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Better Bathroom Lighting: Using Mood Lights To Create A Luxurious Finish

Often when we talk about bathroom lighting, it’s in terms of the purely functional: pros and cons of having different kinds of lighting above and around your vanity. But if you’re looking to turn your bathroom into a luxurious, relaxing getaway, lighting should be part of the conversation. And I don’t just mean a fancy chandelier over your bathtub. Adding layers of lighting in unexpected places can make your bathroom feel decadent and inviting – as much or more than any other luxury features and fixtures.

Fake A Luxury Bathroom Remodel With Undercabinet Lighting

An image of a large master bathroom with white walls and countertops and dark cabinets, which are illuminated along the bottom edge
Undercabinet lighting is DIY-friendly and relatively inexpensive, but can add a high-end, luxurious feel to your master bathroom (by LMK Interior Design)

If you want to use lighting to add a wow factor to your bathroom, your best bet is to start with undercabinet lighting. Undercabinet LED strips scale well to the size of your project; they can be part of a major renovation, but unlike most bathroom lighting projects, they don’t have to be. DIY-friendly projects require an outlet and can be clunkier to turn on and off. But installing them is as simple as peel, stick, and plug in. Either way, the effect can be really stunning. A line of warm, soft-white light will make your bathroom feel like it’s glowing, drawing the eye and giving the space a polished, high-end feel.

Using Light To Emphasize Your Bathroom’s Architecture

An image of a double bathroom vanity with built in storage. The layout should make for a shadowy corner, but is brightly lit with concealed LED strips.
Flexible, adhesive-backed LED strips are great for illuminating unusual or awkward spaces, and can help make shadowy alcoves or corners come to life (by LKID)

Depending on the layout of your bathroom, you can get a lot of mileage out of LED strips, too. They’re small enough to install in almost any recessed space: underneath a shelf or ledge, in a gap between your cabinets and ceiling, or even along the edge of a counter overhang. Wherever you choose to put them, these lights will draw the eye, adding height and depth to your space and literally highlighting your bathroom’s unique architectural features. Keep in mind, though, these lights are meant more for ambiance than functionality; they should add layers to your existing task lighting, not replace them!

Lighting Around Your Mirror vs Mirror Lighting

An image of a dimly-lit, dark-colored guest bathroom, brightened by bars of light shining up and down along the bottom of the vanity and the exposed edges of the mirror.
Light that shines up and down rather than outward from your mirror is a lovely option for a guest bathroom, but may not be the best choice for one that gets daily use (Photo by Alex Barredo)

Similarly, you can use undercabinet lighting around your mirror or medicine cabinet to brilliant effect. That said, it shouldn’t be the only lighting you have there. Now, I’ve talked a bit about backlit mirrors, which are specifically designed to give you better, more direct light to see your face. Using undercabinet lighting around your mirror isn’t the same thing; rather than front-facing lighting that can help reduce shadows, these cast light downward or from around the sides of your mirror. That means they’re emphasizing the distance between your mirror and your wall. The look is striking and dramatic, but won’t do much to help you get ready in the morning.

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Make Recessed Lighting Work For You

An image of a beige stone bathroom with the shades drawn. The soft recessed lighting and undercabinet lighting give the space an enticing glow.
Judiciously-placed recessed lighting is a great way to get all-over mood lighting, and help create a relaxed, romantic atmosphere (by Gandia Design Build)

Recessed lighting (aka can lighting) is one of those things that goes in and out of vogue so quickly and so often, it can be hard to keep up with the “right” opinion. For me, I chalk it up to personal preference: you either love it or you hate it. And honestly, I suspect the difference lies mainly in the execution. Can lighting can produce a bright, all-over light that can wash out a bathroom. But with the right bulbs and a dimmer switch? They can also give you the warm, moody effect you’d find in a high-end restaurant. So while I wouldn’t recommend blasting your bathroom with a half dozen daylight bulbs, softer recessed lighting can be great for creating an intimate, romantic ambiance.

Highlight Your Bathtub or Shower

An image of a freestanding bathtub on a stone pedestal in front of a large bay window. Several spotlights built into the floor shine upwards onto the surface of the tub.
It’s jsut about the furthest thing from a standalone project, but if you’re looking for a way to stage your new freestanding tub, in-floor lighting can have the dramatic effect you’re looking for (by C.P. Hart Bathrooms)

Smaller spotlight-style recessed or cabinet lights can also be great for bringing out fun details or highlighting certain spaces or aspects of your bathroom. Though it’s far from DIY friendly, I love the look of in-floor spotlights that put a freestanding tub center stage, or in-ceiling ones that make a glass shower enclosure seem to glow from within. Both require professional installation for safety, and should be part of a larger project, but are a small touch that can have a big impact.

Plan Ahead For Maximum Impact

A wide open bathroom that overlooks a desert on two scenes. The ambient lighting along the bottom of the vanity at the top of the ceiling is subtle, but lends the space a warm glow.
Your bathroom’s ambient lighting can be as subtle or dramatic as you like, but will always work best when incorporated into your design during the planning stage (by Janet Brooks Design)

The key to getting good ambient lighting is to think about what you want to emphasize early in your project. Whether it’s a nice-textured tile, a recessed shelf, or even a half-hidden water closet, installing the lighting as you go will cut down on labor and expense, and leave you with a much-improved finished project. When it comes to mood lighting, you’re going to get the most mileage out of fixtures that are partially or completely hidden. But getting that seamless, effortless look usually means a lot of thought about how to incorporate it during the planning stage!

Nice looking lighting fixtures can accentuate your space, punctuate your decor, and provide more functional lighting. But for a fully finished look, you want to focus on the lighting you won’t even know is there when it’s off.

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