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Pampered & efficient: Bathroom lighting tips from a pro

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Think carefully about where you put that light, and how you control it

According to custom residential interior designer Geralynne Mitschke, the right bathroom lighting can help dissolve the day's stresses — and your energy usage. The fourth installment in our room-by-room lighting design series.

While he's shaving in front of the mirror, she's taking an extra-deep soak in the tub. A few hours later, as she's applying makeup, he's enjoying a rejuvenating shower.

Just a typical day in the life of a typical bathroom.

The bathroom has come a long way from its humble roots as a utilitarian space for maintaining hygiene. Although it's still where we scrub off the day's dirt and brush our teeth, today's bathroom takes its cues from pampering spas and glamorous dressing rooms.

The key to creating a multi-purpose bathroom that doubles as a sanctuary? Lighting. A subdued, functional lighting scheme not only saves energy, it helps set a tranquil mood.

"Unlike most of the other rooms in the house, bathrooms are where we recharge and focus on ourselves exclusively," explains Geralynne Mitschke, principal of Geralynne Mitschke Design. "I favour uncluttered, restful bathrooms that make you feel like you've visited the spa."

Use dimmers and go ENERGY STAR®

Mitschke's first tip: You can't create a restful sanctuary if your bathroom is lit up like a football stadium.

"Make sure all your bathroom lighting fixtures have separate controls, and put dimmers on all of them," says Mitschke. "Dimmers are not just for dining areas. When you need task lighting for shaving or applying makeup, you can use a brighter setting. Later, when you want a soothing soak in the tub, you can dim the lights right down."

The key is being able to control each light individually so brightness can be customized and energy savings maximized.

But don't overlook the importance of choosing the right bulb. Mitschke opts for bulbs that emit a warm colour temperature, such as the newest ENERGY STAR LEDs.

"They've really improved LEDs recently," she says. "They have different colour renderings without being too white, blue or yellow. You rarely have to change them, which is a big plus for my clients."

For more info on energy-efficient lighting, see our Green Your Home Lighting Guide.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Think carefully about where you put the light, especially if you don't want to add more years to the face staring back at you in the mirror.

"Avoid installing fixtures right above the mirror," says Mitschke. "They will cast unflattering shadows on the face, especially under the eyes. You want the light to be diffused and surrounding your face, like a backstage dressing room mirror."

Mitschke recommends adding vertical lighting on both sides of a bathroom mirror, such as wall sconces, or hanging a mirror with vertical lighting built right in.

For more brightness, and depending on the architecture of the room, you can add a chandelier above the tub, or a few recessed potlights in the ceiling — just don't overdo it.

"Keep them to a minimum, and put each one on a separate switch with a dimmer. I can't say enough about dimmers!"

Water and electricity can be a lethal combination, so ensure all shower and tub lighting fixtures are CSA-approved for use in wet environments.

Bringing the outdoors in

Before designing a lighting scheme for a bathroom, Mitschke considers how she can maximize the room's natural light, while ensuring her clients' privacy.

"I love skylights — they brighten up the room with soft, flattering light. You won't have to turn on the lights at all during the day."

She often retrofits older bathrooms with highly reflective tubular skylights, which are relatively easy to install. They allow natural light to be directed from the outside, and then diffused around the room.

But you don't have to avoid regular windows to ensure privacy. Just don't cover them up with heavy drapes.

"Dampness and drapery are not a great combination. Install frosted windows or sheer blinds instead. They let the light in, but still give you privacy," says Mitschke.

Powder room drama

When choosing paint, countertops and tiles, keeping colour palettes on the lighter can also save energy. Lighter colours don't absorb as much light and tend to reflect more light around a room, which means light fixtures are turned on less often at the highest level.

But a great place to amp up the drama with colour is in the powder room.

"This is where you can go for a really dark, dramatic look. It's more of a guest room, so you can make an impression. Darker spaces typically need more lighting, but not this room."

You can choose a lighter or a darker look. But since task lighting in a powder room is typically not a necessity, you can get away with just sconce lighting or vertical lighting beside the mirror.  The more subdued lighting will be more flattering to guests who check their makeup or hair in the mirror.

"Powder rooms are also a great place to hang original art," notes Mitschke. "You can angle a recessed spotlight to highlight a niche painting, sculpture or vase. Unlike the master ensuite, there's no steam from a shower, so your piece won't get damaged."

Candles are great, but not for kids

Mitschke's best bathroom lighting tip for delivering style, while saving the most energy?

"Turn off all the lights and light some candles. Candlelight is really the most flattering light and it's so soothing. But not in the kids' bathroom — always think safety first."

Previous stories in our room-by-room lighting series:

About Geralynne Mitschke

A registered interior designer with 15 years experience in custom residential design and multi-family developments, Geralynne Mitschke has worked with clients locally and internationally.

Whether a project is a renovation or new construction, Geralynne's aim is to create a long-lasting design foundation with a clear point of view that celebrates her client's needs and desires.

Her ultimate goal is to support and improve her client's life experience through functional, comfortable design and attention to quality detailing.