San Francisco, California, August 1, 2006
Randall Whitehead is a contributor to the premier issue of Homestyles Magazine,
which targets 100,000 affluent homeowners in Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Houston & Phoenix. His article
is excerpted here:
Bathrooms - Functional Luxury
Well-designed lighting is of the utmost importance in the bathroom. Yet, more often than not, people use inadequate lighting techniques for that much-needed task illumination.
How many times have we seen that dramatic photograph of a vanity with the recessed downlight directly over the sink? It makes for a great shot, but imagine yourself standing at the mirror with that harsh light hitting the top of your head. Remember when, as a child, you would hold a flashlight under your chin to create a scary face? Well, the same thing happens, only in reverse. Long dark shadows appear under your eyes, nose and chin. This is extremely bad lighting for applying make-up or shaving.
Another typical arrangement is the use of one luminaire surface-mounted above the mirror. This is only slightly better than a recessed luminaire. At best, it illuminates the top half of the face, letting the bottom half fall into shadow. This is an especially hard light by which to shave. There are just so many ways to tilt your head to catch the light.
For the best task lighting use two luminaires, flanking the mirror area above the sink, to provide the necessary cross- illumination.
The principle of cross-illumination on the vertical axis originated in the theater, where actors and actresses applied make-up in front of mirrors surrounded by bare bulbs in porcelain sockets. In imitation of this technique, luminaire manufacturers about 30 years ago started to put vanity light bars on the market. Soon homes everywhere were sporting the now ubiquitous three-bulb brass or chrome bar above the mirror. Remember, these bars work best only when mounted on each side of the mirror. A third luminaire could be mounted above the mirror, but it is not necessary for good task lighting. A luminaire mounted above the mirror by itself is not an adequate source of work light.
A more recent trend in providing cross illumination is to wall mount translucent luminaires at eye-level on either side of the sink. These can flank a hanging mirror or be mounted on a full wall mirror. There are many new well-designed North American and European luminaires that are perfect for this type of application. To protect the homeowner from electric shock, luminaires that are located this close to water should be installed with an instantaneous circuit shutoff, called a "ground fault interrupter"
Many builders and architects have a propensity for installing fluorescent or incandescent light soffits, fitted with either acrylic diffusers or egg-crate louvers, over vanity areas. They too, mostly illuminate the top half of a person's face. A white or glossy counter can help reflect some light from below by bouncing illumination up onto the lower part of the face. You are cross lighting from top to bottom in this instance. This is not the optimum solution, but a passable substitute, if vertical cross-illumination is impossible to install. Remember, the more stuff that ends up on the counter, such as towels and containers, the less reflective surface there will be.
While the task area at the vanity is the most critical to illuminate correctly lighting other areas of the bath bear consideration, as well. Tubs and showers need a good general light. For this purpose, recessed luminaires with white opal diffusers are commonly used and relatively effective. One drawback is that many of the units on the marketplace project approximately two inches below the ceiling line and may not be visually comfortable.
Those who are sensitive to bright light might prefer a luminaire with a lens that is flush or recessed into the ceiling. However, with such a fully recessed unit, the upper third of the shower or tub area will end up being a little dimmer. These luminaires do reduce glare and allow bulbs of higher wattage to be used. Some companies, such as Lucifer and Iris have developed a water tight recessed adjustable luminaire that uses an MR 16 lamp. This allows the light to be focused.
Make sure that all luminaires are listed for damp locations by CSA, UL, ETL or other approved testing laboratory. If they are tested by Underwritersí Laboratory, they will have a blue UL label. Also check to see if these luminaires should be circuited with GFIís for extra safety.
Another direction that is now an option for wet location lighting is fiber optics. Since the light source is remotely located, the fiber optic luminaires can provide illumination without the danger of electric shock.