sconces or above-mirror lights?

NewEnglandSaraJuly 8, 2014

Hi there,

We are in the rough stages of a house remodel, and I met with our electrician today. Even though we won't be moving into the house until September, I need to decide tonight (!!!) if we are getting sconces or above-mirror lights in our bathrooms. I had been thinking sconces since I have noticed more sconce choices at lighting stores/websites vs. above-mirror lights. I also sometimes find above-mirror lighting to be intimidating. However, our electrician was really trying to convince me that lighting will be too dim with sconces and that I will need to get two for each sink.

What do others think?

Thanks so much!


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Light is more important to me than style. I like the globes (not clear) above the mirror that point down and I like 6 over the center of the vanity, even if there are 2 sinks. I stand in the center to use my curling iron and put on my make up, so that is where I need the light. I had that at my last house and when I ordered them for this house they put in 6 lights but 3 over each sink and the light was not near as good as it should have been.

My builder told me that globe ceiling lights in the bedroom would not a good light, he was right.

This post was edited by EmmaR on Tue, Jul 8, 14 at 19:40

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 7:39PM
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The best light for putting on makeup etc is light at the sides of the mirror. The lights we used could have been placed either above the mirror or to the sides. We had room on the sides in one bathroom, not in the other so we did one of each. Both are fine, emitting a lot of light, but the light quality is somewhat better in the bathroom with the lights on the sides.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 11:09PM
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NewEnglandSara, if you look at a professional photographer taking head-and-shoulder shots or other portraits, he or she always will find a way to avoid direct flash on the face. In a studio, photographers bounce lights off reflective umbrellas; in the field, in a journalistic situation, pros bounce flash off the ceiling or a side wall, or even off a large card mounted above the flash.

You control the lighting in your bathroom; why would you use harsh direct light when you have the opportunity to design your bathroom for flattering diffused reflected light at your vanity?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 7:28AM
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I would do several recessed lights AND sconces on each side of the sinks, on 2 different switches with dimmers. So 3 sconces if you have a vanity with 2 sinks. You can never have enough lighting and you can always turn something off or dim them

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 1:17PM
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I agree with chispa. If you do a google search you'll find that side lighting is much more flattering than lighting above (at the vanity) that cast down shadows. Our original lighting (1981) was side lighting...elongated globes that hung from chains on the ceiling. 100 watts each in those babies. That was a bright bathroom! I used a lighted makeup mirror to apply makeup. I had a 7' long vanity with 2 sinks. I had plenty of light standing at the middle of the vanity to do hair. I don't have as good lighting in the updated bathroom :( I have recessed lighting, a mini chandilier over the tub and a sconce on the wall next to the toilet. The chandy, sconce and recessed lighting are all on different switches. I intended to have side sconces at the vanity but couldn't find what I wanted and quite frankly just ran out of time. Side lighting and recessed on different switches, imo, would be optimal.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 1:51AM
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Conventional wisdom is that sconces offer the most flattering light, and that's probably true. For my own bathroom, however, I want the most useful, *realistic* light. I'm not going to be lit in a flattering way in an office, store, or outside, you know? I want to be able to do my hair and makeup with reasonable confidence that I'll look as good outside of my bathroom as I do in it. For that reason, I'm going with above-mirror lighting.

I'll also add that I don't get shadows from above-mirror lighting, only from directly overhead lighting.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 9:54AM
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I know you've already had to make your decision, but this is a very interesting discussion. I love the soft light of sconces, and we have several in our new home, but not in the bathrooms.

We chose the brightest downlight mounts available to us in the master bath because we find that we don't see as well as we used to see, and that we often "miss" things if the light level is not high enough. We prefer having a natural light source in the bath... skylight and sidelight natural light is great for makeup application, but nothing beats the harsh light of reality for exposing what really needs attending:)

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 10:17AM
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I upgraded my lighting in 2 bathrooms recently. One with double wall sconces and the other with a traditional over the mirror vanity light.

The double sconce setup does produce more light, but I can't complain at all about the over the mirror setup. I found all of the bathroom lights online at Lighting Direct.

The traditional vanity lights seemed easier to find deals on a variety of styles, while the wall sconces were difficult to find one that I really liked at a good price.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2014 at 3:21AM
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I totally agree with bowbat and musicgal.

I get that sconces on the sides create a more flattering light. That would be great if I were having a date in my bathroom and wanted to look irresistible over a glass of wine while seated at the vanity.

But I want reality and truth before I go out to face the world. I'm actually going to be seen in direct sunlight and harsh lighting, like running into people in the supermarket and CVS. That's what I prep for.

I also agree that over the mirror lights are virtually shadow-free, as compared to ceiling lights.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2014 at 10:05AM
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