Bathroom Planning: How to Balance Lighting to Create the Perfect Mood
A bathroom performs so many functions, and getting the right balance of task and ambient lighting will help you make the most of each
The colour of natural light changes over the course of the day. Colour temperature is measured in degrees kelvin (K). It’s about 5,000K in the early morning, but drops to 1,850K by sunset, naturally waking us up then preparing us for sleep. So where possible, get in as much natural light as you can, then supplement it with artificial light.
This bright bathroom pulls in maximum natural light for a great start to the day, and this is supported by artificial sources over the mirror and in the ceiling.
Colour rendering has to do with how accurately a light makes the colour of an object appear, so it’s important for both functional and aesthetic reasons.
You need to have accurate colour rendering for tasks such as applying make-up and, in a bathroom like this, the colourful tiles also require a careful choice of light source. If possible, it’s worth testing how lights will look in your particular bathroom, especially if there are no windows, by trying one first or, if that’s not an option, seeing one illuminated in the shop.
You use your bathroom for a multitude of reasons, and each function will be best served with slightly different lighting.
You’ll want good, strong ambient light for general ablutions, shadow-free, high-quality light around the mirror for shaving and make-up application, and careful use of accent lights to add interest and drama. This bathroom can be brightly lit or illuminated solely by the five accent lights in the windowsill for dramatic evening bathing.
Bathroom design can be tricky, because you want to balance a clean and integrated finish with being able to access fittings for maintenance.
This is even more important when designing with dedicated LED fittings, where the light source is integral to the fitting (if that sounds a little complicated, check out the article below). Be careful to plan for access to both the fitting and the driver – yes, you want it to look great, but you also want it to work.
Check out a beginner’s guide to LED lighting
In the bathroom, you really should have at least one dimmable circuit if you can. If nothing else, it will help avoid being blinded when you’re visiting the bathroom in the middle of the night, and it’s a great way to get flexibility if you only have one or two light sources.
When people think about bathroom lighting, they tend to think of downlights or mirror lighting, but there’s still scope for decorative fixtures in bathrooms. This pendant makes a striking centrepiece and really finishes the room. Do make sure it’s safe for the bathroom, though (see below).
Bathrooms are inherently wet rooms, and electricity and water aren’t the best of friends. Check with a professional that your planned wiring is suitable, as there are certain restricted zones laid out in the IEE Wiring Regulations (the national standard in the UK for safe electrical wiring) that specify which types of light can go where. A lighting expert or skilled electrician will know all about them.
We typically recommend standalone fittings with good colour rendering – rather than integrated fittings – for mirror lighting. Although this is not a hard and fast rule, you will often get better colour and better output from a separate pair of wall lights than from lights integrated into a mirror.
The two light fittings here should give shadow-free, soft light ideal for applying make-up or shaving. Though interesting and energising while having a shower, the blue-white coffer lighting might be better turned off when more accurate colour rendering is needed.
Bathrooms can often have plenty of small details that lend themselves to accent lighting for a luxurious feel.
The mirrored niches here are lit with small (1w) LED accent lights, and the mirror with linear LED lighting. Consistent colour temperature across the fittings creates an elegant ambience. The more powerful downlights in the ceiling can be turned on when brighter light is needed.
A simple but bold use of colour can totally transform a room. It’s best to go for something simple to avoid overdoing it. This bathroom has a very calming scheme thanks to the blue wash and yellow spots.
Sometimes there’s the opportunity to have some fun with the perfect light for a particular space. A cloakroom is a good room in which to experiment with decorative or accent lighting. Here, LED strips give the sense of a light at the end of the forest, and add a little mystery.
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How have you lit your bathroom? Share your photos and advice in the Comments below.