Bathroom Lighting: Keeping it Simple

For great bathroom lighting and remodeling projects, check out these stories.

Here’s a joke:

Q. What’s the difference between God and an architect?

A. God knows he’s not an architect.

(I’m married to an architect, and architects love that joke.)

I bring this up because my architect-husband and I are redoing a bathroom that we last touched about 15 years ago, and we’re currently discussing the lighting. This is a weirdly touchy subject because of what happened 15 years ago. My husband installed a super-duper fan/heater/night-light/overhead light unit in the bathroom ceiling without consulting me (see the above joke for why). This complicated unit came with a four-toggle switch plate marked with each toggle’s use. For some reason, my husband hated this switch plate and replaced it with one that was, in his extensively (and expensively) trained opinion, “cleaner” looking. It looks like the one below, more or less.

Four-Toggle Switch Plate

Of course, not a single person, including me, our children, our guests or quite frankly, my husband, was able to consistently figure out which toggle turned on THE OVERHEAD LIGHT! (If you wonder why we needed all of these different options in our tiny bathroom, I will remind you that I’m married to an architect. We DIDN’T need them.)

When someone went into the bathroom and groped around in the dark…the fan went on briefly and then went off. The night-light clicked on and then clicked off. With any luck, you finally hit the main light button (hallelujah!) on the third try.

Well, of course, after a few frustrating months, we stopped using the overhead bathroom light altogether and started exclusively using the sconce lights near the mirror over the bathroom sink. Here’s what that switch looks like.

The Simple Switch Plate

And that’s the way it’s been for the last 15 years. (Except for our poor guests, who are still stuck exploring the wonders of our heater, fan and night-light.)

The take-home advice: Go with what’s simple and intuitive. This applies to more than lighting fixtures and lighting controls of course. It’s absurdly easy to make something more complicated than it needs to be because you’re entranced by the “cool” factor. Faucets, toilets, shelving units, appliances—the list goes on and on. Or the classic architecture boo-boo—the location of a front door. If you need signs to point someone in the direction of the front door of a building…the door is in the wrong spot. Simple and intuitive is better. Just ask an architect.

For great bathroom lighting and remodeling projects, check out these stories:

How to remodel your bathroom without destroying it

Elegant small bathroom

— Elisa Bernick, Associate Editor

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