How to Choose the Right Bathroom Vanity Lighting

When done right, your bathroom lighting should be able to take you from a bright morning routine to an evening spa break to a midnight trip to the restroom without feeling too over or underpowered in any scenario.

Most builder-grade vanity lights just don’t cut it. They’re often too high, too bright or dim, and don’t really add much to the design of your bathroom. So if you’re ready to try something new, we’ve compiled a list of the most common vanity light fixtures to help you figure out precisely what you (and your bathroom routine) need to create the bathroom oasis you deserve. 

Here is a short list of light fixtures and bulbs to consider so that you’ll be prepared to balance the functionality and style according to your budget and available space.

Types of Vanity Light Fixtures

Your bathroom vanity includes the mirror, counter, sink, and surrounding lighting. Vanity lighting is often the only source of light in the bathroom – and it largely determines your experience there. So it’s important to get it right!

There are several types of vanity light fixtures, each with its own set of benefits. Which one you choose is up to you – but make sure you consider both style and function to make sure you’re happy with the result.

Vanity Light Bar 

Light bars are the most common fixture for bathroom vanities because they’re easy to install and give off a lot of light. Light bars consist of a long base (the bar) with light emanating from its entire length. They’re usually mounted just above the mirror from a single, central wiring box. 

Most people picture a base with multiple bulbs sticking out into the room, like you’d see in a “builder’s grade” new home or surrounding the mirror in a makeup artist’s studio. Other light bars consist of a single, long light source, such as a sleek LED bar or a fluorescent tube. 

The advantage to installing light bars is that they create even lighting with fewer shadows. (Anyone who’s ever done makeup or shaved using a bathroom mirror knows how important that is!)

Pro tip: The most crucial part of successfully using a light bar is getting the proper proportions. Ensure the bar is at least 75% the mirror’s width and never longer than the counter below. Keeping the bar at least 6-6.5 ft high will give even light without shining directly into your eyes. 

Mirror-framing Sconces 

Sconces are light fixtures that attach to the wall rather than the ceiling. They’re often found above the center of the mirror, although it’s worth considering placing your sconces on either side of the mirror– you’ll get the best light for your morning routine and playfully break from tradition! 

The number of bulbs and types of shades will impact your placement. Some shades only allow for downward light, so those work best up high. Glass shades are a little more forgiving – they’ll shine light on your face when installed above or to the side of the mirror. 

Not only are sconces an excellent fit for lighting your vanity, but they also make a statement. You’ll show that you put real thought into your bathroom design by using a non-traditional fixture.

Pro tip: We recommend mounting sconces with the center of the fixtures about 60″ high and about 28″ apart. Try installing one on either side of your mirror to get even, shadow-free light on your face as you’re getting ready.

Unexpected Pendants

If you’re looking for a way to make your bathroom look unique, try out pendant lighting. These fixtures hang directly from the ceiling, with the bottom of the shade right above eye level. Not only are pendants a bold statement, but they’re also a versatile option if you’re short on space.

In a bathroom, sconce and pendant placement guidelines are very similar. A single pendant directly over the mirror is an excellent option for small bathrooms. They also work well as a pair, framing the mirror on either side. 

Because pendants have an extra “wow” factor, they’re also sometimes used in larger groups to create a design element. For example, this designer hung multiple pendants along the mirror – and we think it turned out great!

Pro Tip: We recommend spacing your pendants about 30 inches apart to avoid harsh lighting. Also, keep in mind the pendant’s ability to shine directly onto the mirror– a thin or transparent shade will reflect a lot of light. It’s a good trick to make your space feel brighter but may cast unexpected shadows.

Modernize with LEDs

For a modern (and energy-efficient) touch, consider opting for LED lights. They last for years, cost little to run, and come in a wide variety of color options.  LED light bulbs can be installed in almost any fixture in place of a traditional bulb.

Some light fixtures come with LED lights already integrated, which means you’ll never have to change a bulb for the life of the fixture. While these mirrors come in a variety of styles, they’re most often found in sleek, modern bathrooms with a minimalist feel. 

LED strip lights may be an unexpected choice for the bathroom. They’re easy to install (some are even peel-and-stick!) and will make your bathroom feel high-end with just a little bit of creativity. As vanity lighting, try installing them behind a mirror to give a soft, luxurious glow. 

Pro tip: Because they are so small, LED strip lights can be tucked in unexpected places, like along the underside of a mirror to light the counter, or along the bottom of a floating vanity to light the space underneath. Adding light to dimly-lit edges and corners of your bathroom will make it feel bigger!

When to Hire a Pro

If you own a newer home and have tools handy, you can probably handle most light fixture upgrades yourself. But not all fixture update projects are created equal. For example, you may have an older home that requires electrical updates, don’t own tools, need new circuits for new fixture locations, or simply don’t feel comfortable with an electrical project. 

Electricians will ensure your new fixture is installed quickly and safely. Not sure how to hire a qualified electrician? No problem! Your local lighting showroom can often connect you to a great pick– and offer a wider selection of fixtures while you’re there!

Ready to update your bathroom vanity? The experts at Stewart Lighting can help you find the right fixture for your room, budget, and style. Contact us today!