If you ask any interior designer, they will tell you about the importance of lighting. And bathrooms are no exception. Good lighting has the ability to change a space both visually and functionally. Layering the two basic types of lighting, ambient and task lighting, is vital.
Ambient lighting illuminates the general space — think chandeliers or other ceiling lights placed centrally in the room. Meanwhile, task lighting provides extra light to a particular area, like around the bathroom vanity. While your daily shower might not need an abundance of illumination, a vanity area will need additional lighting for tasks like shaving or putting on makeup, for example.
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"In all of the spaces that I design, I like to have multiple levels of light," says designer Katja van der Loo of Papyrus Home Design. "A center fixture, such as a chandelier or flush mount fixture, is nice in many bathrooms, but it has to make sense. A chandelier works when you have the proper height for one, and a flush mount adds a little eye candy to the room. Both should be centered on something, not simply placed randomly. For vanities, I like sconces to flank a mirror, as I like the light to highlight the face."
In addition to these key elements, van der Loo also adds one more that's essential to her lighting formula: dimmers. To create the perfect mood lighting, especially in a powder room, she stresses, "Dimmers on everything!"
Which fixtures are best for your particular space? We've rounded up some of the most common types below to help spark your brilliant bathroom lighting ideas.
11 Types of Bathroom Lighting
1. Flush Mount Bathroom Lighting
Flush mounts are ceiling lights that stay flush to the surface without any cord or chain to hang down into the room. Many stores sell flush mount fixtures at very affordable prices, and there is a vast range of styles from which to choose. They provide lots of light and work especially well in small spaces, especially those with lower ceilings. Flush mounts don't typically have the wow factor of chandeliers because of their scale, but the one in this space by designer Cortney Bishop manages to be both understated and pretty.
Get the look: Crystorama Rylee Flushmount in Forged Bronze, $316.95
2. Semi-Flush Mount Bathroom Lighting
Similar to flush mounts, semi-flush light fixtures hang slightly away from the ceiling on a short stem. This style of lighting allows you to create a little bit more of a statement. Semi-flush mounts are also a great option for small spaces, like powder rooms, and they create ambient lighting. In this bathroom by designer Nune, the brass shade is diminutive but adds a bit of shine and warmth to a mostly black and white space.
Get the look: Joss & Main Delilah Semi Flush Mount, $300
3. Pendant Bathroom Lighting
Pendants — which are suspended from the ceiling, usually by a cord, chain, or rod — are among the most common types of fixtures used in modern bathrooms. They are extraordinarily versatile. They can be hung at any desired height and come in a range of styles, from boho to industrial. You can go big or small and use them for task lighting near your vanity mirror or ambient lighting in the center of the room. We love the frosted glass pendant lights in this room by Emily Henderson, which beautifully coordinate with the matte black faucet and other accents.
Get the look: Vault Knox Matte Black Mondern Pendant, $499
A chandelier is any light fixture that hangs from the ceiling and accommodates multiple lightbulbs. They tend to be sizable and therefore statement-makers while also serving as excellent light sources thanks to their many bulbs. This bathroom chandelier, styled by D2 Interieurs, certainly has a striking visual presence with its bouquet of clear glass shades on polished chrome stems. We can just imagine the lovely ambiance this bath light would bring to an evening soak, especially if it were wired with a dimmer switch.
Get the look: Generation Lighting Bronzeville Three Light Pendant, $744.98
5. Wall Sconces
Not to be Captain Obvious here, but wall sconces are light fixtures installed directly into a wall — typically around areas such as the bathroom mirror. Most often, they are placed in pairs flanking the mirror (though designer Robert Walsh flouts convention for an asymmetrical look in this modern bathroom). These lights are designed to provide direct illumination on a specific area, and they look pretty too! Mount the lights around eye level for the best effect.
Get the look: Globe Electric Company Flush Mounted Sconce, $56.99
6. Light Bars
Light bars are another type of wall-mounted fixture often used in bathrooms. Also known as bath bars, they can be placed like sconces on either side of a vanity mirror, as in this elegant powder room by Reena Sotropa of In House Design Group. Most commonly, however, they're installed above the mirror. They can consist of a single LED light bar (as pictured here); a base with several lightbulbs mounted on it; or, less commonly, a fluorescent tube. They're popular because they give off an even glow, producing fewer shadows than other fixtures.
Get the look: Rejuvenation Donnelly LED Sconce, $649
7. Swing-Arm Lighting
This industrial-inspired bathroom designed by Residents Understood is a perfect example of the formula that designer Katja van der Loo described: the central ceiling fixture offering ambient light, paired with two sconces flanking the vanity mirror for task lighting. However, there's an added bonus to this bathroom in that the sconces are adjustable thanks to their swing-arm style. In addition to being stylish, this feature gives you more control, allowing you to direct the light wherever you might need it.
Get the look: Arteriors Home Watson Sconce, $700
8. Mirror Lighting
Sconces mounted directly onto your vanity mirror may require advance planning to get the wiring set up, but the benefits are big, especially in a small space. A larger mirror will make your space feel not only larger but also brighter as it bounces light around the room. You can see what we mean in the bathroom above, designed by Katja van der Loo — instead of one sconce, the mirror creates the illusion of there being two. The white glass lampshades offer a traditional touch.
Get the look: Regency Hill Greta Warm Brass Wall Sconces (set of two), $199.99
9. Recessed Lighting
Recessed lights are installed above the ceiling line. Since they're mostly hidden, they look clean and streamlined — perfect for a minimalist aesthetic — as seen in this bathroom. Watertight lenses mean these fixtures can handle humid and wet conditions. The one downside to keep in mind with recessed lights is that because they are partially obscured, they don't produce as much illumination as other fixtures.
10. Shower Lighting
The most common choice for shower lighting is recessed lights. But there are other fun options you can explore. For this bathroom, Elms Interior Design went outside the box, choosing a white glass, porthole-esque light fixture that jives perfectly with the space's nautical aesthetic. With all your bathroom lighting, you'll need to consider moisture exposure and choose waterproof fixtures if necessary. This is especially important for shower lights.
Get the look: Nauticus White Industrial Outdoor Wall Light, $50
11. Cove Lighting
Cove lights are strip lights that follow the edge of a recessed area in a ceiling or wall and direct light up or down. They can be used throughout a room as ambient lighting or in just one area of the bathroom as accent or task lighting. In this stunning space by Hill Construction Company, they're used as bathroom vanity lighting, creating a lovely glow around the mirror.
Get the look: Alcon Wall Grazer Linear LED Light, $299.95