The bathroom is often the smallest room in a home, but that doesn’t mean it deserves less design attention. It’s a versatile space that serves many purposes – from your morning routine to winding down for the night – and the right lighting adds both the practicality you need and the stylish elements you want.
Any interior designer will tell you that if an already small room is dark, it will feel smaller. Regardless of your decor style, your bathroom should feel bright and open. Build in a healthy mix of ambient and task lighting to illuminate the entire space without overpowering it.
And you can bring big change to this small space without draining your wallet. From mood-setting to safety lighting, here are a few design inspirations you should soak up for your modern bathroom lighting project.
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Bathroom Lighting Fixtures
Traditional bathroom lighting used to be defined by just an above-the-mirror vanity or overhead lamp. But depending on the size of your space, you may need several fixtures. Together, these fixtures can create layers of light that brighten the room and your spirit.
In smaller spaces like bathrooms that require both task and ambient lighting, it’s a good rule of thumb to start your design process at the ceiling and work your way down. Flush-mount ceiling fixtures provide the broad light you need, and you can build on this with stylish vanity lights or side-mounted sconces. For a futuristic look, select a sleek light bar for over the mirror or mounted vertically like sconces. In larger bathrooms, you may opt against a single flush-mount ceiling fixture and build in recessed, or can lighting, around the entire room.
Regardless of how many fixtures you need, plan to choose the same finish (chrome, brushed nickel, etc.) across the board. The style or shade doesn’t have to match exactly, but the finish should be in the same family to build unity in the overall design aesthetic.
Your bulb color temperature and how it’s diffused allows you to meet that aesthetic, too. LED bulbs and dimmable LEDs provide broad illumination without increasing your energy bill (or creating a sterile, hospital-like setting). TCP’s LEDs use 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, and they last so much longer. These efficient bulbs give you the reigns to both brighten the room for safety reasons or set the mood for a relaxing bath.
Task lighting is key in a bathroom because your appearance depends on it. This is a space where you might be applying makeup, shaving a beard or putting in contacts. When you look in that mirror, it’s important that your face isn’t covered with any shadows, and that feel good about yourself! The simple solution is a vanity light.
Simple overhead vanity lights can create a minimal, calming effect in your bathroom. Just be sure to keep the fixture and light proportional to the bathroom mirror, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. If you have a double sink, you’ll more than likely need two vanity lights to keep a balanced brightness throughout the space. Aim for even coverage and proportion.
If wall space around the mirror is so limited that you don’t have room for a vanity light, don’t settle for a ceiling light alone as this will create unwanted shadows. Instead, find a mirror with a lighted exterior ring or backlighting. It’s one less piece to install, and still achieves the task lighting of a fixture.
Bathroom Light Bars
For a more modern take on bathroom vanity lighting, try a light bar. Light bars produce the perfect amount of flattering task light through a slim, linear design instead of several visible bulbs and/or shades.
Create a sleek, cohesive look horizontally across the top of a mirror, or use a pair of bars like sconces. Vertically mounting a bath bar on each side of the mirror actually casts the most even light across the face. Light bars distribute light across a longer fixture area, so you get the flattering task light you need, and a somewhat futuristic design element.
Bathroom Light Sconces
Another type of light fixture that provides ample task lighting is a wall sconce. A modern sconce – or wall light – provides a sleek design element along with the balanced light you need while looking in the mirror and preparing for your day.
Sconces make reliable light sources when mounted as a pair on either side of the mirror around eye level, about 65 to 70 inches from the floor. Down-facing sconces are a good choice for task lighting, especially if you have vaulted ceilings with plenty of ambient light. For up-light sconces, be sure to keep 12 to 36 inches between the sconce and the ceiling.
When choosing light bulbs for your wall sconces, it’s a good idea to choose a dimmable bulb, so you can adjust it depending on the time of day. This means your eyes can avoid glaring, bright lights in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.
Looking for an alternative to sconces? Try pendant lights. These offer an elegant, often more architectural lighting option for a vanity, but can also function as ambient or accent lighting if necessary.
Bathroom Ceiling Lights
Oversized decorative ceiling lights and fixtures can make an already small bathroom feel smaller. Keep your space open and bright with a flush-mount ceiling light. A frosted glass fixture will evenly distribute light throughout the room, and still provide a splash of style.
For a larger bathroom, you’ll need to build in additional ambient lighting with recessed ceiling lights. These indirectly add a broad wash of light throughout an entire room. Even spacious master baths with lots of natural light can benefit from recessed lighting. While natural light is always a main element in modern design, and can work together with recessed lighting to bounce light off of walls and mirrors, it still won’t give you visibility in the middle of the night.
Cool white color temperature LED bath lighting provides a bright light that is ideal for the room, but you can still choose natural color temperature bulbs if you prefer that look.
TCP’s edge-lit downlights are perfect for this application because they are available in the natural temperature and also are dimmable. They’re also UL approved for damp locations like bathrooms.
Bathroom Statement Lighting
Statement lights are a fun way to build dimension in your bathroom. Once you take care of the ambient and task lighting, this additional layer of light can really take your design to the next level.
Use angled recessed lights as spotlights to highlight special architectural features or decor. A well-placed chandelier or pendant also can draw attention to an architectural feature, walk-in master closet, or another area while doubling as artwork itself.
Sometimes, fixtures aren’t even required to make a statement. Installing light strips along the ceiling or floor makes for a modern, futuristic look. Lighting the bathroom mirror from behind gives an understated, upscale, and luxurious glowing effect.
Minimalist fixtures with the popular filament bulbs are another fun way to make a statement, but beware – they cast a shadow on everything. Avoid these in your wall sconces near the mirror or any light used by a mirror that may play a role in your daily grooming routine. Opt for opaque or frosted bulbs instead.