Don’t Make Vanity Lighting an Afterthought in Your Bathroom

published Nov 28, 2018
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(Image credit: Lana Kenney)

Designers love describing bathrooms as “spa-like”—but there’s nothing spa-like about squinting in the dark. Choosing your bathroom vanity lighting is just as essential as picking out tile or hanging the perfect shower curtain. But wander into your local hardware store and you’ll find a million options. What to choose, what to choose. Follow these guidelines to learn how to pick a good setup, no matter how your bathroom is designed.

(Image credit: Carina Romano)

Side-by-Side Sconces Give Great Light

If you have the space for them, mount two vertical fixtures, or sconces, on either side of the mirror. Unlike fixtures installed above the mirror, which cast dark shadows, two side-by-side sconces create more even light that will make you look your best. Ideally they should be placed at eye-level, or between 60 inches to 70 inches off the floor.

(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

If your mirror is too wide, however, you may struggle getting enough illumination from wall sconces mounted on either side. Limit side sconces to narrower set-ups and don’t place them further than 36 inches to 40 inches apart from each other.

If you use your bathroom mirror for hard-core grooming, it doesn’t hurt to install a strip light above the mirror too. Then, you can choose just how much lighting you want for every task. Brushing your teeth? Probably just the sconces. Inspecting your pores? All lights at full blast.

(Image credit: Heather Keeling)

Choose One Fixture That’s the Right Size

Not every bathroom has space for two sconces. If you do go with lights above, make sure you don’t overwhelm the mirror with an oversized fixture. Pair a skinnier mirror with vanity lighting that’s roughly the same width, or even a hair smaller. Going any wider will lead to a strange, lopsided look.

The go-to height for vanity lighting above bathroom mirrors is 75 inches to 80 inches from the floor to the light fixture.

(Image credit: Sarita Relis Photography)

Of course, the longer the mirror, the longer the light needs to be. Especially if you have two sinks, one long continuous bar light leaves less dark pockets than two separate fixtures.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Chandeliers Are a Chic, Unexpected Option

Want to add a touch of glam to your bathroom? Consider a chic chandelier above the vanity. Since this is accent lighting, you’ll likely want to pair this stylish solution with an above-the-mirror vanity strip that acts as a functional task light—but just imagine how luxurious you’ll feel soaking in the tub while gazing at one of these beauties. Pick a glitzy crystal (or faux-crystal) chandelier for a glamorous look, or go vintage to complete your antique-inspired master bath.

(Image credit: Brittany Purlee)

Pendants Are a Pretty Alternative

If you like the decorative appeal of a chandelier, but want something a little more functional near the mirror, consider installing pendant lights. They work well on either side of the mirror, but can also be ambient or accent lighting if necessary.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Don’t Forget Light Color

Picking the correct color temperature is essential. Look for bulbs between 2700 and 3000 on the Kelvin scale—or the coolest “warm white” available. This neutral shade complements the skin and gives you the closest approximation of outdoor light possible.

If you care about energy efficiency (and you should!), look for LED bulbs that offer a “color rendering index,” or CRI, of 80+. This ensures colors look just like they would in natural sunlight.

(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

Always Suit Your Style

Vanity lighting may seem simple—it’s just a bunch of lightbulbs, right?—but make sure the model you choose fits your overall bathroom style.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

In a contemporary, minimalist escape, consider a single, sleek horizontal bar. Or if you’re creating a more traditional upscale, spa-like master suite, try a round bulb with brass fittings. Or keep things traditional with some antique brass sconces, like the ones seen above, which suit the pedestal sink and frameless mirror.

(Image credit: Carina Romano)

Choose Finishes Carefully

Many people match their vanity light fixture to their faucet hardware, but it’s not an absolute. Yes, mixing metals is on-trend, but tread carefully. A shiny, builder-basic silver may not pair properly with a brushed-nickel faucet. Pick metals that complement, not clash.

(Image credit: Justin Levesque)

For example, while the sconce above is white, and the sink fixture is black, their equally modern sleek lines keep things cohesive.