Anyone who's spent time in a bathroom knows the importance of good lighting: too much harsh overhead lighting, and you feel like you're in a hospital; not enough, and you can't see what you're doing. But we get it — for many of us, coming up with a lighting plan isn't particularly sexy or fun, so it's often an afterthought.
Smaller bathrooms present a unique set of challenges because they're prone to shadows, clutter, and distracting reflections from an abundance of shiny surfaces and mirrors, all of which can add up to unflattering and ineffective lighting. So, how do you strike a balance between practical and functional lighting that's also beautiful? Interior designer Grace De La Rue says, "Have fun with it. Overall, when choosing lighting for a small bathroom, opt for something that is going to add interest and a bit of your personal style to the space."
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Keep these small bathroom lighting ideas in mind when deciding which fixtures would make the picture-perfect complement to your space.
11 Small Bathroom Lighting Ideas
1. Avoid relying on recessed lights.
Canned lights allow you to really see what you're doing, but because they tend to cast harsh, unflattering downlight, they're best used sparingly. In this space belonging to Bri Emery from designlovefest, a recessed light serves as task lighting in the bathtub/shower area. Meanwhile, a pendant light and wall sconces illuminate the center of the room and the vanity area, ensuring a well-balanced glow.
Get the look: Metropolitan LED Semi-Flushmount (Black), $136.00
2. Focus on the bathroom mirror.
The vanity is the hardest-working area of the bathroom, so if there's one place to really focus on, it's here. Nothing beats a mirror with its own light source for makeup application and detailed grooming, but wall sconces installed at midheight are a great alternative for shadow-free lighting. The ideal placement is at least 28 inches apart and 60 inches above the floor. Shea of Studio McGee employed this clever bathroom lighting fixture idea using wall lights with two sets of exposed frosted bulbs for plentiful soft-glow lighting. Recessed lights ensure the space is amply lit from above.
3. Layer your lighting.
A multilevel lighting plan is important in any space but particularly in the bathroom. Start by illuminating areas where you do specific tasks (think the shower, vanity mirror, etc.). When square footage is at a premium, the key is to layer a combination of light sources that are functional and decorative without adding visual clutter. Designer Leanne Ford demonstrates this bathroom lighting idea beautifully in the black and white space above.
Get the look: AFX Lighting Loretto Pendant (Black, Large), $134
4. When in doubt, start with a flush mount fixture.
Experts consider flush mounts to be among the best lighting sources for any bathroom because of their clean lines and their evenly distributed illumination. Here, Jessica Helgerson pairs a simple white flush mount (reflected in the mirror) with eye-catching gold vanity lights for a look that's equal parts practical and decorative. Pale walls clad in striking mini tiles allow light to bounce and keep things bright.
Get the look: Aerin Lucerne Flushmount, $168.16
5. Avoid fabric shades.
Small bathrooms aren't known for their ventilation. Stay away from lights with fabric or leather shades, which can develop water stains, collect product residue, or grow mildew. Glass, metal, and plastic shades are all good alternatives. This eclectic bathroom by Katie Martinez Design features a show-stopping two-tone, metal, wall-mounted sconce with exposed bulbs.
Get the look: Matteo Lighting Two Light Wall Sconce, $429
6. Woven shades can make your bathroom look bigger.
The red pendant light in this compact powder room from Chango & Co. adds a pop of color while its see-through shade keeps it feeling light. Woven textures like this in materials like rattan can help make a space look bigger by allowing light to flow through uninterrupted. Adding texture, color, and pattern to a small bathroom will also make it feel warmer and more inviting.
7. Choose the right light bulbs.
It's not just the light fixtures you need to consider in your small bathroom design — lightbulbs themselves are also crucial. Choose ones that create a warm glow mimicking the natural light of day so as not to overwhelm your petite space with harsh, bright light. Dimmer switches are also your friends. They're particularly helpful for shadeless fixtures or those with clear glass shades, like the trio of bronze pendants in this industrial-inspired space by Kate Lester Interiors.
Get the look: Lostine Edmund Pendant Light, $925
8. Select slim fixtures in a small space.
The long, thin, low-profile lights on either side of the mirror in this narrow space by House Seven Design keep things streamlined. They are unobtrusive yet striking, echoing both the golden color of the faucet and other bathroom hardware and the vertical lines of the wooden vanity cabinet. Even the hand soap fits the sophisticated palette, creating an appealingly cohesive look.
Get the look: Orren Ellis Leger Oval Light Sconce, $239.99
9. Consider unexpected light sources.
While big floor lamps are typically a no-no in bathrooms, you don't have to limit yourself to wall and ceiling light fixtures. Why not add a unique table lamp to a vanity or shelf corner? The right one can add ambient lighting and a stamp of personality in keeping with your bathroom style, just like the charming turtle lamp in this maximalist bathroom from Emily Henderson.
Get the look: Dear Keaton Anayan Table Lamp, $198
10. Go minimal to let other features shine.
Dark colors and opaque fittings can quickly make a small bathroom feel closed-in, so for the opposite effect, go light and sheer. In this minimalist space by Brooke Wagner Design, the petite, clear wall sconces allow the other key features to shine. The pale blue vanity tiles and thin mirror frame continue the trend, as does the soothing color palette.
Get the look: Shades of Light Ashley Bath Sconce, $94
11. Add a touch of glam with a mini chandelier.
"When choosing lighting for a small bathroom, most people assume that since it's a compact space, you have to add smaller lighting fixtures," says De La Rue. "I would say to actually ignore that instinct and use the opportunity to add a wow factor to your small space with your lighting."
Admittedly, you don't want a giant chandelier that takes up half the ceiling. But mini chandeliers, like this one chosen by Mary Patton Design, add drama and provide a unique focal point, often creating the illusion of a larger space.