There are many factors to consider when planning the lights for your new bathroom, from light-layering options to fixture heights, shades, dimmers, and bulb temperatures. Read on for tips on finding the perfect vanity lighting for your new bathroom.
Layering the Light
You’ve heard of “layering” the light in a room. This just means having a variety of sources of illumination that serve different purposes, from task lighting at the mirror or in the shower, to overall illumination, to accent lighting for a piece of art or artistic fixture, to mood lighting. The different lights can be turned on or off, or dimmed, depending on your needs.
Let’s get right to the most important task lighting: the vanity. When you sit or stand at the mirror over the vanity to apply makeup, fix your hair, or shave, you want to be able to see your face and hair clearly, without shadows under your eyes, cheeks, and chin and without distracting glare.
If you’ve got just an overhead light on the ceiling, you’ll hardly be able to see your face in the mirror. Even a single light on the wall over the mirror will cast shadows on your face. What’s best is to install a light on each side of your mirror to properly illuminate your face. If you’re planning an extra-wide mirror, those lights will be too far apart on the sides, so you can attach them directly to and through the mirror. Those side lights should be 28 to 40 inches apart. The lights, or the centers of the lights if they are vertical bars, should be placed at eye level—generally 60 to 66 inches off the floor, but you can customize their height to yours. If you prefer a light bar over the mirror, it should be about 78 inches high and at least 24 inches wide, to spread the light evenly over your face.
All that said about getting the light to shine properly on your face, you should be aware that back lighting from an overhead fixture a bit behind you will helpfully outline your hair and clothing.
While clear glass shades or exposed bulbs might look fashionable, save them for another room, because they will cast a harsh glare on your face in the mirror. Look for frosted or fabric shades, keeping in mind that fabric has a tendency to stain from moisture and splashing in the bathroom.
Crisp white light on your face gives you the most accurate skin tones. You can achieve this light with a variety of different bulbs now on the market—incandescent, halogen, LED, or compact fluorescent. When choosing light bulbs, look for two numbers: the CRI, or Color Rendering Index; and the color temperature. A CRI of 90 or higher will render the most accurate skin tones. Incandescent and halogen lights can give 100 CRIs, for the best color, but energy-efficient fluorescents and LEDs can be found with CRIs of at least 90.
For color temperature, most people like warm light of 2700K to 3000K because it’s similar to the incandescent bulbs they’re used to. Going over 3500K most likely would be too cool, and unflattering in the bathroom mirror. Most home-improvement and lighting stores have an array of lighted bulbs showing you how the different temperatures look in incandescent, halogen, LED, and compact fluorescent.
As master bathrooms have become more luxurious and evolved into spaces where people like to lounge and relax—in the soaker tub, for example—mood lighting has become more important. Sure, you can sip wine in the tub with just a row of candles for light, but most people probably wouldn’t go that far. But when you don’t need brightness to see how your makeup is looking, you’ll want to be able to dim the lights in the room. Dimmers can be installed individually for all the lighting—task, ambient, and accent—to allow you to create a variety of atmospheres in the room. Just be sure to select the proper dimmers that are compatible with the bulbs you’ll be using in each fixture, and buy dimmable bulbs. Lowering the wattage will save you energy and extend the life of a bulb, but be aware that a 60-watt incandescent dimmed to 40 watts uses more electricity than a 40-watt bulb does.
As is the case with light fixtures for every room in the house, there is a bewildering number of choices for vanity lights. That can be part of the fun of planning a new bathroom: looking at your options and choosing something both beautiful and functional, using all the information you now have about vanity lighting.