EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BATHROOM LIGHTING

With architect Joe Snell.
Architect and former House Rules judge Joe Snell admits that bathrooms shouldn’t get first dibs on the best natural light; that prime north-easterly aspect goes to living, kitchen and dining first and foremost. But that doesn’t mean light isn’t important in the bathroom, or that you’re destined for a dim and gloomy space – quite the opposite.

“Water and light: there are few more uplifting combinations in the world. I spend a great deal of time working out ways to ensure that natural light passes through a stream of water, whether that is from the basin tap, the bath spout or the shower head. This is such a basic fundamental human pleasure and designing to capture it is one of the joys that can be considered in your bathroom.” – Joe Snell, Your Best Home

In his new book Your Best Home: 5 Spaces x 5 Design Steps = A Better Life, Joe reveals ways to work with not just light, but also space, air, sound and views in every part of your home – a must-read if you’re undertaking a new build, extension or renovating a room and want an all-access pass into the mind of an architect. To get you started, you can read his complete guide to bathroom lighting here.
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WINDOWS, WINDOWS, WINDOWS
One of nature’s most prolific cleansers is sunlight and so a sunlit bathroom will always feel cleaner. I invariably introduce as many windows as possible, always bearing privacy in mind.
I often also introduce skylights – these are great for giving a sense of light, even early in the morning when there is not much light in the sky yet. If a skylight is not possible, sun tubes are a great resource in the bathroom. Their mirrored insides snake through your roof internals and bring in reflected sunlight.
BORROWED LIGHT
Many ensuites are land locked; they have no external window to let in natural light. If this is the case, and you can’t put in a window to outside, try to borrow light from the adjacent bedroom by knocking a hole in the wall (or removing it completely) and screening with sand-blasted glass or plantation shutters.
One reason to open up the main part of your bathroom to a bigger space, such as the adjoining bedroom, is not only about space but also light. By not enclosing the room, you have an opportunity for light to spill both ways. The room doesn’t have to be completely open; instead it could have a large sliding door or a bank of shutters that allows light through when you need it. A beautifully lit bathroom can become a lovely background to a bedroom.
This technique of borrowing light can also be used in other parts of the house. For example, you could open up the vanity part of your family bathroom to a hallway and share light. In the middle of a family get-up-and-go there is no issue with having these spaces connected as it is just a communal washing area. However, a sliding cavity door or otherwise is advised so that you can shut it off when required.
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MIRRORING
Mirror is a great aid to the feeling of light in your bathroom. Often the opportunity to get natural light into a bathroom is not great: they are usually small rooms and well down the list in terms of placement for the house’s best orientation to the sun.
But if you have gone to great effort to get natural light into your bathroom despite this, now is the time to make the most of it. Use mirror, and don’t be afraid to use more than you think you may need. Apart from the sense of space that it gives, a big mirror reflects the light that you have and gives a strong sense that you have more.
I often create vanity benches 2 metres (78 in) or more long and then fill the wall above them with mirror up to the ceiling. The amount of light that it bounces around is amazing and mirror has the added benefits of being cost-effective and easy to clean.
TASK LIGHTING
Always start with positioning your task lighting. Good task lighting is imperative in the bathroom, not only for making yourself presentable to the world, but also as one of the few places where you have the privacy and time to properly check yourself out.
Good task lighting over the vanity is key. Make sure you place light in the middle of the bench between the front bench edge and the mirror. This ensures you not only light up the bench and everything on it, but also your face. If the light is further into the room, it will only light the top of your head as you stand at the basin and that will cast a shadow forward over your face.
Hollywood lights around a mirror are a great way to bring even light to your face and it is no accident that these are used by professional make-up artists. There are many updated versions on the market now, so you don’t have to have the big bulbs surrounding the mirror. Be careful to check them out before you buy: I have found that some simply don’t work and are more for room aesthetics than actual lighting.
Consider also using strip lighting under the vanity for the wow factor. Sometimes a bathroom needs a lift and placing some LED under the vanity can do just that, even making the vanity appear to float.
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SHOWER LIGHTING
I like to place a waterproof task light in the shower. It is incredibly useful to have a good-quality light in there so that you can see yourself properly if you need to. It should not be in a spot where you look into it as you raise your face to the shower, and it must be on a separate switch or dimmable, so that if you find the bright light intrusive you can remove or soften it, especially when you are relaxing ready for bed at night.
Interestingly enough, a recent trend has been LEDs in showerheads. Some are gimmicky, but I think they will move beyond this and start to represent more clinical solutions.
SPOTLIGHT A FEATURE
If you have a large and well-ventilated bathroom, I am a big believer in bringing in art or photography so that you have something to contemplate while you spend time there. Whether it’s a painting or photograph, make sure you introduce a spotlight that will focus and make the feature pop.
Don’t be afraid to introduce sculpture into your bathroom – there is a long history of humans connecting sculpture and water. Just ensure that it is properly lit.
AMBIENT LIGHTING
I use wall wash lighting in a bathroom, especially if I have a feature wall to show off. A wall wash light brings a textured wall to life with a play of light and shade.
Wall-mounted uplights work well in a bathroom off a white ceiling, as they can have a big impact in a relatively small room. Ensure they are dimmable, so that you can get the light down to a really low glow if you are trying to relax in the bath.
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THE ULTIMATE LUXURY
And, speaking of sleep and rest, there can be no better and more relaxing light in your bathroom in the evening than firelight.
If you are soaking in the bath, candlelight is a lovely luxury. The warm light is relaxing, as are the flickering shadows that move across the room. If you can couple this with seeing stars through a window or skylight as you sit back in the bath then you have a truly great room. A scented candle can bring in a practical aspect: it looks beautiful while other less desirable scents are burnt off.
More extravagant again is to locate a fireplace in your bathroom. This harks back to times when we used fire to heat our water for bathing. A wonderful idea for a separating wall between a bedroom and ensuite is to put in a two-way fireplace. It needs to be carefully and professionally fitted for safety, but imagine a fire adding ambience to both the bedroom and the bathroom – what a wonderful shared experience.
BRIGHTEN IT UP
For a quick fix, change your bathroom lighting fixture to something more interesting. So many bathrooms are afflicted by downlights or a single lonely oyster. Don’t be afraid to introduce a game changer like a sophisticated Scandinavian pendant or even a chandelier.
Create a minimum of three lighting effects in the bathrooms, depending on the activity you are doing: task lighting for washing and applying cosmetics, general ambient lighting for moving around your bathroom and then a relaxing mode of lighting for the evening bath or shower. Make your lighting fixtures work with your taps and accessories – they should be in a companion style.
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Images and extract from Your Best Home: 5 Spaces x 5 Design Steps = A Better Life by Joe Snell Murdoch Books.

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