Before starting, please be aware that there are important rules to follow when we mix water with electricity. So, be sure to read the practical notes at the foot of this article and ensure that any work done in a bathroom is done by a qualified electrician.
Always start a bathroom lighting scheme at the washbasin. It will usually have a mirror above it. And understand this: lighting at the washbasin is never about the washbasin – it’s always about the person standing at the washbasin, the one looking into the mirror.
You’re aiming for a light that provides evenly-illuminated, shadow-free faces. Ideally, the lighting should come from the sides of the mirror and provide as soft and broad a spread of light as possible. There are many examples of wall lights in different styles.
If wall lighting is not practical, or doesn’t suit the interior design, then a light mounted above the mirror is a good alternative. Again, the light distribution should be soft and very broad.
If you are obliged to use the ceiling, then always have a diffused light mounted centrally above the washbasin so that light can fall evenly onto the face. And the same soft and broad rule needs to be applied here too as there’s a better chance of gaining reflected light from the walls surrounding the mirror.
Downlighting above a washbasin can look dramatic but it rarely provides the kind of quality of illumination that is wanted in this location. If a recessed downlight is the only option left, then use a fixture with a diffusing front glass; there are some very attractive decorative versions of this kind of fixture available. And try to use two fixtures, one either side of the washbasin, rather than a single fixture directly above the plughole.
If the bathroom is small enough, the illumination of the washbasin and mirror area may be the only light that you need.
Above the bath
The obvious choice is to have a pair of downlights mounted in the ceiling directly above the bathtub. Be aware that this arrangement can be uncomfortable for those who prefer to use the bath as a place of quiet and spend a lot of time there. It’s also not very good for those who read in their bath.
An alternative is to place a fixture at the ‘head’ end of the bath, either on the ceiling (soft and broad still applies) so that light reflects from the walls surrounding the bath, or have a recessed wall fixture located in the wall above the head of the bath.
The shower cubicle
Most shower cubicles are not very generous with space so the obvious solution is the typical one, a recessed downlight mounted in the ceiling. Be conscious that you may be vying for space with the shower head.
If the ceiling is not available for some reason, consider an inset wall fixture that sits flush to the walls of the cubicle. Avoid fixtures that protrude as they can cause bruising.
The toilet and bidet
The chances are that, in anything other than the larger bathrooms, you don’t actually need a light at the toilet or bidet. If the soft and broad rule has been applied you’ll find that there’s sufficient light around the room overall that lighting here is unnecessary.
That said, the wall behind the toilet and bidet is occasionally used for shelving and there may be a decorative lighting component that can be introduced.
If you are obliged to illuminate the toilet and the bidet then you most likely need to have ceiling fixtures; either a single ceiling-mounted fixture or a recessed downlight (one above each pan). This is not really satisfactory because we create our own shadows just by sitting there; that’s why the spill light from neighbouring lighting can be so much better.