Decorative lighting, created by hanging eye-catcthing fixtures from the ceiling, will dress up the bath and add a layer of luxury. Randall likes to call decorative lighting “architectural jewelry.”
The best way to illuminate the vanity is to place two wall-mounted fixtures on either side of the mirror at eye level. This creates cross illumination. Whitehead recommends 100 watts of light per fixture in a master bath, and 40 watts per fixture in a powder room.
Lighting is crucial to how well your bathroom functions, not just how good it looks. Lighting experts urge homeowners to think through their lighting plan from the project’s start.
For good lighting, a bathroom remodel needs the following four types of light:
Jazz up a mirror. Backlight a mirror by wrapping lighting around the back side. The result is a halo effect around the mirror. “It’s an easy way to light the bathroom without turning on general lighting,” Dross says. Keep in mind, this backlight is not a replacement for functional task lighting at the vanity.
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Spread it around with recessed fixtures and indirect lighting.
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Fancy up the tub. Accent lighting, such as a mini chandelier hung over the tub, will dress up the space and offer a warm glow. “It adds a lot of elegance,” says Jeff Dross, director of education and industry trends for Kichler Lighting.
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For functional and visually pleasing lighting in a bathroom, work these strategies into your lighting plan:
“Lighting is more important in the bathroom than any other room in the house,” says Randall Whitehead, a nationally known lighting designer who has written seven books on lighting. “This is the place where we all do very detailed and important work such as shaving or applying makeup. It is also the first place we see ourselves in the morning and the last place we see ourselves at night. Wouldn’t you want the sight of yourself to be a positive one?”
People tend to repeat what they grew up with, usually a single light mounted above the mirror. “Anyone who has been in a bathroom with just one fixture in the ceiling or just a light over the mirror knows how unflattering a single source of light can be,” Randall says.
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Light a footpath. Toekick lighting installed underneath base cabinets provides soft illumination at night. “This low-level light is hidden under countertops and cabinets and allows you to navigate the bathroom in the middle of the night without making your eyes tear,” Dross says.
Often bathrooms are located on interior walls, which can mean a lack of natural light. “I like natural light and try to incorporate it whenever possible,” Randall says. “For me, a room without a source of natural light feels a bit subterranean. I often recommend the addition of windows or skylights as part of a remodel.”
Ambient lighting is achieved by bouncing the light off the ceiling, which softens shadows and can easily take 10 years off a person’s appearance. Like Randall says, that’s better than Botox.
Decorative. This is the eye candy in a bath, or what Whitehead calls, “architectural bling.” The purpose of decorative lighting is to add interest to a space. Examples include chandeliers and candlestick-type wall sconces.
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Ambient. This gentle light fills the room and bounces off the ceiling. Tubs and showers need general light, and recessed fixtures with white opal diffusers are one solution. Wall sconces or cove lighting will direct light upward and outward, Whitehead explains.
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Accent. This highlighting adds depth and dimension to the environment. Highlight plants or artwork, and give the space an illuminating glow.
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Task lighting provides adequate light for daily chores, such as applying makeup and shaving. The best task light at the mirror is a pair of fixtures mounted on the wall, flanking the sink. This is called cross illumination and provides shadow-free lighting for the face. Once task lighting has been addressed, look at other types of lighting that will pull the whole room together.
Randall recommends zoned lighting and dimmers to create illumination that adjusts for a variety of situations, or “scenes.” Creating different lighting scenes gives you bright light in the area where you get ready in the morning, creates soft lighting for a relaxing soak in the tub, or safely illuminates middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.
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Randall frequently uses a product called Solatube, a small-diameter skylight that is flexible and easy to install. When all else fails, Randall sometimes creates a faux skylight, using a color-corrected “daylight” fluorescent or LED (light emitting diode) source, to give the feel of natural light. If sunlight — real or created — shines on your bathroom, it will look good, and you will, too.
Color temperature. Look for a bulb that is 2700 to 3000 kelvin. “That is going to match the color temperature of incandescent lamping and it will blend well with the rest of your residential environment,” he says.
No single layer of light can stand alone. If you only use ambient light, the people will look great because shadows are softened, but Whitehead calls the result a “cloudy day effect” because there is no depth or dimension. “There is no real visual interest,” he says.
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Consider adding a lighting designer to your bathroom remodeling team. (Visit the International Association of Lighting Designers’ website at www.iald.org to find a professional.) A lighting designer will look at the bath’s overall design to determine the amount and placement of light needed in the space. If budget doesn’t allow for a lighting designer, Randall’s latest book, Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide, includes an extensive section on baths.
If you only incorporate accent lighting, you get a museum effect. “You light every object in the space but friends and family fall into the darkness,” he relates. “You’re telling people that what you own is more important than them.”
Accent lighting gives depth and dimension to a bathroom. Accent lighting allows you to illuminate design features, including art, plants or even beautiful tile.
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Task. This lighting illuminates “work spaces,” which in a bathroom space is the vanity. The best task lighting at the sink area is two fixtures that flank the mirror to provide cross illumination. With this arrangement, you’ll prevent shadowing.
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The lighting in a bathroom should reflect this mood, while providing the illumination necessary for one to take care of life’s daily functions there.
Energy Star. This certification ensures that the light bulb went through longevity testing and has a minimum CRI of 80.
Prevent vanity shadows. Remember when you were a kid and you could make a spooky face by shining a flashlight under your shin? That’s exactly the effect you do not want when applying makeup, shaving or fixing your hair at the bathroom vanity. Unfortunately, many people light the vanity space with a single light mounted above the mirror that shines down over the sink. The result: a scary face with dark shadows under your eyes, nose and chin. “That ages you,” Whitehead says simply. “It lights up your forehead and the rest of your face falls into shadow. And, the first thing in the morning, you do not want to look 10 years older!”
Even a tiny bathroom with proper lighting can make a big impact. And luxuriously large spaces that serve as spa retreats can impart an air of rest and relaxation by incorporating layers of light that illuminate “work” areas like the vanity and shower, and cast a glow on attractive features like artwork.
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“Bathrooms are becoming these retreats—these sanctuaries,” says Randall Whitehead, lighting designer/author and president of Randall Whitehead Lighting Solutions, San Francisco, Calif.
CRI rating. Color rendering index (CRI) is important because it is how color is interpreted. In other words, a low CRI light looks more gray. “The higher the CRI, the better you will see the colors rendered,” Dross explains. He recommends a CRI of 80 or higher.
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