtures with opal matte glass in a variety of shapes and
sizes,” he notes.
While fixtures and finishes range in design from sleek and clean
to very ornate, contemporary ranks as the top trend in bathroom
design, according to the American Lighting Association.
“While contemporary still makes up a very small percentage of
home [design trends] nationwide, people seem to feel most
comfortable with contemporary bathrooms even if it doesn’t
necessarily represent the overall style throughout their home,”
Currently, nickel owns the top spot in bathroom finishes,
followed closely by chrome and brass, according to Phillips.
“Chrome and brushed chrome continue as important finishes,” he
states, adding that, “Chrome coordinates best with mirrors, which
are essential in any
While some take a thoroughly modern approach to bathroom
lighting, others favor less contemporary design choices for a
warmer, cozier look. “We are seeing the influx of popular home
design materials like iron and vintage glass being used to make a
warmer design statement,” says Phillips. “This is a greater
continuity to what is happening throughout the home at large.”
New technology has added options as well: Fiber optics, with its
remote light source, can create twinkling star effects when inset
into bathroom ceilings. Halogen bulbs with their variety of sizes
allow manufacturers to design more ornate light fixtures. Unusual
light sources like wall sconces, sky lights, and lamps perched on a
table, vanity or bathroom island provide an unexpected touch.
Function is also key to good bath lighting: Shower lights can
brighten up enclosed stalls; reading lamps by the toilet provide
more focused light, and single sconces on either side of the mirror
remain popular, as they provide a more flattering view, making
grooming and make up application easier and more enjoyable.
To be most effective, the American Lighting Association advises,
designers should begin the bathroom lighting scheme at the vanity,
placing lights that do the most work in this location. These lights
must be bright enough so users can see to shave or apply makeup,
yet soft enough to complement facial features. Fixtures located on
each side of the mirror should be set at eye level to be most
effective. Theatrical-style lighting stripped along the sides and
across the top of the mirror also do a good job, the association
Bulb selection is as important as choosing and placing the right
fixture, the association adds. For lighting vanity areas, colored
or coated bulbs designed to enhance facial features are a possible
option. The association suggests looking for bath fixtures that
light downward so the heat dissipates more easily from the sockets
and creates a longer life for all bulbs.
Recessed or canned lighting, however, is not the most ideal
choice as a bathroom’s main or only lighting source, the
association notes. This is because this type of lighting tends to
cast shadows across the face.
“When remodeling or building a bathroom, don’t be convinced that
recessed lighting alone will be adequate,” says Langner. “You won’t
be happy unless you have other light sources to fill in the gaps.
It’s important to layer the light.”
Layers of light also reduce glare an important consideration for
designers, since the aging of the baby boomer market is expected to
be a major influence on the future of the design industry.
“As the eye ages, glare becomes a bigger problem,” says Blitzer.
“The eye needs more light to see well as the aging eye lens yellows
and thickens. By 55 years old, people need twice as much light to
see as well as they did when they were 20,” he reports.
To further reduce glare, designers can opt for frosted white
bulbs, rather than clear models, and avoid fixtures with exposed
bulbs also a good idea in the bathroom from a safety
The association also warns that designers should check with
local building inspectors about electrical codes before