Bright Ideas

Bright Ideas

In fact, lighting experts agree that in the all-important bathroom, lighting not only contributes to how the room is perceived, but how the owner perceives him or herself.

"Good lighting is essential for people to see themselves in a complimentary light," says Todd Phillips, president of lighting manufacturer Quoizel, Inc., based in Goose Creek, SC. "Whether consumers are putting on makeup or combing their hair, they want a positive view of themselves, which can only be accomplished by using the right light source."

A Complex Room
Like the rest of the house, the bathroom reflects consumer's changing lifestyles. More spacious and multi-functional than ever before, these once-utilitarian water closets have become glamour havens private retreats designed for relaxation, escape and self-indulgence. In addition, bathroom design has become increasingly complex, requiring more sophisticated lighting choices and an increasingly knowledgeable designer.

"The bathroom is the part of the house with the densest assortment of materials and finishes," says Dan Blitzer, Manhattan, NY-based continuing educator for the American Lighting Association, based in Dallas, TX. "You have wall tile, floor tile, shower tile, faucet hardware, towel bars, wallpaper and paint all in a space often smaller than 100 square feet."

For that reason, today's more complex bathrooms whether built new or recently remodeled demand intricate lighting solutions. Task lighting must be bright enough to do its job, but work well with indirect accent lighting designed to soften the room's ambience by providing a warm glow. Lighting fixtures and finishes must complement, rather than compete with plumbing accessories, tile, paint and wallpaper.

Think of lighting the bathroom the same way you would think of creating the perfect ensemble, suggests Blitzer. "You want everything to coordinate so that anyone walking in views the room as a whole. Everything should work together as opposed to supporting one astonishing fixture."

"When we look at the amount of money that people invest in building or renovating bathrooms, a proper lighting plan has the potential to deliver dramatic results, costs only a small fraction of the project budget, and yet it is often lacking or overlooked," said Gary Taylor, president of Living Lighting, in London, Ontario, Canada.

Yet, despite the fairly minimal investment, compared to the overall cost of the room, the right lighting can make a bathroom appear far more elegant, beautiful and livable, lighting experts agree. "Lighting is an inexpensive way to make the bathroom shine," says Todd Langner, v.p./marketing and development for Kichler, a lighting manufacturer based in Cleveland, OH. "There's a great opportunity to match the finish of the plumbing accessories with the light fixtures. There is a huge array of styles in the marketfrom very ornate poly-resin cast products to sleek satin nickel fixtures with opal matte glass in a variety of shapes and sizes," he notes.

While fixtures and finishes range in design from sleek and clean to very ornate, contemporary ranks as the top trend in bathroom design, according to the American Lighting Association.

"While contemporary still makes up a very small percentage of home [design trends] nationwide, people seem to feel most comfortable with contemporary bathrooms even if it doesn't necessarily represent the overall style throughout their home," says Phillips.

Currently, nickel owns the top spot in bathroom finishes, followed closely by chrome and brass, according to Phillips. "Chrome and brushed chrome continue as important finishes," he states, adding that, "Chrome coordinates best with mirrors, which are essential in any

While some take a thoroughly modern approach to bathroom lighting, others favor less contemporary design choices for a warmer, cozier look. "We are seeing the influx of popular home design materials like iron and vintage glass being used to make a warmer design statement," says Phillips. "This is a greater continuity to what is happening throughout the home at large."

New technology has added options as well: Fiber optics, with its remote light source, can create twinkling star effects when inset into bathroom ceilings. Halogen bulbs with their variety of sizes allow manufacturers to design more ornate light fixtures. Unusual light sources like wall sconces, sky lights, and lamps perched on a table, vanity or bathroom island provide an unexpected touch.

Function is also key to good bath lighting: Shower lights can brighten up enclosed stalls; reading lamps by the toilet provide more focused light, and single sconces on either side of the mirror remain popular, as they provide a more flattering view, making grooming and make up application easier and more enjoyable.

To be most effective, the American Lighting Association advises, designers should begin the bathroom lighting scheme at the vanity, placing lights that do the most work in this location. These lights must be bright enough so users can see to shave or apply makeup, yet soft enough to complement facial features. Fixtures located on each side of the mirror should be set at eye level to be most effective. Theatrical-style lighting stripped along the sides and across the top of the mirror also do a good job, the association notes.

Bulb selection is as important as choosing and placing the right fixture, the association adds. For lighting vanity areas, colored or coated bulbs designed to enhance facial features are a possible option. The association suggests looking for bath fixtures that light downward so the heat dissipates more easily from the sockets and creates a longer life for all bulbs.

Recessed or canned lighting, however, is not the most ideal choice as a bathroom's main or only lighting source, the association notes. This is because this type of lighting tends to cast shadows across the face.

"When remodeling or building a bathroom, don't be convinced that recessed lighting alone will be adequate," says Langner. "You won't be happy unless you have other light sources to fill in the gaps. It's important to layer the light."

Layers of light also reduce glare an important consideration for designers, since the aging of the baby boomer market is expected to be a major influence on the future of the design industry.

"As the eye ages, glare becomes a bigger problem," says Blitzer. "The eye needs more light to see well as the aging eye lens yellows and thickens. By 55 years old, people need twice as much light to see as well as they did when they were 20," he reports.

To further reduce glare, designers can opt for frosted white bulbs, rather than clear models, and avoid fixtures with exposed bulbs also a good idea in the bathroom from a safety standpoint.

The association also warns that designers should check with local building inspectors about electrical codes before installing