Light Your Way

Modern Bathroom Lighting: Adjusting Lights To Contemporary Design

Modern bathroom lighting design adapts to changes in contemporary bathroom styles.


Modern bathroom lighting has substantially changed in even the last thirty years. Until recently, bathrooms came in only two styles: either they looked completely functional or they looked like a living room with a sink. Recent innovations in bathroom design have changed bathrooms completely. They are now designed with their own unique style, merging function with contemporary interior design.

However, this has created a challenge for designers of modern bathroom lighting. Along with the increased style in modern bathrooms comes the expectation that lighting will contribute to this combination of style and function.

Meeting that challenge is a matter of understanding what it is that contemporary bathroom design changed and understanding how to address those changes using lighting. In fact, contemporary bathrooms have really only changed a few things, and those changes are easily dealt with.

Increased Use of Geometric Shapes

One of the most common things to have changed in modern bathrooms is the use of shapes. In fact, you will find that most bathrooms use nothing but geometric shapes in their design. They are filled with rectangular mirrors and cabinets, oval sinks and baths and triangular accents of various kinds.

Geometric Light

Strong rectangular beams of sunlight, normally a “mistake”, actually contribute to the geometric patterns in this bathroom.

Fortunately, this is wonderful for lighting designers. Normally, it is a mistake in lighting design to allow too much of the beam’s edge to show. When shining a lamp, for example, the goal is to diffuse the light and hide the conical shape that comes from its top.

With modern bathroom lighting, however, this changes completely. In fact, beams of light can contribute to the over geometry of the bathroom. For example, if you have a wall with rectangular cabinets, try shining a downlight parallel with those cabinets. The light will actually accentuate the overall effect.

On the other side of the coin, the disappearance of such things as patterned wallpaper from bathrooms has also meant that more ornate light fixtures should largely be removed. Anything floral or ornate won’t blend with the room and will stand out.

Increased Use of Glass

The increased use of glass in contemporary bathrooms significantly changes how lighting design works in modern bathrooms. Glass use has increased in a number of different areas, including larger windows, larger mirrors, glass shower and bathing stalls and more use of solar tubes (skylights) in the bathroom.

Sunlit Bathroom

Mirrors and glass preserve a great deal of natural light.

Mirrors and glass have done a great job of actually preserving the natural light that enters into the bathroom. Rather than having window light be absorbed by wallpaper as in older bathrooms, natural light is bounced around the bathroom and able to enter into areas like the shower that natural light didn’t enter before.

All of these change modern bathroom lighting significantly. Bathrooms now have much more natural light in them than they did before. This has good and bad points. It is good because significant natural light provides a room that looks very crisp and welcoming. It is bad because human skin doesn’t look especially good under sunlight.

To compensate for the increased sunlight, use some warm-colored light (such as incandescent light or appropriately colored fluorescent light) to ensure that human skin tones are brought out in the bathroom. These lights should especially be used in the bathing areas, where people wish to feel most comfortable.

Use of Cooler Colors

Borrowing from the same Art Deco movement that inspired its geometric shapes, modern bathrooms will often use white, black, grey and blue in their design, providing the bathroom with an overall cool hue. This is a radical change from the warmer colors that were typical of older bathrooms.

Cool-Colored Bathroom

Between sunlight and bluer colors, many contemporary bathrooms are coolly colored.

While this may be attractive in itself, it actually can cause some difficulty when doing lighting design. Human skin doesn’t look very good under cool colors, and cooler hues of décor don’t look very good under warm colors. So, it would appear that one is stuck either needing to light the décor or to light the people in the décor. This is not the kind of dilemma designers like.

However, there is a solution: do both! Fortunately, advances in modern lighting have given us the ability to use multiple sources of light within a single space. As a result, it is fairly easy to light both the room and the people without compromising the light for the other.

Many modern bathrooms will have ceiling lights, wall lights and vanity lights (among others). Have one or two of these sources provide a whiter light that brings out the tones within the décor, while using the others to produce warmer light that brings out people’s faces.

New Light Sources

Red water

LEDs can be used even to color the water from your faucet because, well, why not?

Contemporary bathrooms are also fun, and modern bathroom lighting can be fun to match. It is often the pattern of modern bathrooms to be largely conservative and geometric, but to have a strange or irregular object that stands out and captures attention.

What not have that fun object be lighting? Modern bathroom is far more flexible than lighting has even been in the past. The new generation of fluorescent lights, for example, can produce just about any tint of light, from imitating incandescent bulbs to the truly bizarre. Fluorescent lights are also extremely flexible in terms of shape and locations.

Both fiber optic lighting and LED light fixtures can provide exciting sources of light in the bathroom, including sources that are underwater! LED’s are easier to make waterproof than most light sources, while fiber optic lights don’t even carry a current in them. You can have some fun experimenting with new sorts of lights, even in your tub and shower (of course, check with an electrician before putting any source of light near water).

Putting It Together

Modern bathroom lighting faces some unique challenges from changes in bathroom design. However, these challenges can be easily met:

  • Make use of modern design’s focus on geometry to use beams of light that would otherwise be frowned upon.
  • Be aware of the increased amount of sunlight and counteract its effect on people’s skin.
  • Light both the décor and people’s skin sufficiently.

Above all, don’t forget to have fun.


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