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Good bath lighting can bring you out of the shadows

The right bathroom lighting can switch an image in the mirror from beast to beauty, but it often ranks way below a luxury tub, modern fixtures and stylish tile on the priority list.

Remodeler Clay Lyon sees inadequate bathroom lighting all the time in houses old and new.

“When there are only can lights to light a person’s face, the effect can be really shadowy and hideous,” says Lyon of Lyon Construction + Design in Mission Hills, Kan., who is president of the builders/remodelers advisory council for the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Here’s a guide for giving this room the lighting it needs.


This is the most crucial lighting consideration because the mirror is used for applying makeup and shaving. Sconces or vertical fixtures mounted on both sides of the mirror are best for casting light evenly across the face.

“The light frames the face and makes people look younger and more attractive,” says Shirley Allen, owner of the Light Shop in Kansas City, Mo., who designs lighting for clients. “When there’s light coming only from the ceiling or above the mirror, it creates shadow under the chin and eyes and on your forehead.”

The center of each fixture should be at about eye level, or 66 inches above the floor. Fixtures also can be installed directly to large mirrors, but it’s more expensive.


Many showers don’t include a light overhead, making the whole shower experience feel like a gray rainy day rather than an invigorating morning ritual.

“Women really do need the light so they can shave their legs,” says Allen, who recommends a small, water-rated recessed light with a glass lens. Some men use a shower mirror and shave, too.

In small bathrooms in which the shower stall has a clear door, a dedicated light might not be necessary.


Lyon uses small, recessed spotlights to light the sinks in bathrooms. In powder rooms, Allen places a wet-rated lamp on countertops because it adds ambience and guides guests into the bathroom.


In bathrooms with tall ceilings, Lyon uses decorative chandeliers or pendants. In smaller bathrooms and water closets, he uses fixtures that are flush with the ceiling.


Allen installs night lights on the wall 12 inches from the floor to help guide people into the bathroom.


Fluorescent: Can last longer than incandescent, but choose a warm color.

Halogen: Color mimics sunlight. Bulbs last longer than incandescent but cost four times as much.

Incandescent: Works well, especially on a dimmer switch.

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