A bathroom sink with a mirror above it and two light on either side of the mirror and a piece of art hanging to the right.

Vanity & Celebrity

The stars of stage and screen spend a good deal of time in their dressing rooms in front of the mirror, checking to make sure they are ready for the literal spotlight.

You may not be going onstage, but that is no excuse for poor lighting at your vanity.  Leave the film noir to the cinema and get a bright, functional, beautiful vanity area that would be right at home in a romance comedy.

Check out the Houzz version of this article with different photographs.

Star in a Romance Comedy: The Do’s of Vanity Lighting

One: DO use diffuse light on both sides of mirror (and in middle of wide mirrors)

Celebrities- and their designers- know how to get it right.  At home, you may not want  twenty light bulbs circling your mirror, but soft diffuse light from both sides like this photo will get you close to perfect.

Two: DO give yourself backlight

Just about everyone on stage or screen has a backlight, or light source behind and above them. Backlight illuminates shoulders and hair, making it easier to see clothing and shape.  That’s a great idea for vanities, so place a light behind and above you.  Avoid the stage spotlights and use a surface mount or semi-flush mount fixture with soft shades that block glare.

A bathroom sink with a mirror above it and two light on either side of the mirror and a small mirror hanging to the right. A towel rack and a door are on the left.

Three: DO use dimmers

There are hundreds of dimmers for the lights on most stages, but you’ll only need a few to transform your vanity into an easier start to the day and a more relaxing finish.  Science tells us to keep lights dim after sunset, too, so those dimmers may help you sleep better at night.

A very expensive looking modern bathroom with a wood ceiling and marble counters and floors. There is a glass shower on the right. The counter on the left has two sinks and a full wall mirror with lights attached to it. There is a window in the back.

Four: DO consider night lights (like backstage)

Actors’ unions require the floor be lit backstage, and so should you. Turning on lights deep in the night can also be disruptive to your sleep, so consider night lights like built in step lights or light beneath a floating vanity.   This soft gentle light makes it easy to see where you are going without putting too much light into your eyes.

Two diagrams of a bathroom with the top diagram labelled "do" and the bottom labelled "don't"

Avoid the Dark Alleys of Film Noir: The Don’ts

One: DON’T use clear glass shades

Design trends are not always in our best interest, and lighting is no exception.  Complicating matters, most light fixtures are photographed either turned completely off or in a room with full daylight.  The fixture may look beautiful in the catalog, but it might be horribly ugly after dark.  Avoid clear glass shades on wall sconces and pendants in the bath, as they are essentially bare light bulbs that can create harsh glare.

Two: DON’T use solid metal shades

You may be tempted to go for solid shades after the advice above, but they are better suited for the back alley of a film noir than above your vanity.  Some do such a good job of blocking light that it may be nearly impossible to see your face.  That might be good before you’ve had your coffee, but after that you’ll be better off with diffuse shades.

Three: DON’T spotlight the floor

You are the star of your own show, so don’t waste the money on spotlights for the floor.  Someday I’ll count up all the recessed downlights that are positioned over a bare patch of floor, apparently delivering light for hand-scrubbing the tiles.

Four: DON’T count on backlit mirrors

Floating mirrors with light shining out from the edges are immensely popular in modern and transitional homes as well as commercial and hospitality restrooms.  With little light on your face, however, the result can be less than functional.  Pair backlit mirrors with wall sconces or other diffuse light for your face.

You may not be going onstage, but that is no reason to pass up on a little backstage expertise when it comes to lighting your vanity.

Light Can Help You