Ask the Expert: Mark Williams on Bathroom Lighting

Bath lighting tips

Obviously, lighting is a pretty important factor in every room. But we say the bathroom is where lighting matters most. After all, it’s where you apply your makeup and where he shaves. It’s also where you see yourself in the mirror every morning and again in the evening before bedtime. At the sake of sounding vain, don’t you want that image to be its best? Well, then you really need the right lighting.

We asked Atlanta-based interior designer Mark Williams, of Mark Williams Design Associates, to share his top tips in making the right lighting choices in the bathroom.

Always go for dimmers

“Lighting in a bathroom is very important, and there are different times where you need different light levels. In any lighting plan we always recommend dimmers for more versatility. Some people like bright light to wake them up while others like to wake up slowly with more subtle light. And in the evening when you’re getting ready for bed, you might want a softer level of light.”

Bath lighting tips

Layer your lighting

“We always recommend a combination of lighting: good general overhead lighting, like recessed can lights, and surround lighting, like a pair of sconces or vanity lights over your mirror. Sometimes we see bathrooms where only one or the other is installed, but both are useful. Cans spotlight surfaces of the floor and countertop, but everything else falls into shadow, and that can be dreary. If all of the light is coming from above, it’s going to cast a really harsh down light on your face, which can affect how you apply your makeup. So you really need a pair of sconces on either side of your mirror to flank your face to provide lighting from the side. If that’s not possible, we recommend a light bar up top to wash your face with light from the front.”

Bath lighting tips

Halogen bulbs are a no-no

“The kind of bulbs you use is so important. People get really concerned about what the lighting fixture looks like, but if it doesn’t provide the right light, then it’s not the right fixture for you. For example, there are intense halogen light bulbs called MR16s that are in many fixtures today. They’re the silver ones with the half dome. The light is very directional, so if it’s pointed at your face you’re going to get some very harsh shadows, and if it’s pointed elsewhere you won’t get any light on your face.”

Bath lighting tips

Choose a budget-friendly combination of bulbs

“The incandescent bulb uses a lot of energy, but it’s still the best light for your face, so use them in just your sconces or vanity bar. Then use compact fluorescent or LEDs in your overhead lighting. LEDs are great for a variety of lighting scenarios, and you can get a warmer light similar to an incandescent. They’re expensive, but they last a long time and they don’t throw off any measurable heat, so the savings will balance out the initial cost.”

Chandelier in the bathroom

A chandelier is like jewelry for your bathroom.

“An eye-catching lighting fixture is a beautiful way to dress up your bathroom. There are specific codes about how close electricity is to your tub, so you may not always have the option of hanging decorative lighting. However, if you have a high ceiling, then go for a pretty  pendant. Or, if you have a large master bath with a central space, hang a statement lighting piece from the center of the room. It gets light down below the ceiling plane and sheds light back up onto that ceiling plane, so it’s a nice way to light a room.”

Bath lighting tips

Stop obsessing over matching finishes

“I typically recommend to try keeping your metal tones consistent, or in the same family, for a more cohesive look. For example, polished nickel, polished chrome and polished stainless steel all complement each other. Or, if you’re using warm metal tones, antique brass, antique gold and natural bronze (not the oil-rubbed bronze) all work well together. It’s just not that big of a deal. Who is studying the finishes in your bathroom?  Besides, being matchy-matchy is not always the best option.”

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.