Lighting is critical in any design scheme, but in some spaces, it’s often an afterthought and the bathroom is a good example. We’ll get giddy choosing the right tiles, spend hours sourcing taps and scrutinise the details of the flow rates on showers but leave the lighting to the very last and with minimal thought. A single, small light fixture protruding from the middle of the ceiling or even a grid of downlights doesn’t really suffice by today’s luxurious bathroom standards. Light your bathroom well and it will make the space really special but also practical for all the moods you want to create – relaxing, practical for makeup and grooming, the middle of the night dash etc. If you haven’t given it much thought then I’ve got some great tips to share on how to light your bathroom before you create your stylish sanctuary.
I shared my jargon busting lighting 101 a couple of weeks ago to help you on your way, but bathroom lighting has some specifics that you need to add to those terms, specifically IP ratings and zones. IP stands for ingress protection and is related to the three zones of bathroom lighting – these are the wet/splash zones. Baffled yet? Don’t worry it’ll all become clear. The bathroom is split up into three different zones relating to how wet they are, in each zone, the IP requirement is dependent upon the risk level of water getting close to or coming into contact with the electrical supply. This is a huge big no-no. So what do you need to know about the zones?
If you’re a visual person you might find the below a little easier to understand, as I appreciate that the mere letters IP44 seem to put everyone in a spin (unless you’re an electrician). I haven’t shown Zone 0 in the diagram, but it’s inside the bath and inside the shower tray.
So now you know the zones what else do you need to know? I’m going to talk about my good friend layered lighting again. But first, let’s consider all of the factors that go into a properly lit bathroom. How much natural light do you have? The practical and aesthetic issues with the size of the lighting fixtures, where they’re placed, what bulbs should be used. Then we’ll get to layering. So a few things to tweak and perfect first.
Bathrooms these days are expected to move seamlessly from a functional grooming space to a calming retreat within a moments notice. Lighting is key to making this “magic” happen, utilitarian to spa space at the speed of light, it’s doable but needs planning. General ceiling lights in the bathroom will suffice for ambient light but they are not ideal for beauty and grooming tasks. Lighting from above creates shadows on our faces, which is far from ideal when you are shaving, putting on makeup, etc. The way to counter the shadow is to light from either side of your mirror – most commonly you’ll see wall lights or sconces doing this. The question I get asked a lot, is how high should these wall lights be? Well that all depends on the light fitting, basically you want the brightest part of the lights in line with your face. For most people that will be somewhere in the region of 1.5m off the floor but it does depend on the light fitting AND on how tall the person using the mirror is. For the ultimate grooming centre experience, the light sources should be placed so that light emanates from above, below, and both sides of the mirror. This technique is called cross-lighting and effectively eliminates shadows. Or you could go for the full Hollywood multi-bulb vanity mirror like Miss Piggy has.
There’s nothing quite like natural light, right? You want to look good when you go outside in daylight where the colour of your face, makeup and clothes is best represented. This means you’ll want to mimic this quality of light in the bathroom. First, go for bathroom lighting fixtures with white or clear shades, this includes backlit frosted glass or milky glass shades. You should also consider a cooler light bulb temperature to mimic natural daylight – you may not want this in all your light fittings though, it’s down to your own preference. It works particularly well in illuminated mirrors like the one above shown in the bathroom designed by Helen Green Design Studio.
If you haven’t given much thought on how to light your bathroom, then layering the light probably hasn’t crossed your mind. Think about hiding your light sources to create a relaxing feeling when you are thinking about layers of light. If you have a wall mounted sink or console unit, adding light beneath it in a soft warm light can help create this, it is easily achieved using IP65 rated LED flexible strips or floor mounted spotlights. This is a key ingredient in layering the light, by highlighting certain features or areas more brightly than others you can add a little drama. Consider using recessed lights in alcoves and floor washers that can also double up as a nightlight, especially if also add a motion sensor (also known as a PIR – passive infrared) to them. Ideally, you should add dimmers to your ceiling and wall lights, or if you have a big budget maybe a lighting system. Having the flexibility to adjust the lighting is really important. Using lighting techniques, you can manipulate a space, you can enhance it, and importantly pick out the architectural details, the tile textures and colours. This is no different in the bathroom to the rest of your home. Do remember though that you don’t want to look right into the light when you’re lying in the tub, it’s really unpleasant and far from being relaxing, so check your placement and the angle of the beam coming from the light fitting.
Adding lights to your shower may not be a new, but it’s certainly worth a mention. I’ve seen people add coloured LED’s in the space to create a chromotherapy sauna. Personally, I’m not a big fan of coloured LED’s in the bathroom but some people love them, just make sure to use the correct LED IP rated bathroom fitting for Zone 0 or Zone 1. I do however like daylight light levels, so the colour rendering of the light is key. In my own home I want the bathroom as bright as possible in the morning while I’m trying to wake myself up, but in the evening I want to be able to relax and wallow in the bath so bright light just isn’t on the agenda. How bathroom lighting is selected and placed depends on the size and layout of your bathroom but also on the mood you want to achieve. There are lots of bathroom lighting tips I can share but please don’t forget to add some personality, a bathroom doesn’t have to be just functional and in no way should it be clinical!
Knowing how to light your bathroom isn’t a walk in the park, it takes planning and thought and I’d highly recommend getting advice from a certified electrician when you’re undertaking a major bathroom renovation, and maybe even an experienced lighting design professional. The sooner you can think about your lighting then the more impactful it will be on your design. Then you can move on to the sexy part of what finishes you want – like polished copper, matt gold, black, white, matt nickel and dark bronze.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about how to light your bathroom and if you’d like to read more about lighting take a look at my lighting jargon buster, here at the trends from the Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair and also here. If you have any questions do drop me a comment below and I’ll try to help.
The images used in this blog post are from the following sources: Image 1 and 2 by Mary Middleton for hello Peagreen, image 3 from Tollgard Design, image 4 from John Cullen Lighting, image 5 and 7 from Helen Green Design Studio and image 6 from Fox Linton Associates.