The Most Flattering Mirror Lighting

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Louis Poulsen bathroom mirror lighting
From Louis Poulsen, the AJ wall fixture comes in colors like yellow ochre, rusty red and dark green for a bold addition to the room.

Q: My local department store has the best lighting in its dressing rooms. The lighting is very flattering and makes me want to buy everything. The lighting appears to go the length on either side of the mirror and would lead me to believe it is fluorescent lighting. I usually hate fluorescent. What type of lighting could I use in my bathroom to achieve the same flattering light? Is there a non-fluorescent option that is flattering?

A: You are absolutely right about having lighting on either side of the mirror. It is the most flattering because it bathes people in even illumination. Good store designers (or those that hire incredibly talented lighting designers) know that if people feel attractive when they try something on, then they are more likely to buy it. Any time there is recessed lighting above a mirror, whether it is in the dressing room of a store or in your own bathroom, you are hit with light that casts harsh shadows underneath your eyes, nose and chin. Nobody looks good under this type of light ... unless you are lying on the floor looking up.

For your bath, find a light fixture that is vertical and linear. This gives you better coverage from the top of your head down to your ... elbows. There are lots of fixtures that use incandescent or halogen sources to provide this kind of illumination. Take a look at the Robbia Full by Artemide and the Dover by LBL Lighting.

There are also dimmable fluorescent sources, like the Emanation by Boyd Lighting, that I think do a very good job, especially when the correct color temperature of light is selected. I tend to recommend a lamp that is 2700K to 3000K (the color of standard incandescent and halogen light). Sometimes I specify fixtures with two parallel lamps, one of which also provides the color of daylight (5000K), like one made by Dreamscape.

We are not seen under much incandescent light during the day, so it’s better to do your makeup and select your clothes under a daylight quality of light. Most of us are getting up and getting dressed before it is daylight outside, so we need to rely on an electric light source to provide an effective substitute. You simply can’t always wear the clothes from the night before. My limit is three times a week.

Related Question

Q: You say how high to hang bathroom vanity fixtures, but I need to know how far away from the mirror they should be.

A: You have some flexibility with the distance off the mirror. It is the distance off the floor (5 feet 6 inches to the center of the luminous source) and the distance apart (3 feet apart; 1 foot 6 inches on either side of the mirror) that are the important components. If you are using sconces, there are many ways you can go. They can be flush with the mirror (check out Boyd Lighting's Emanation and the Dreamscape 9000 Series. Using tall vertical sconces will accommodate people of different heights. Take a look at LBL Lighting's Dover. If you are using a pair of pendants, then I would float them 6 inches in front of the mirror. 

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website www.randallwhitehead.com for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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