Small bathroom lighting ideas – how to brighten the tiniest of spaces

Don't stay in the dark. Use these small bathroom lighting ideas to transform the space from awkward to awesome

Small bathroom with double vanity
(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

Good lighting is the key to any room, but in small spaces it really can be make or break, and nowhere is that more true than in the bathroom. Small bathroom lighting ideas can take a dark and dingy space and turn it into a light, bright, airy room that functions well and looks beautiful. 

Lighting in a small bathroom needs to be easy to use, give off the right amount of glow, and look lovely too as in a tiny space there's little room for decorative flourishes so the lighting often needs to do double duty. Yep, we are asking a lot. But luckily, we have found plenty of inspiring ideas to help you make some decisions, and asked for advice from the experts too. From compact but ornate sconces that will give a small bathroom an elegant lift, to barely-there uber-modern designs, we cover all the best bathroom lighting ideas for tiny spaces right here. 

1.Create a layered lighting scheme

shower storage ideas wall niche with shelving by Kitesgrove

(Image credit: Kitesgrove)

It's time for a little education because choosing the right bathroom lighting can be just as important as picking out paints, tiles, and sanitaryware. Lighting affects the everyday functionality of the space. The best lighting schemes involve four types of illumination: ambient, task, accent, and decorative. 

The first is the general or primary lighting, which helps illuminate the entire room. We're talking about ceiling lights or wall lights. The second is all about being able to see yourself well, so it involves lighting fixtures at eye level – think bulbs or lamps installed or placed next to or above the sink, where you get ready. The third, accent lighting, can be recessed or directional lights that help focus illumination on one area or piece in the bathroom. So if you're thinking of adding art or lighting up a plant-filled alcove, then accent lighting would be best. Finally, decorative lights are there to add that extra sparkle to your room.

Meenu Agarwal, Founder & Interior Designer, MADS Creations, says 'As spaces associated with wellness and relaxation, bathrooms, small or big, need to be illuminated keeping a calming mood in mind. The size of the bathroom may feel like a big constraint in creating an ambiance of your choice, but with the help of a layered lighting scheme, it is easily doable.'

'As in any space, you can choose to have ambient lighting for general illumination, task lights, and accent lights for adding a special touch. And oftentimes, they can do double duty. For example, ambient ceiling lights can also be used to highlight the vanity or the shower.'

'Small bathrooms don’t have to be bereft of drama. Go for luxe overhead lights for general illumination. If the ceiling height is not a problem, you could even install a small chandelier or a pendant light. They make the small bathroom feel truly luxurious. You will need good task lights around the vanity. Behind-the-mirror lights and wall lights can take care of this requirement easily. Linear lights installed under the vanity add a soft glow to the ambiance. Recessed lights installed in the cabinetry and niches add a dramatic play of light and shadow to the environment. And downlights that can be used to highlight a feature wall or shower panels.' 

2. Make the most of natural light

Small bathroom with walk in shower with yellow shower screen

(Image credit: Rei Moon)

Alongside artificial lighting, you should also factor into natural lighting when planning your scheme. Even in dark small bathrooms that might only benefit from a sliver of natural light, there are ways to enhance it. Believe in the power of bathroom mirrors and place one right opposite a window. The mirror will help reflect the light and illuminate the room. In fact, if you have the wall space, have a mirror that stretches across the wall instead of just the vanity to help expand the reach of the light. 

Another way to help the natural light bounce around in the room is by choosing light-toned, bathroom tile ideas that can reflect sunlight and help create a brighter space. Finally, if you're open to investing in improving the natural light in your bathroom, then consider fitting skylights. Skylights are a sleek and contemporary addition to your home and the daytime glow will add another dimension to the tiny room.

3. Unlock the power of sconces and lamps

Bathroom lighting design ideas

(Image credit: Ali Budd Interiors)

Even the smallest bathrooms have space for over-the-mirror fixtures or sconces. These are just the perfect lights that can fit into any size of the bathroom and help effectively illuminate the area around it. Ideally, two scones on either side of the mirror are great but if you have the space. Just make sure these aren't overly bright and give off a harsh glow – you don't want to be squinting your eyes as you look at yourself in the mirror. 

'I love using pairs of decorative sconces, whether they are chrome, bronze, or brass, they don't always need to match the finish of your taps. In fact, sometimes it's nicer if they don't. I think these sorts of lights add character to any bathroom. And I love to pair them with little decorative shades e.g. with little hand-painted metal shades, glass hurricane shades, or even patterned fabric shades. Of course, lights need to be IP44 rated so they are safe to use in bathrooms,' shares interior architect, Cormac Lynch.

