Lighting can have a transformative effect but is often overlooked in the bathroom. The success of your bathroom lighting scheme can have a positive or negative effect on the function of the room and your enjoyment of the space. And, believe it or not, lighting can also affect your confidence and the quality of your sleep. So whether you’re planning a major bathroom renovation or want to give your ensuite a lift, here are some of the top things to consider.
How to use downlights
Bathrooms are often over-lit – even though they are often some of the smallest rooms in the home, the ceilings tend to be peppered with downlights. Over-lighting a bathroom with too many fixed downlights creates a harsh light quality and can also cause glare. When it comes to using downlights in a bathroom, less is more.
Think carefully about the position of the downlights. Having a downlight directly over your head when you’re at the mirror, for example, will tend to cast shadows around your eyes – which won’t be very flattering. A spotlight catching your eye when you’re trying to relax in the bath won’t feel pleasant either.
Instead of placing the spotlights in a central ceiling location, run them close to the wall. This way, you’ll create a lovely scalloped effect on your wall and will light the wall surface instead of the floor, making the room feel bigger and brighter. Lighting the wall surfaces is an incredibly effective tool in a bathroom with little or no natural light.
Finally, consider not using downlights at all. “I try to keep away from downlights in lots of places and a bathroom is one room where you can do away with them altogether,” says lighting designer Willie Duggan Jr from Willie Duggan Lighting. He favours using hidden or wall lights where possible in place of spotlights.
Invest in lighting around your mirror
One of the most important places to get the lighting right in a bathroom is the mirror. Your mirror is the one location where you need to choose lighting that is as flattering as possible. Having the wrong lighting in this location could mean you feel depressed every time you look in the mirror. Get it right and you’ll feel fabulous.
Ideally, you should choose lights that will shine directly at your face rather than on to your head. Good-quality wall lights on either side of the mirror are a great choice and a lovely feature in a bathroom. Alternatively, choose a mirror with integrated lighting.
Include ambient lighting for relaxation
The next kind of lighting to consider is ambient or atmospheric lighting. Ambient lighting is what you’ll use when you want to relax in the bathroom. Introduce ambient lighting with hidden light sources such as LED strips located in recesses or under cabinets, along the base of the bath or under a vanity unit.
Create a separate circuit to your main ceiling lights so you can operate them independently. Finally, being exposed to bright lights during the night can disrupt sleep. One way to overcome this is to have an additional circuit for low-level lighting for night-time use.
Choose a cooler colour temperature than elsewhere in your home
It’s always advisable to go with a warm colour temperature in a home, but you should go with something slightly cooler in your bathroom. Around 3000K is a good benchmark and will give a warm light without being too orange. Between 2200K and 2500K is typically used throughout the home, especially in spaces like bedrooms where you want to relax. You’ll find details about the colour temperature on the packaging for the bulb.
There’s often more choice than you realise
People tend to be over-cautious when choosing fittings for a bathroom because they are concerned about moisture. But not all fittings need to be IP rated. “There are a lot more options for bathroom lighting than people realise,” explains Duggan. “There are specific zones like the shower or over a bath where you will need to go with an IP65-rated fitting. At 600mm around your sink, you can drop to an IP44-rated fitting. Elsewhere in the bathroom, there is no particular water requirement.”
The larger your bathroom is, the more options you’ll have for your bathroom lighting. You’ll be able to go with more decorative fittings instead of the somewhat bland IP-rated options.
Use lighting to enhance features
Lighting can sometimes be too functional; in a bathroom, you can afford to be a little less practical and try to do something more creative. The best way to make a big impact in a small space is to light the walls. Wall lights or hidden light sources in the ceiling are ideal for this.
If your bathroom is limited to a pendant light, consider something that will throw light onto the walls. A dappled glass pendant, for example, will bounce light on to all wall surfaces in a beautifully decorative way. By choosing the right fitting, you can make a significant impact and create something extraordinary without spending a fortune.