Bathroom ideas: lighting

A well-designed lighting scheme can transform a bathroom in an instant. It also makes modern bathrooms, which are seen as a place to relax and unwind, more inviting and functional

Different light sources were combined in this master bathroom by interior designer Cheryl Herweg of Changing Spaces: recessed lights behind the mirrored cabinets add to the ambience; downlighters provide task lighting on the vanity unit.

Like any other room, your bathroom requires proper planning when it comes to its lighting scheme, which should support different activities – from practical, such as shaving or applying make-up, to having a long, relaxing soak. According to Melissa Davidson of The Lighting Warehouse, a layered scheme is key to striking a balance between ambience and functionality.

Bathroom by interior designer Cheryl Herweg of Changing Spaces. Basin from Yourspace.

  • Ambient lighting provides general all-over illumination, supplied by wall- or ceiling-mounted fixtures such as downlighters.
  • Task lighting highlights specific areas for certain functions, like the mirror for shaving or applying make-up. Recessed ceiling lights can provide a fixed beam of light or have a movable eyeball-effect, which can be directed to highlight specific areas.
  • Accent lighting creates specific effects, highlighting a particular architectural detail or any other interesting aesthetic feature in a room. For this purpose spotlights can create pools of concentrated light.
  • Decorative lighting sets the atmosphere and complements the overall decor of the room. This can range from LED striplights along the floor or ceiling to pretty wall lamps.

Bathroom designed by Changing Spaces. Bath from Yourspace. Bath products and fragrance diffuser from rain. Bath milk, handmade soap and candles from Poetry.

Says interior designer Cheryl Herweg of Changing Spaces, who designed the bathroom shown here: “Above a free-standing bath I love hanging a beautiful decorative light on a separate switch, so you can turn all the other lights off when relaxing in the bath. Thin LED striplighting under floating vanities and around mirrors enhances the floating effect.”

If your bathroom already has a well-designed layered lighting scheme, you can simply replace outdated fittings without having electrical work done. However, if you are stuck with a single ceiling light and you want to add task, accent and decorative lighting, you will have to call a qualified electrician. “Walls may need chasing to allow wires to be concealed,” says Melissa.

Shaun Bouchier, of Eurolux, says mirror lighting needs special consideration. “Instead of shining light onto the mirror, you should shine it towards your face. This will illuminate the image the mirror is reflecting rather than reflecting the light or glare of the fitting. The ideal is to place wall lights on both sides, so the face will be evenly illuminated.”

He advises homeowners to also light the inside of cabinets under the basin. “Getting ready for work in the morning will be a breeze if you install undercounter lights or a battery-operated touch light with LEDs to illuminate dark cupboards,” says Shaun.

In this guest bathroom Cheryl used concealed LED striplighting under the vanity unit and along the ceiling for a soft glow. Soap (in glass jar) from Poetry. Wallpaper designed by Changing Spaces. The wall is painted in Plascon Expressions, colour Grecian Gold (Y4-B1-1).

Light bulbs

When choosing light bulbs, energy efficiency is a big consideration, but you also have to decide whether you need warm or cool light. “Cool white light is ideal for task lighting, and warm light is for decorative or accent lighting,” says Melissa. She explains the options:

  • LED lighting is available in warm or cool white, has the best energy efficiency and lasts the longest – up to 50 000 hours. These lights can also be dimmed, but you would need a separate compatible LED dimmer switch.
  • Fluorescent lights, including CFLs (compact fluorescent lights), are also energy efficient and can last up to 10 times longer than incandescent or halogen bulbs. CFLs come in warm and cool white light.
  • Halogen globes provide a bright warm light, and energy-saving globes can be dimmed with your existing dimmer.

Safety first

Your bathroom lights will be exposed to steam and condensation, so safety is the most important consideration. Says Melissa: “Bathroom fittings must be completely encased to avoid shorting and electric shocks, and double insulated with the bulb and all metal parts covered.

“Remember, if you want to sell your home, you won’t be able to obtain an electrical compliance certificate if you haven’t installed bathroom-specified fittings.

“Light switches must be either outside the bathroom or fitted with a pull cord. Good ventilation is essential to allow the moisture and steam to be dispersed, which reduces the risk of electric shock.”

Tips for successful bathroom lighting

Melissa shares her tips for a stylish, functional lighting scheme:

  • Replace existing fittings with frosted glass ones for a softer, diffused light.
  • Stud the ceiling with several downlighters that wash the walls with light.
  • Put all the lights on different switches so you can alter the mood. When you’re in the bath, you could switch off all the lights, except the wall light, which you can dim right down for a more relaxing atmosphere.
  • Use a low-voltage, waterproof light inside the shower area.
  • A sensor switch is ideal for your guest loo – a light switches on when it detects movement and remains on for adjustable periods of time. They’re programmed to turn on only when light levels are low, making them excellent energy savers.