4. Add opulence to a small bathroom with a chandelier 

Small bathroom decor ideas

(Image credit: Beyond Designs)

A small bathroom and a chandelier may sound like an oxymoron but isn't design all about trying something unconventional? The scale and grandeur of such a light will be more pronounced in a smaller space too.

'The main tip for small bathroom lighting is to think creatively. Move away from traditional bathroom lighting ideas, and focus instead on light fixtures that will maximize the small space for both design and lighting.' explains Sachin Gupta and Neha Gupta, interior designer duo and founders of Beyond Designs

'A mini-chandelier, along with some flush-mount spotlights in the ceiling can be the main source of illumination. In fact, a carefully selected chandelier adds luxury to the bathroom, creating an expansive feeling,' advise Sachin Gupta and Neha Gupta, interior designer duo and founders, Beyond Designs. 

In this image, the chandelier is placed in such a manner that its light and dainty details are reflected in the mirror and the tiles. A soft glow fills in the entire powder room. 

Even large-sized pendants can create all that drama you're looking for. 'Huge decorative pendant lights in a bathroom add character and a sense of excitement and interest to any bathroom. E.g. A huge fabric Chinese lantern or very sizeable sandblasted glass ball, or even a very large hand-painted glass ball,' suggests Cormac.

5. Spotlight the best parts

Small narrow bathroom with freestanding bath

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Spotlights are those small wonders that illuminate a small setup or feature and do not dominate the entire scene in any way. 

'A flush-mounted spotlight, a backlit mirror, either using lights encircling it or spotlights not only reflects a flattering image of you but also makes the bathroom look beautiful, as it adds a second layer of light.' says Sachin and Neha. 'A light fixture placed over the mirror also works well. These lights can become a good source of task light around the mirror. Apart from this, under-the-cabinet or vanity lights, or some downlights around the shower area or bathtub are useful in accentuating the lighting scheme.'

6. Fall in love with colored lights

bathroom lighting design ideas

(Image credit: PAUL MASSEY)

When colored lights beam on muted walls, the effect is absolutely theatrical, plus being bold with lighting is a huge bathroom trend right now. In small bathrooms, these create an even more emphatic look. In this bathroom, see how the fixture throws a soft red light creating a funky, mood-setting. Make sure you conceal the fittings and wires to keep the effect even more spectacular and ethereal.

For more subtle beauty you could choose a slender LED lighting strip incorporated into a new benchtop. Sleek, classy, stylish. 

Another hot trend you may want to jump on is chromotherapy lights. These are also referred to as color lights that have a therapeutic touch to them. 'You could consider investing in bath fittings that come with in-built chromotherapy lights. These are lights designed to create a sense of calm and relaxation and add a sense of dynamism to space. Chromotherapy showers, which use different colored lighting as part of the shower system, are a powerful way to influence your moods while enjoying your bath. Experimenting with these daily can boost your mindset and help you refresh yourself every day,' says Anil. 

Even backlight feature walls are dreamy. In fact, in a small bathroom, these are probably the best bet because they do not take up precious floor space. You could choose to have a discreet LED strip tucked directly into the ceiling or hidden in a cove throwing soft yet effective illumination in the entire bathroom. 

7. Choose energy efficient lighting for a small bathroom

Small dark bathroom with LED lit up shelf

(Image credit: James Merrell)

While planning the lighting design for your small bathroom, don't forget to take a moment to consider the environment. Energy-efficient lighting may seem a little expensive but its a simple switch to help save energy

Also, LED lights last longer and can run from 20,000 to 70,000 hours before they need to be changed. Since these aren't traditional bulbs they don't require maintenance and can be around for as long as you stay in that particular house. Also, opting for fittings that can be dimmed or ones that automatically switch off is a neat solution. 

How do you add more lighting to a small bathroom?

Other than chandeliers, pendants, spotlights, or task lights, you could consider bringing in extra lighting pieces that could be moved in and out of the room for that extra bit of pizzaz. Consider lamps (if the space is large enough), candles or tea lights. Other than these, have you heard of fans that are fitted with lights? These do the double duty of air circulation and illumination. 

One piece of lighting that is probably not spoken much about but is an absolute classic are bulbs. These can be found anywhere. They're excellent alternatives to built-in wall lights, and are clean, simple, smart, and can be suspended anywhere.  While choosing lights, a great tool to have are dimmers. These allow your eyes to adjust first thing in the morning and also help you wind down at night.

How many lights should a small bathroom have?

In a small bathroom, the idea is always to work in moderation, so that the space doesn't look too overwhelming. This holds true for decor, the number of accessories, and even lights. Ideally, you don't need loads of lighting options for this space. If you have plenty of natural light then a sconce and perhaps a spotlight should be enough. If you don't receive natural light then one task (a lamp or sconce) and ambient lighting (tube light or bulb) should do the job.

Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.