How to Choose New Bathroom Light Fixtures

Tips for selecting task, ambient, and accent bathroom lighting

By Jan Soults Walker

It's natural to focus on making your bathroom beautiful with gorgeous fixtures and finishes, but insufficient lighting can obscure your efforts.

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Dramatic Contemporary Bathroom by Cindy Aplanalp
Cindy Aplanalp

"Too often I come into an existing bathroom that has a light about the vanity or just one ceiling fan/light combo," says interior designer Ashley Fruits of WrightWorks, an Indianapolis remodeling company. "This leaves a lot of shadows around the room and doesn't provide ample lighting for the whole bathroom. Lighting is not only both functional and aesthetic, it's also for your safety. So make sure you have enough."

To ensure a nicely lit bathroom, include three layers of lighting in your plans: task, ambient, and accent lighting. "A majority of light should not come from one specific area," Fruits says. "Generally, a combination of task and general—or ambient—lighting will be sufficient. If you've got a large bathroom, you may want to add some accent lighting to show off a piece of artwork or notable design elements."

Take on the task

Getting ready for the day is easier when you can clearly see to wash your face, shave, brush teeth, comb hair, and apply cosmetics. Those tasks make good lighting at the vanity a priority. Avoid installing one recessed fixture or light bar above the vanity, as these solutions cast shadows on your face. Instead, position vertical lights or sconces on each side of the mirror. You can also place a light above but accompany it with fixtures flanking the mirror. A good rule of thumb says to position these side fixtures 30 inches apart and at eye level, typically 66 inches above the floor. 

The shower and tub also benefit from task lighting, such as a recessed fixture that's designed for installation inside a shower.

Mix in ambient

Light Transitional Bathroom by Joel Snayd
Joel Snayd

Think of ambient lighting as a sunlight substitute. A central light fixture, coved lighting around the perimeter of the room, or a few well-placed recessed fixtures can produce a pleasing, all-over glow for your bath.

Browse specific lighting types: 

Accent the positives

If you want to draw attention to a centerpiece bathtub, snazzy tile, a shapely pedestal, or a colorful piece of artwork, spotlight it with an adjustable fixture. 

Remember the dimmer

Keep in mind that the bathroom is also a place to relax, so maximum lighting isn't always needed. Putting light fixtures on dimmers allows you to set a mood or lower light output levels for any reason, such as when you're waking up in the morning. 

"No two eyes are exactly the same," Fruits says. "We all see color and textures differently, and everyone has their own lighting preferences. Putting fixtures on dimmers allows each person to control the amount of light they want or need."

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