Bathroom Workbook: How to Get Your Vanity Lighting Right

Getting ready to leave the house in the morning can take effort, but the job is easier with adequate lighting at the bathroom vanity. A successful plan has multiple light sources, including both overhead and task, with good task lighting at the sink and mirror being key. To achieve a successful lighting plan at the vanity, fixtures need to have adequate light output, be of appropriate size and style for the bathroom layout and design, and be installed at the proper distance from the floor and one another. Mounting vanity light fixtures at the optimal location minimizes the potential for shadows being cast on the face, important when applying makeup or shaving and grooming.

Jute Interior Design

The primary place to hang wall sconces in the bathroom is on either side of the bathroom vanity mirror, providing ideal lighting for the sink area. The American Lighting Association’s general rule is to mount them 65 to 70 inches from the floor, at about eye level. This allows light to fully illuminate your entire face without casting shadows. Ideally, the fixtures should be placed about 28 to 30 inches apart, but achieving this depends on the size of the room and configuration of the design. When installing fixtures above the mirror, the ideal height is about 78 inches.

Haus Interior Design

If the fixtures are to be installed near a tub or shower with a risk of having contact with water spray, look for styles with a “damp” rating. Here’s an example of a compact bathroom where the vanity sconces are close enough to the shower area to warrant choosing fixtures with this rating.

Key Measurements to Make the Most of Your Bathroom

Neuhaus Design Architecture, P.C.

Light from sconces should be softly flattering yet bright enough to shave, like the light provided by this pair of fixtures framing a recessed medicine cabinet.

Artistic Designs for Living, Tineke Triggs

Sconce shades are an important feature since their transparency and color greatly affect how much light is emitted. White fabric shades give off a diffused light that provides a bright, clean tone.

41 West

In a narrow bath, consider mounting sconces on the side walls, close to the back wall. The illumination is still effective while maximizing the size of the mirror.


To avoid dark spots at a long vanity, consider mounting a dual sconce in the center with single sconces at the outer edges of the mirrors and vanity.

Tip: Avoid asymmetrical lighting. Placing a fixture on just one side of a mirror will create uneven illumination and make grooming difficult.

Polsky Perlstein Architects

If the bathroom is small, sconces may illuminate the entire room. In larger bathrooms, light from additional sources, such as recessed lights and ceiling fixtures, will be necessary for adequate general lighting.

Tip: A longstanding guideline has been to match finishes within a bathroom, such as the beautiful brass tones seen throughout this bath. But more homeowners and designers are feeling free to experiment with mixing metals for a potentially dynamic, more collected look.

Dave Fox Design Build Remodelers

The choice of fixture style presents an opportunity to introduce character or reinforce the design aesthetic of the bathroom. With so many options, make sure to embrace this chance to make a statement.

Here, black enamel backplates on the Rejuvenation sconces pair successfully with nickel plumbing fixtures and hardware.

Fiorella Design

A trio of Visual Comfort’s Graydon double bath lights by Thomas O’Brien in bronze with white glass shades ensures adequate light along the length of this vanity.

Tip: When shopping for fixtures, make sure to check what wattage each option supports to guarantee sufficient light output.

Amy A. Alper, Architect

These fixtures may have been inspired by the once-popular Hollywood light fixtures, known by their strip of exposed round lightbulbs. This updated version featuring a line of bulbs behind shades effectively illuminates the face while feeling current.

Atmosphere Interior Design Inc.

In this bathroom, Chase double-shade bath strips by Robert Abbey provide all the light anyone could need, each housing four 60-watt bulbs.

Tip: Clear bulbs with filaments are popular these days, but they tend to cast shadows. Opt for opaque or frosted bulbs instead, particularly if the bulb is exposed. In general, look for fixtures that are designed to hold 75- to 100-watt bulbs for a single-light sconce. The equivalent wattage is approximately 18 to 22 watts for fluorescent bulbs and 9 to 13 watts for LED bulbs.

In this bathroom, the sconces bring abundant light and streamlined style to the design. In addition to the amount of light a fixture provides, consider how it will look next to other elements of the vanity, to achieve a cohesive design.

Insignia Design Group

Three damp-rated 30-inch Corva bath vanity lights by Tech Lighting are intended to be set horizontally but are striking mounted vertically over rows of mosaic tile.

Tip: These fixtures are available with incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, but LED fixtures are the wave of the future, with a long life and energy efficiency topping the list of benefits.

What to Know About Switching to LED Lightbulbs

Summit Design Remodeling, LLC

Available space or design preferences can dictate whether to place fixtures to the side of the mirror or overhead. When you can’t decide which is best, you can install both!

Urrutia Design

Although fixtures mounted on either side of the mirror are considered best for casting even light across the face, mounting them above the mirror remains a popular choice. Sometimes it’s simply impractical to do otherwise, given the size or position of the vanity mirror. Fixtures above the mirror should be 75 to 80 inches above the floor. Also look for fixtures that hold higher-wattage bulbs so available light has the best chance to fall evenly over the sinks.

Fautt Homes

While multiple sconces can be installed in a row, as shown above, another solution is to select a fixture with multiple shades. Styles are often available in multiple sizes, allowing the fixture to be sized in relation to the width of the mirror below.

Here’s another example of installing fixtures with a varying number of shades in the same bathroom: three lights over the larger vanity mirror and two lights over a round makeup mirror.

Begrand Fast Design Inc.

It’s hard to have too much light in a bathroom, so don’t skimp on larger fixtures at the vanity if your space can accommodate them.

Tip: Avoid recessed ceiling fixtures installed directly over the sink, which can cast shadows on the face. If recessed lights at the sink area are desired or already in place, consider putting them on a different switch from the task lighting for more control over the lighting plan.

In Detail Interiors

Finally, the ability to dim lighting is a desired feature in other rooms and can be in the bathroom as well. Installing dimmers is worth the effort and cost; bright task lighting that’s optimal in the day can be softened in the evening, a nice touch if relaxing in the bath is a favorite ritual to help wind down the day.

Proper lighting can make all the difference in a bathroom, not only in how it looks, but also in how it supports our daily routines.

Please show us your bathroom remodel and tell us how you thought through your lighting plan.