Functional & Sustainable Bathroom Luxury

Sustainable Lighting for the Luxury Bathroom

Well-designed lighting in the bathroom should be a top priority. Yet, more often than not, people just accept whatever the builder has installed. How many times have we seen a dramatic photograph of a vanity with the recessed downlight directly over the sink? It makes for a great shot, but try to imagine yourself standing at the mirror with that harsh light hitting the top of your head.

Remember when, as a child, you would hold a flashlight under your chin to create a scary face? The same thing happens, only in reverse. Long dark shadows appear under your eyes, nose and chin. This is extremely bad lighting for trying to apply a make-up or shaving. Who wants to look at a scary face first thing in the morning, especially if that faces yours?

There are also countless bathrooms across the country that have one light fixture that is surface-mounted above the mirror. This is only slightly better than the recessed down light. At best, it illuminates the top half of the face, letting the bottom half fall into shadow. This is an especially hard light by which to shave. There are just so many ways you can tilt your head to catch the light.

For the best task lighting, install two sconces flanking the mirror area above the sink to provide the necessary cross illumination. Look for a fixture that is translucent and dimmable. The center of the light fixture should be mounted at eye level, which is about 5’6” above the floor. If you’re living with a person who is much taller or much shorter than you it’s a good idea to choose a fixture that is long enough to give everyone a fair chance of getting good lighting. Many companies are now offering energy-efficient alternatives to incandescent light sources, such as dimmable LEDs (light emitting diodes) and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps).

If you are looking at more sustainable lighting options are 3 things to consider:

Color temperature: This is measured in degrees Kelvin (° K). This tells you the color of the light. For example, incandescent light is 2700° Kelvin, halogen light is 3000° Kelvin, dimmed incandescent is 2400° Kelvin and daylight is 5000° Kelvin. If you want the feel of the light to be closest to incandescent, then select a color temperature that is between 2400° Kelvin and 2700° Kelvin.

Color rendering index (CRI): This identifies the quality of the light, and how close it is to incandescent light in the way that it renders other colors. Incandescent light has a CRI of 100, so you want to find a sustainable light source that has a CRI of 90 to 95. Many the alternative light sources on the market currently have a CRI of between 80 and 85, which tends to flatten out colors.

Lumen output (Lm): This tells you how much of light a particular light source produces. 75 watt household bulb produces 1180 lumens, while a hundred watt bulb produces 1690 lumens. If you are looking for that amount of light, then you want to find alternative light sources that have similar lumen outputs.

What is really good now is that the bulb and fixture manufacturers are including a label that will appear in each of their products, providing you with this information. Knowing what each of these 3 terms indicate go long way in allow you to pick the right product for your needs.

Sustainable Lighting Luxury Bathroom
A pair of luminous LED panels flank the mirror in this modern powder room.
Lighting designer: Randall Whitehead | Interior designer: Nicki West | Photographer: Dennis Anderson

Sustainable Lighting for Tubs and Showers

While the task area at the vanity is the most important to illuminate correctly, there are other areas of the bath bear consideration. Tubs and showers need a good general light. For this purpose, recessed fixtures with diffusers are commonly used and relatively effective. Using a recessed adjustable fixture that is rated for wet location allows some flexibility as to where the light is directed. As designers and homeowners are specifying wonderful tile, interesting plumbing fixtures, and even niches for art, they can install directional fixtures to highlight these exciting elements. There are many LED recessed fixtures now on the market that are rated for wet locations.

Sustainable Lighting Shower
Recessed adjustable LED fixtures highlight the tiles, while outside lighting casts a shadow pattern on to the frosted glass panel. Lighting designer: Randall Whitehead | Interior designer: Jonathan Hopp | Photographer: Dennis Anderson

Sustainable Ambient Lighting

Indirect lighting in a bathroom adds a warm overall glow to the space. Cove lighting that directs light upward can provide gentle ambient illumination. Linear LED lighting is a good choice for this application. It’s very small and is available in a dimmable version. I would recommend using a warmer color that feels like incandescent light. The best color temperature is between 2700° Kelvin and 2400° Kelvin.  2700° Kelvin is the color of incandescent light at full brightness; 2400° Kelvin is the color of dimmed incandescent. For bathrooms with higher ceilings, pendant or close-to ceiling fixtures can also be used as a source of fill light.

Sustainable Accent Lighting

Gibson Carmel Highlands
Placement of art plays a greater role in today’s bathrooms.
Lighting designer: Randall Whitehead | Interior designer: John G Martin, Turner Martin Design | Photographer: Dennis Anderson

Along with ambient illumination comes an opportunity for accent lighting. Plants and art pieces can be highlighted. When homeowners are entertaining, the room most frequently visited by their guests will likely be the powder room. This space can be treated differently from the other bathrooms. No serious tasks are going to be performed by guests. This is a place where people will wash their hands or check their hair and make-up before rejoining the party.

Here lights should be just a flattering glow. A pair of translucent vanity lights on either side of the mirror with a fixture in the middle of the ceiling will do the trick. Some powder rooms do double duty as guest baths for overnight houseguests. If this is the case light the bath as you would a master bath, also making sure to put the various lights on dimmers to allow for flexible control over the illumination levels.

Luxury Bathroom Sustainable Lighting: The Bottom Line

Bathrooms, along with kitchens, are the two areas that people are most willing to invest their money, because a well-done remodel in these two rooms adds immediate value to the home. They can normally recoup the money they have invested when the home goes on the market. The most important thing to remember in lighting the bathroom is that good illumination for tasks is primary, because looking good is hard work.

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