Bathroom Latest

Everything you need to know about bathroom lighting

Don’t get left in the dark with confusing electrician jargon and complex wet-zone rules. We have all the bathroom lighting know-how to help illuminate your path.
Bathroom Lighting Wall Light Photography by Hannah Puechmarin for Angela Smith InteriorsPhotography: Hannah Puechmarin / Designer: Angela Smith Interiors / Styling: Cheryl Carr

Picture this: you have a shiny new bathroom with carefully chosen tapware, tiles and joinery. It’s everything you ever wanted in a wet space. You could soak all day in your deep new tub or double shower. Then, you wake up in the middle of the night for a toilet trip and turn on the light – the glare is blinding.

Or you go to put on make-up in front of the mirror and realise the shine from overhead casts shadows on your face, making it impossible to see what you’re doing. Your new bathroom might be beautiful but, without the right bathroom lighting in place, it’s not so practical or functional.

Bathroom lighting Bathroom Pendant Photography by Anne Stroud Architect Paul Tilse Interior designer Vanessa Hawes Styling Jane Goodall
Instead of a wall sconce positioned beside the mirror, architect Paul Tilse and interior designer Vanessa Hawes opted for a hanging pendant, the ‘Apiales 1’ light from Great Dane. (Photography: Anne Stroud / Styling: Jane Goodall) (Credit: Photography: Anne Stroud / Architect: Paul Tilse / Designer: Vanessa Hawes)

Taking the time to think ahead in the planning stages of your bathroom lights (especially if you have separate bathrooms like Zoe and Benji Marshall) will make a major difference to your day-to-day life. Not to mention speeding up the approvals process if you’re doing a new build – one wrong pendant position and your move-in date might be set back.

We speak to several industry experts who share the most common bathroom lighting mistakes people make, the best positions to place lights, electrician lingo and what’s trending right now. Whether you’re enlisting the help of an interior designer or managing a reno yourself, being equipped with this knowledge will help you make informed decisions now so you don’t wake up with glaring regrets later.

Bathroom Lighting Wall Light Photography by Hannah Puechmarin for Angela Smith Interiors
Angela Smith from Angela Smith Interiors chose a Visual Comfort & Co ‘Bryant’ wall sconce with Sanderson ‘Melford Stripe’ fabric from Bloomingdales Lighting to add visual interest. (Photography: Hannah Puechmarin / Designer: Angela Smith Interiors / Styling: Cheryl Carr)

What kind of lighting is best in a bathroom?

There’s one type of light that changes the game in any bathroom. “Wall lights! You can never have enough wall lights when it comes to a bathroom,” says Mandi Kontos, architectural lighting designer at South Melbourne Beacon Design Studio. “When lighting is placed either side of the mirror at face level it’s more even, whereas using a downlight above the mirror is harsh and allows shadowing, which makes it harder to apply make-up or shave.”

Recently, Mandi has also seen an uptick in people including softer ambient lighting options such as strip LEDs in niches or around the perimeter of mirrors, as well as single lights spaced along the base of a wall.

“Using small step lights beside the toilet or some strip lighting underneath the vanity attached to a sensor allows for those trips in the middle of the night without being assaulted with bright light that wakes you up,” says Mandi. “I love Beacon Lighting’s ‘Gala’ step light in the arch shape as it has an in-built switch that allows clients to switch between cool white, warm white and night light options. It’s perfect for the middle-of-the-night wake-ups but also highlights gorgeous floor tiles during the day.”

Some wall lights also come with dimmer functions, like Beacon Lighting’s MFL by Masson Artisan range. Avoiding the startling glare of bright lights in the middle of the night sounds good to us!

“A bathroom needs to be both functional and ambient”

Mandi Kontos, Beacon Design Studio
Bathroom Lighting Wall Lights Photography by Dave Wheeler for The Unlisted Collective
Anna Charlesworth brass cup wall lights add a luxe touch to this powder room, designed by The Unlisted Collective. While positioning lights on a mirror, is unusual it works well here. (Photography: Dave Wheeler / Designer: The Unlisted Collective)

Do you need special lights in a bathroom?

Bathroom wall lights are not only functional, they elevate the look of your space. “Decorative wall lights are a must. They are not only aesthetic but create ambience,” says Bianca Fraser, director at The Unlisted Collective. “We often work with suppliers such as Apparatus and Articolo Studios for those pieces.” As for globe colours, Bianca’s preference is warmer whites over cool white for a more inviting atmosphere.

