Set the right tone in the bathroom using lighting to create a haven for the whole family
Find innovative ways to bring in as much natural light as possible to create a relaxing sanctuary. Image: Getty Images
Great bathroom design is dependent on great lighting. In a space that each family member uses daily, lighting is as essential a component as the fittings. Successful lighting is achieved by a layered approach that tackles each bathroom function separately, from grooming to unwinding, while working as a whole to enhance the best features and create ambience.
1. Natural light
In the bathroom, we spend a lot of time looking in the mirror so bringing in daylight is a priority. When it comes to windows think big and, if possible, floor-to-ceiling.
Privacy can be maintained using frosted glass, which has the added benefit of diffusing the light for a slightly softer focus. Louvres draw in fresh air as well as light, and allow for the control of strong sunlight.
Windows in older bathrooms tend to be small, so if you’re planning a big renovation, consider enlarging them or adding more.
If you have a view that’s worthy of attention, bifolds can create wow factor by bringing the outside in.
2. Keep it private
The downside of large windows in the bathroom is that you increase the chance of being seen from the street.
Frosted and obscure glass provide good privacy but if your budget won’t stretch that far, try tinted or frosted film on the existing windows.
A bathroom needs airflow, but opening windows can reduce privacy. Using blinds or shutters is the obvious solution, but make sure the material is suitable for a wet area and go for wide slats to avoid mildew build-up.
3. Small spaces
Modern architecture has begun to bend the rules, but in most homes the bathroom is one of the smallest rooms. If there’s no space for big windows a skylight may be the answer.
Compared to vertical windows, a skylight lets in far more light and, because the illumination comes from above, shadows and glare are minimal.
Skylights are relatively low cost, but it may be worth spending a bit more for models with rain sensors that close automatically in bad weather.
4. Task lighting
For shaving or putting on make-up, a strong, even light is needed around the mirror and vanity.
A common mistake is to position a downlight above the mirror, which creates shadows on the face.
Vertical fittings either side of the mirror at about eye level will cast an even light across the face to minimise any unflattering shadows.
5. The right accent
Show off your best design features and fittings with accent lighting. Recessed spotlights make stylish statements, while lights with domed covers spread the light out more evenly. Bath and shower lighting works best with diffused rather than direct light.
Illuminate cabinetry with integrated LEDs and add flexibility by having lights wired to separate switches and installing dimmers to control the brightness.
6. Turn up the heat
Mould and mildew can cause big problems so good airflow is essential. Boost ventilation by pairing your lighting with an extraction fan.
Adding a heat lamp is a low-cost way of providing a source of warmth, which makes getting in and out of the bath and shower more comfortable in winter, but also helps absorb moisture.
Infrared bulbs work by using most of the energy generated to produce heat rather than light. A heat lamp is expensive to run if left on for long periods so wire it into a light switch and turn both off at the same time
7. A soft touch
If you are up often during the night, or have young children, a soft light source is useful.
Keep running costs low by installing concealed LED strips behind moulding, which also serves to highlight the perimeter of the room, drawing the eye outwards.
8.Set the mood
When you want the bathroom to be a relaxing, luxurious space, ambient lighting comes to the fore.
The central ceiling fixture is the main light source and, depending on the size of the room, can be a decorative focal point.
Using a dramatic fitting such as a chandelier or designer shade can transform an average bathroom into something more special.
In any new bathroom, installing dimmer switches will pay dividends even on task lighting, by allowing your eyes to adjust in the morning.
9. What wattage?
In the main or guest bathrooms use fixtures that provide 75 to 100 watts of illumination, which equates to a 24 to 26 watt compact fluorescent or 20 to 25 watt LED.
Compact fluorescent bulbs are best for task lighting. Lights in a second bathroom, where there is less need for task lighting, can function with much lower wattage, in the 45 watt range.
10. Upon reflection
The surfaces and colours of finishes and paints all have an effect on the quality and tone of the light.
Mirrors, tiles and stainless steel will reflect light and maximise the ambience, but can also create glare.
Some paint colours will work well with cool white bulbs while others cast a better light with warm white.
It might be worthwhile consulting a lighting professional to achieve a colour balance for your bathroom that is as even and natural as possible.