Lighting Designers Share Expert Tips on Bathroom Lighting by Capitol Lighting
“Good lighting is essential for people to see themselves in a complimentary
light,” says Todd Phillips, president of lighting manufacturer Quoizel. “Whether
we are putting on makeup or combing our hair, we want a positive view of
ourselves, which can only be accomplished by using the right light source.”
Like the rest of the house, the bathroom reflects consumer’s changing
lifestyles. More spacious and multifunctional, these once-utilitarian water
closets have become glamour havens…private retreats designed for relaxation,
escape and self-indulgence.
“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. “You have wall tile, floor tile,
shower tile, faucet hardware, towel bars, wallpaper and paint all in a space
often smaller than 100 sq. ft.”
Whether built new or recently remodeled, today’s more complex bathrooms
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
Think of lighting the bathroom the same way as 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
The right lighting can make a bathroom much more gracious. 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 market…from very ornate
poly-resin cast products to sleek satin nickel fixtures with opal matte glass in
a variety of shapes and sizes.
While fixtures and finishes range in design from sleek and clean to very
ornate, contemporary ranks as the top trend in bathroom design. “While
contemporary still makes up a very small percentage of home decor nationwide,
people seem to feel most comfortable with contemporary bathrooms…even if it
doesn’t necessarily represent the overall style throughout their home,” says
Currently nickel owns the top spot in bathroom finishes, followed closely by
chrome and brass. “Chrome and brushed chrome continue as important finishes,”
says Phillips. “Chrome coordinates best with mirrors, which are essential in any
While some take a thoroughly modern approach to bathroom lighting, others
warm up to other options. “We are seeing the influx of popular home decor
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.
Shower lights brighten up enclosed stalls. Reading lamps by the toilet provide
more focused light. Single sconces on either side of the mirror remain popular.
To be most effective, begin your bathroom lighting scheme at the vanity with
the lights that do the most work. These lights must be bright enough so you can
see to shave or apply makeup, yet soft enough to compliment 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.
Bulb selection is as important as choosing and placing the right fixture. For
lighting vanity areas, try colored or coated bulbs designed to enhance facial
features. Look for bath fixtures that light down so the heat dissipates easier
from the sockets and creates a longer life for all bulbs. Recessed or canned
lighting, however, is not the most ideal as a bathroom’s main or only lighting
source as it casts shadows across the face.
When remodeling or building a bathroom, don’t be convinced that recessed
lighting alone will be adequate. 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, important to our aging population. “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,
you need twice as much light to see as you did when you were 20.”
To further reduce glare, opt for frosted white bulbs, rather than clear
models and avoid fixtures with exposed bulbs.
Check with local building inspectors about electrical codes before installing
any new lighting. Fixtures used in wet areas must be approved for such a
specific use. “Make sure that your lamps are UL rated for damp locations
insuring safety,” says Phillips.
Sometimes there are restrictions on the placement of various types of
lighting fixtures. Portable lamps, for example, should not be put near a sink or
tub because of the possibility that it might fall into the water and electrocute
Finally, don’t worry about having too much light, note the experts. “You can
never have too much light in the bathroom,” says Phillips. “It’s easy to install
a dimmer control to reduce the amount of light to create a mood.”
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