When you work with an interior designer, they’re usually able to develop a lighting plan as part of the project. “Most of the time, we do the lighting plans. On the odd occasion a client may appoint a lighting designer to collaborate with us,” says Bianca.

She explains that the electrician usually comes on board after all the specifics have been signed off. “Once he has commenced rough-in (the stage of a construction project when electrical lines are laid out but not connected yet), we would visit the site to ensure everything has been installed as per the drawings and we are happy with the positioning.”

One of Bianca’s favourite bathroom lighting looks was in a recent Surry Hills powder room. “The brass wall lights are the same material we chose for the custom mirror, emphasising a material that’s used throughout the house,” she says. Another light she loves is the Kelly Wearstler ‘Utopia’ double bath sconce the team included in a recent Mosman powder room. “It adds a sense of luxury and drama.”

Bathroom Lighting Wall Lights Photography by Anson Smart for Greg Natale
Different tasks call for varied lighting, as designer Greg Natale knows well. For this room he used an antique brass ‘Precision’ ceiling light and antique brass ‘Precision’ sconces for the vanity lights, both Kelly Wearstler. (Photography: Anson Smart / Designer: Greg Natale)

What is the best ceiling lighting for a bathroom?

Water and power are a volatile combination, so your electrician needs to follow strict rules when installing lights in a wet space. “If it’s above the bath or shower, it has to be mounted to the ceiling. If it’s within the environment of the glass screen, you would most likely put downlights in there,” says Bradley. “You can’t have pendants hanging over a bath. Lights need to be 2.25 metres over these zones, which is a standard ceiling height.”

Lights can be hung or mounted elsewhere in the bathroom, as long as they’re 0.6 metres out from the bath, shower and sink – to the side of the basin is a popular and safe bet. The potential consequences of not following these rules closely are severe. “You need to tick all these boxes,” says Bradley. “An inspector on a new house that’s been freshly built would come out and check all things electrical. If they walk in and see there’s something within those areas that shouldn’t be, they won’t pass it and you won’t get your occupation certificate.”

Bathroom Lighting Pendant Above Bath Photography by Anson Smart for Greg Natale (3)
To meet safety regulations, lights hanging above baths have to be mounted 225cm above the wet zone. In this bathroom, Greg Natale used the semi-flush from Kate Spade’s ‘Dickinson’ collection. (Photography: Anson Smart / Designer: Greg Natale)

What lighting is required in bathrooms?

Every bulb and light fixture has an Ingress Protection (IP) rating that explains the level of protection it has against water. Lights with the highest IP ratings are required in areas closest to water (the top level is safe to submerge in water), while lower IP ratings can be used as you move progressively out from wet zones. The same goes for voltages. “You can’t have 240 volts hanging in an environment where you can grab it near a wet area,” says electrician Bradley Thomason from Visual Effects Electrical. “If you fell and grabbed the light near the bath, it’d be dangerous.” A 12-volt converted pendant would be better.

The good news is that you don’t really need to stress about any of this – that’s your electrician’s job. “If there’s a light you want to use in a wet environment, any good sparky can have it converted to a low voltage,” says Bradley, who reassures that converting it to a lower voltage doesn’t change the brightness of the light, it simply makes it safer. Not sure how to broach the conversation? One thing you can do in the early stages is ask your electrician if your lighting plan is aligned with the current safety requirements or if anything needs to be adjusted.

Ingress Protection (IP ratings) explained

A guide to bathroom lighting laws and IP ratings (a bulb’s level of protection against water) in Australia.

  • ZONE 0: In the bath or base of the shower. Any lighting here must have a minimum rating of IP67 (safe to be immersed in water).
  • ZONE 1: The area over the bath and shower to a height of 2.25m. Lights with a minimum rating of IP44 are required here.
  • ZONE 2: The area extending to 0.6m outside the bath or shower to a height of 2.25m. An IP rating of at least IP44 is required here.
  • OUTSIDE ZONE: Anywhere outside the previous wet zones. General electrical safety standards apply here.

Bathroom Lighting LED strip Photography by Dave Wheeler for The Unlisted Collective (2)
The Unlisted Collective opted for LED strip lighting when they designed this bathroom. The lighting is recessed underneath the mirror, aiding a sense of ambience. (Photography: Dave Wheeler / Designer: The Unlisted Collective)

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