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The Timber Frame Bathroom Lighting Guide

Style doesn’t have to end in your great room or kitchen. Here’s a primer on choosing bathroom lighting that’s anything but basic.

Photography by James Ray Spahn


The bathroom is one of the only rooms in the house dedicated to relaxation and self-care, but yet it’s often overlooked when designing the plan for our custom timber homes. A primary or master bathroom can be the true workhorse for much of our daily routines. For this reason, bathrooms need to be well thought-out, right down to the lighting. There are many options to choose from, all of which work in different scenarios that can be used together to brighten up any bathroom space.

Wall Sconces

Sconces, or wall-mounted light fixtures, are a popular choice for bathroom vanities for several reasons. Not only stylish, they produce effective lighting without taking up a lot of space.

Placement:

In a main bathroom, where you’ll most likely be using the mirror for everyday tasks such as shaving, applying makeup or putting in contact lenses, it’s important to have fixtures that light not just the space, but your face, too. For this reason, bathroom sconces are commonly used in pairs so one can be installed on each side of a mirror. Together, a pair of sconces will evenly illuminate both sides.

As a general rule, the American Lighting Association recommends mounting sconces 65 to 70 inches up from the floor and 28 to 30 inches apart, although that depends on the size of the room and the width of your vanity mirror.

Choose sconces if:

  • You need your vanity to be an evenly lit workstation for your morning routine.
  • You want to fill the space to the sides of your mirror with an extra decorative accent.
  • You have a single narrow mirror or multiple mirrors with spaces between.
  • You can’t install lights in the ceiling.

 

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Single Fixture Above Mirror

In a smaller bathroom or powder room where you might not have as much wall width to work with, you can position a sconce above the mirror instead of squeezing one in on each side.

Placement:

An overhead fixture will keep things symmetrical, but might cause some shadows on your face.

For more even light, you can opt for side-by-side sconces or twin-light fixtures that will illuminate down from both sides for better coverage. Keep in mind: If your mirror is more than 60 inches wide (often the case with a double vanity), sconces on each side might be spaced too far apart to provide adequate light, so consider an over-mirror fixture in this situation.

According to the American Lighting Association, the ideal height for installing fixtures above a mirror is about 78 inches from the floor.

Choose a single fixture above the mirror if:

  • You don’t have room on one or both sides of the mirror to fit a pair of sconces.
  • You have a very wide mirror with no breaks in between.
  • You have a tall ceiling and want to dramatically accentuate the height by adding a focal point up high.

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Statement Fixture

Sometimes in a restful place like a bathroom you just want to decorate with something beautiful. And in spaces other than the main bathroom, such as a powder room, the lighting may not need to be perfectly even and bright. Enter the statement light fixture.

Placement:

Rustic lanterns, statement pendants or elegant mini-chandeliers can all give a space a sense of personality and drama. If you love the look of a statement chandelier in the bathroom but still want the functionality of less-dramatic lighting, consider placing the chandelier in the center of the room or over a tub instead, and combining it with a pair of subtle sconces for contrast. Mixing basic wall fixtures with a more elaborate ceiling fixture will reduce the chance of the two styles competing or clashing.

Choose a statement fixture if:

  • You don’t need perfectly even lighting for tasks in a non-primary bathroom.
  • You want to make a big impact in a smaller bathroom.
  • You can use a chandelier or pendant for added style, but with vanity sconces as the true task lighting for a mix of form and function.

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