Next to the kitchen, the bathroom is the room in your house that requires the most light. Bathrooms are work zones, and we need to allow for the detail-oriented tasks that happen here: shaving, plucking, make-up application, reading of prescription bottles, washing, and the list goes on. As we get older, our need for a well-lit “workspace” increases, so when you are planning your bathroom lighting, never skimp on fixtures. Remember, you can always turn down the light, but it is a whole lot more complicated to add light after the fact. In this Buying Guide, I’m going to give you tips on how to light your bathroom, whether you’re remodeling or just replacing a fixture or two.
Novo-4 lighted mirror via Electric Mirror
How much light?
As a general rule, budget for about six watts of light per square foot of space. For instance, an 8′ x 10′ bathroom should have the potential for 500 watts of light, with at least three controls so you can vary the amount of light employed at any given time. Perhaps your bathroom is flooded with sunshine during the day — you may only need the vanity lighting. At night, you probably want the full stadium effect, to get ready for that red carpet.
What to place and where to place it
There are generally three zones to consider when it comes to bathroom lighting:
1. General overhead lighting
Recessed lights (aka pot lights) are great candidates for general overhead lighting, including your shower and bath area. If you are planning to install recessed lighting, consider the guideline of one fixture every 3′-4′, depending on the size of your room. Recessed lighting is beautiful but pricey. The housing (hidden in ceiling) will run you between $30-$80 each, the trim (the visible part of the fixture) can range from $10-$60 or more — and this doesn’t include the cost of the electrician to install the fixtures. Canadian company Contrast Lighting offers a huge variety of trims that can satisfy any design concept.
Design tip: If you’re not working with a designer, never leave the placement of your recessed lighting up to your electrician without first drawing up a plan of where the lights will be located.
If budget is an issue, consider a combination of recessed lighting and flush-mounted fixtures, or go entirely flush-mounted. There is myriad choice and budget range for flush-mounted lights, including the Uptown from DVI Lighting, which offers a blast of style, 200 watts of light and costs under $200. Craving a pretty, jewelled fixture? Consider the Bling chandelier from Robert Abbey which also comes in a semi flush-mount version. The chandelier runs about $1,200 and will bathe your room in glamour.
Design tip: If you are not remodeling and simply want to increase light in your existing configuration, buy a larger surface mount fixture that offers at least 300 watts of light. Don’t be afraid that a fixture will be “too big” for the space — overly large fixtures can add cachet to your bathroom, especially if you pick a one with personality.
2. Bathroom/shower/toilet area
Whether your bath and shower are one unit or separated, never forget to light them. There is nothing worse that stepping into a dark gloomy shower or bath. Remember that any fixture that goes above a bathtub or in a shower enclosure must be rated for a wet environment — this means there is a rubber gasket sealing the electrical components, to reduce the risk of electrocution. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but most times we see a chandelier above a bath, it is not in sync with Canadian Electrical Code. Try to work the chandelier into another location; it may also be possible to get a regular fixture retrofitted for wet locations (be prepared for additional costs). Finally, if your toilet area is tucked away in a corner of your bathroom, don’t forget to assign it it’s own fixture — one recessed light or a small surface mount is often sufficient.
Barbara Barry–designed wall sconces and Bill Sofield wall sconces via Kallista
3. Vanity lighting
Task lighting around the central mirror is very important. Ideally, two wall sconces flanking the mirror at a height of approximately 66″ from the floor will illuminate this area and neutralize any shadows originating from your overhead lighting. Placing the fixtures above the mirror is also an option, but in this instance you’ll want no medicine cabinet to block light and create shadows (or, get a cabinet that is recessed into the wall).
Sconces via Restoration Hardware
Your choice of wall fixtures is endless, as is the budget range. Try introducing a nautical theme to your bathroom with sconces from Restoration Hardware ($199 each) or get the look for less by picking up a couple of inexpensive outdoor versions from your local big box retailer for under $30 each. If you want something more elegant, these Barbara Barry–designed sconces would surely satisfy ($799 each). Advocates of the clean, cooler light of the fluorescent bulb can often find this in a linear shaped fixture, like these Art Deco sconces by Wilmette ($275 each).
Fluorescent Art Deco wall sconces by Wilmette Lighting via Affordable Lamps
Another great option for vanity lighting is lighted mirrors, which come in many different styles offering varying amounts of light. Lighted mirrors do an excellent job, but be prepared to spend several hundred dollars as a starting point.
Design tip: No matter what budget zone you’re in, choosing bathroom lighting is a whole lot of fun. Still, don’t make the all-too-common mistake of heading to the lighting store the day before the electrician arrives. Stock availability, coupled with too many options in one day, can lead to mistakes and disappointment. Start shopping and researching weeks or even months ahead so your fixtures look the way they should and light even better.