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How to Get Your Bathroom Vanity Lighting Right

Getting yourself ready for the day can take effort, but the job is easier with adequate lighting at the bathroom vanity. A successful bathroom lighting plan has multiple light sources, including both overhead and task, with good task lighting at the sink and mirror being key.

To achieve a successful vanity lighting plan, fixtures need to have adequate light output, be of appropriate size and style for the bathroom layout and design, and be installed at the proper distance from the floor and one another. Mounting vanity light fixtures at the optimal location minimizes the potential for shadows being cast on the face, important when applying makeup or shaving and grooming.

Where to Mount Vanity Lighting

Available space or design preferences can dictate whether to place fixtures to the sides of the mirror or overhead. When you can’t decide which is best, you can install both.

Both sides of the bathroom mirror. The primary place to hang wall sconces in the bathroom is on both sides of the bathroom vanity mirror, providing ideal lighting for the sink area.

The American Lighting Association’s general rule is to mount them 65 to 70 inches from the floor, at about eye level. This allows light to fully illuminate your entire face without casting shadows. Ideally, the fixtures should be placed about 28 to 30 inches apart, but achieving this depends on the size of the room and configuration of the design.

Above the mirror. Although fixtures mounted on either side of the mirror are considered best for casting even light across the face, mounting them above the mirror remains a popular choice. Sometimes it’s simply impractical to do otherwise, given the size or position of the vanity mirror.

The ideal height for installing fixtures above the mirror is 78 inches. Look for fixtures that hold higher-wattage bulbs so available light has the best chance to fall evenly over the sinks.

Side walls. In a narrow bath, consider mounting sconces on the side walls, close to the back wall. The illumination is still effective while maximizing the size of the mirror. In this case, you would still mount the sconces 65 to 70 inches from the floor, at about eye level.

Design Considerations

Surrounding bathroom elements. The choice of fixture style presents an opportunity to introduce character or reinforce the design aesthetic of the bathroom. With so many options, make sure to embrace this chance to make a statement. Consider how the light fixture will look next to other elements of the vanity and bathroom, to achieve a cohesive design.

A longstanding guideline has been to match finishes within a bathroom, but homeowners and designers also are mixing metals for a potentially dynamic collected look.

Sconce shades. Sconce shades are an important feature since their transparency and color greatly affect how much light is emitted. White fabric shades give off a diffused light that provides a bright, clean tone.

Single fixture or multiple. While multiple sconces can be installed in a row, another solution is to select a fixture with multiple shades. Styles are often available in multiple sizes, allowing the fixture to be sized in relation to the width of the mirror below.

Other Vanity Lighting Considerations

Water safety. If the fixtures are to be installed near a tub or shower with a risk of having contact with water spray, look for styles with a “damp” rating.

Three damp-rated vanity lights are intended to be set horizontally but are striking mounted vertically over rows of mosaic tile.

Bulbs. Clear bulbs with filaments are popular, but they tend to cast shadows. Opt for opaque or frosted bulbs instead, particularly if the bulb is exposed.

In this bathroom, Chase double-shade bath strips by Robert Abbey provide abundant light, each housing four 60-watt bulbs.

When shopping for fixtures, make sure to check what wattage each option supports to guarantee sufficient light output. In general, look for fixtures that are designed to hold 75- to 100-watt bulbs for a single-light sconce. The equivalent wattage is approximately 18 to 22 watts for fluorescent bulbs and 9 to 13 watts for LED bulbs.

Dimmers. The ability to dim lighting is a desired feature in other rooms and can be in the bathroom as well. Installing dimmers is worth the effort and cost; bright task lighting that’s optimal in the day can be softened in the evening, a nice touch if relaxing in the bath is a favorite ritual to help wind down the day.

Vanity Lighting Tips

  • Consider a dual sconce for large vanities. To avoid dark spots at a long vanity, consider mounting a dual sconce in the center with single sconces at the outer edges of the mirrors and vanity.
  • Avoid asymmetrical lighting. Placing a fixture on just one side of a mirror will create uneven illumination and make grooming difficult.
  • Skip recessed ceiling fixtures over the sink. This can cast shadows on the face. If recessed lights at the sink area are desired or already in place, consider putting them on a different switch from the task lighting for more control over the lighting plan.
  • Add supplemental lighting if necessary. If the bathroom is small, sconces may illuminate the entire room. In larger bathrooms, light from additional sources, such as recessed lights and ceiling fixtures, will be necessary for adequate general lighting.

It’s hard to have too much light in a bathroom, so don’t skimp on larger fixtures at the vanity if your space can accommodate them.

Proper lighting can make all the difference in a bathroom, not only in how it looks, but also in how it supports our daily routines. It should be softly flattering yet bright enough for shaving.