Light, Pattern and Texture in Bathroom Design

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1. Light apricot for all major vertical surfaces.

2. Slightly darker shade of apricot for trim and molding.

3. Fabric shades with a small, grid-like print: light apricot background, gray lines, light turquoise dot.

4. Natural greenery.

5. Light gray tile with slate gray grout.

6. Vanity painted in same light apricot used on walls.

7. Oriental print.

Natural light. If your bathroom windows face north or east, the natural light will be cool. Cool colors will feel extremely cold in such light, and dull colors will seem even duller. Unless these are the effects you want to achieve, plan your bathroom’s decor with warm colors in mind to offset the effects of the room’s natural light. On the other hand, windows facing south and west provide warm light, which makes warm colors feel very hot, and bright colors appear intense. Unless you want your bath room to radiate a sort of concentrated heat, you will want to design the room with cooler colors.

If you are uncertain about the quality of the natural light your bathroom receives, look at the room early in the morning, at about noon, sometime in the middle of the day, and again toward evening. When is the light brightest? Softest? Most important, when do you like it best? Try to achieve that quality of light by selecting colors that support it. If you want more natural light, you can enlarge existing windows or, if your bathroom is on the top floor, add a skylight. These types of changes can, but need not, be costly, and they’re certainly worth considering if light is a problem in your bathroom. You can also install a large reflecting surface on the wall opposite or adjacent to your window. This can nearly double the effective daylight in your bathroom.

Artificial light. There will be some occasions when you need light that nature does not provide. Artificial light has no less impact on color than natural light has al though its effects are different. Normal incandescent lighting is warm, particularly if it is bright: it tends to harmonize and blend colors. Its effects are generally flattering and relaxing. When incandescent lighting is dim, colors lose many of their highlights. They darken and dull. This is why the “romantic” effects of dimly lit restaurants are punctuated by the localized brightness of table lamps. In the same fashion, if you are using a low-level incandescent general light, you should plan to provide other sorts of brighter lighting in specific areas.

The three principal kinds of fluorescent lights are cool white, warm white, and deluxe warm white. Cool white is the most commonly used, and is the one that tinges everything vaguely blue. Warm white casts an obscurely unhealthy yellow pall. But deluxe warm white comes closest to producing a stable, realistic, useful light, and is the one most often recommended by professionals using fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent lights radiate less heat and are less expensive to operate, but use them cautiously to achieve particular effects.

Planning Your Lighting

Because of the many varied activities that take place in the bathroom, it is impossible to over-plan your lighting in this room. If you shave or make up in the bathroom, you need a light that is placed to shine on your face — not on the mirror — without throwing odd shadows. Light fixtures are often placed on the ceiling because they are out of the way and because from that height they cast light over the largest possible bathroom area. But track lights, lamps, and wall sconces lend themselves to the specific needs in a bathroom.

In the past decade or so, a highly useful lighting concept, know as task/ambient lighting, has been making its way out of the office environment and into the home. It refers to a two-part lighting arrangement with task lights specifically directed to work areas and ambient lights providing general room illumination. Whether you use an overhead fixture, track lights, or soffit lights hidden behind a lowered portion of the ceiling, ambient light permits the use of inexpensive, low-watt age, indirect illumination for general activities. Add specific, direct task lighting, and you have an attractive and efficient system that reduces eye fatigue and offers varied effects for different occasions or times of day.


If your bathroom is small, take special care when selecting patterned wallpaper, fabric, or floor surfaces. Large-scale patterns containing more than three colors can overpower a small room. If you want lots of colors in your pattern, the smaller prints will probably work bet ter. If you want a large print, you’re likely to do better with only one or two colors, which can be bold by virtue of contrast rather than loud by being busy with colors. Be aware that even tiles can add pattern to a room. Some thing as minor as grout lines can create a noticeable visual effect—whereas white tile and white grout give the impression of a continuous, plain surface, grout that contrasts with the tiles, such as blue tile with white grout or light gray tiles with slate gray grout, punctuates the pattern. Simplicity is always a helpful guide.


The basic principle governing use of texture in the bath room is much the same as for other design elements — don’t overdo it. If you want a warm, cozy feeling, you’ll want carpets or rugs, thick terry towels, the “textures” of displayed items on open shelves, and soft, matte finishes. If you want a sleek look, use smooth surfaces with a high gloss and crisp edges, such as mirrors and glass. Be aware that patterns create visual textures, so go easy with them. You can really see the effects of texture when you focus on only one color. Even a “cold,” all-white room can take on a soft character if it contains various textures such as soft, matte walls, terry towels, a woven throw rug, a fabric shade, and a few etched accent tiles.

Detail: Accessories and Hardware

The smallest appointments can complete a bathroom design, or undo it. A single bright tile set in a quiet wall creates a major esthetic effect. Coordinating details is not difficult if you plan ahead. Knowing you will have a lot of wood surfaces might inspire you to use shiny brass hardware and hooks; in a bright white room with white fixtures, you might prefer polished chrome, stainless steel, mirror, and Lucite. Fittings on the tub and basin certainly ought to be related, but when you’ve gone that far, why forget to match the toilet handle? Door and drawer pulls, hinges and hooks, towels and flowers, sponges and soaps, and even the toothbrush and toilet paper holders can be given the same attention lavished on walls and fixtures.

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Updated: Monday, 2011-06-20 5:31