Most homeowners focus on a new vanity, sink, tub or toilet. But one of the most-often-overlooked -- yet important -- parts of bath design is the lighting. Lighting not only affects the ambiance of the room, but also the functionality.
"Most bathrooms have lower quality lighting than a janitor's closet," says Andrew Lippman, president of Robern, an industry leader in bath storage and grooming solutions. "And most of those bathrooms have a single recessed light over the vanity. That's just not enough. Even the most luxurious bathroom is not functioning to its potential if it has poorly planned illumination."
When it comes to the art of lighting, it's about function as much as it is style. In addition to selecting a design and finish, keep in mind the role each light will play in the bathroom. By choosing the best lighting and placement, you can transform both the ambiance and utility of the space.
When evaluating bathroom lighting options, ask yourself these questions:
1. How large is the room?
2. What activities occur in this room?
3. How much natural light is in the space?
4. How many lights are in the area?
5. What type of style/design suits the room best?
The bathroom is where most people shower, shave or apply makeup, so consider the importance of task lighting in addition to ambient lighting. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, task lighting should be allocated to each functional area of the bath -- particularly the grooming area. Task lighting takes into consideration not only the type of light, but also the placement.
Location, location, location
The placement of a light can dramatically affect the aesthetics of the room as well as the functionality. Top-down lights provide basic general lighting and can add dramatic accents for areas you wish to illuminate, such as architectural details. But a single overhead light directly over the mirror can cause lots of shadows on the face. The same is true for vertical mirror lights too far from one another, which makes it difficult to do common tasks such as shaving or applying makeup. Instead, couple overhead lighting with a vertical light source on either side of the mirror for even lighting across the face.
Vertical task lighting options
If you already have an overhead light source, consider adding vertical task lighting. Lippman offers a suggestion: "Modular lights produce light of optimum quality and color. Shadows are eliminated and visibility improves."
Some modular lights have a neutral design that works with virtually any cabinet style or bath decor. Energy-efficient, eco-friendly fluorescent bulbs duplicate natural light and last longer than incandescent bulbs. An optional dimmer allows you to control the illumination so you can create task lighting when you're getting ready in the morning, but also dim to create ambient lighting for a serene atmosphere for an evening soak.
Another great task lighting option for around mirrors and vanities is uplift lights, which are available in pendant and sconce designs and feature a built-in nightlight that is operated by a second wall switch. A dim light source adds an element of safety when you have to use the restroom in the middle of the night without interrupting your partner (or completely waking you up) with a bright light. Excess light can also interrupt melatonin production -- an integral part of the restorative process during sleep.
If you are remodeling your bathroom, or simply want to enhance your current design, look closer at the lighting. To achieve both style and function, you'll want to design with both ambient and task lighting so you can create a space that shines with potential.