Bathroom Lighting With Purpose
Consider style and function when deciding on illumination.
Synopsis: Although bathroom styles differ, lighting a bathroom properly is a key element in its design. Lighting designer Peter Romaniello discusses the most important things to consider when lighting the different areas of a bathroom: vanity, shower, tub, and toilet. He also explains color temperature and color rendering, two features of lighting that are crucial to understand when choosing fixtures and bulbs.
Bathrooms differ in style, from a powder room to a mudroom bath to a master bath. Yet they all have the same basic functions, and properly lighting those functions is important for the success of the room. Lighting has to address basic needs, such as seeing your face without heavy shadow lines and being able to see the dirt you’re washing off.
Despite their common functions, different baths call for different lighting. For example, a powder room tends to be a very stylistic space because it’s the bathroom that guests use; good facial lighting is still important, however, since those guests may want to check their hair or makeup. On the other hand, a mudroom bath tends to be more of a utilitarian space, where brighter overall illumination is more important. Here, function takes precedence over style.
Kids’ bathrooms can have more gender-specific styles, and they have specific lighting needs depending on the age of the child. Younger children need good lighting over a tub. Teenagers might need vanity lighting similar to that of a master bathroom for putting on makeup or shaving.
Master baths are larger and much more of an expression of style. Higher ceilings, vaulted ceilings, and more-expansive room sizes are typical. While lighting must still address the basic needs, master baths also afford the opportunity to do something special. This can be as simple as installing more-prominent decorative fixtures or adding features such as cove lighting, toe-kick lighting under a vanity, or hidden lighting behind a vanity mirror that splashes light back onto the wall. Homeowners view this room as an oasis, and it’s important to make the quality of the lighting commensurate with the quality of the rest of the room. You don’t want to highlight expensive imported-tile walls in a shower with a cheap light fixture.
Light each station
Bathroom lighting design first has to address the functional needs before it considers what other lighting it will take to make the room visually interesting and to address general lighting needs. Lighting the vanity, the tub and/or shower, and the toilet often is sufficient to provide good overall illumination for the room.
All lights in a bathroom should be dimmable. People don’t usually consider dimming something like a vanity light, but just turning the light full on when you enter the room in the middle of the night can be a shock. Dimmers that slowly fade up and down can be good, especially in a kid’s bathroom. Don’t mix light sources with other loads, however. For example, you can’t put shower recessed lights on a dimmer if they are on the same circuit as an exhaust fan. A good rule is to dim decorative fixtures separately from general lighting such as recessed lights. The fixtures tend to use different light sources (LED, incandescent, halogen, etc.) that require different dimmers. Make sure that any LED or compact-fluorescent bulbs are dimmable.
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