The Evolution of the Ugly Bar Light

Sconce lights may not be practical for every bathroom and there are some ugly bar lights out there. So, I’m here with a roundup of the best vanity lights to elevate your bathroom design.

Before I jump in with today’s post, I’m looking for a Part-time  & Full-time Virtual Colour Designer/Decorator for my eDesign department! See the full job description here!

In the last few months, I’ve noticed bar lights.

I have never especially noticed them before.

In fact, whenever I have to specify one, I simply go to my list of three (well I’m slightly exaggerating) that I like and choose one.

Why?

Because bar lights have been notoriously ugly my entire design career.

Which is why, when I renovated all three of the bathrooms in my house, I chose sconce lighting with a shade, for all of them. The end.

Sconce lights, especially with  linen or frosted shades throw just the right amount of flattering filtered light, at just the right height. 

Juniper Home

Time to replace the ugly bar light

However, I am aware that it is not a practical solution for every bathroom. What if you just want to change out your Hollywood bar light over the mirror without the fuss of rewiring for sconces? 

Isn’t it kind of bizarre how many of these vanity lights were installed in homes all over North America? For YEARS it was really the only option for over the vanity lighting. And big box hardware stores STILL SELL THEM!!??!!

I don’t understand why?? Do they have containers full of them that need to be sold? Surely there are more popular lights that could take up valuable shelf space.

Anyway, then we had a couple of decades of this kind of generic light below. I think I’d rather have the retro Hollywood light.

Then, many of us who go all in on trends, likely installed some kind of industrial farmhouse vanity light like the one shown below in the early aughts.

 

Rewiring for sconces is not always practical

If you have standard over-the-mirror vanity light wiring, not only do you need to hire an electrician to move the wiring for sconces, you also need to have the sconces chosen at the very beginning of your renovation to determine precisely the height they need to be installed. This also means you should probably have an idea of which decorative mirror you are installing. 

And frankly, this level of design planning–with the final details settled before anything begins–is not typical in most builder and DIY situations. Most see lighting as a decision that can be made later, after all the finishes go in.

When actually, and this is a hot tip if you want sconces: the positioning of wiring does need to be decided FIRST. 

Or perhaps, you are just doing a small update renovation and moving the wiring is just beyond what you are willing to do at this point.

And again, maybe there just isn’t room for proper sconces, or it’s the shared kids’ bathroom where you’re just not committed to that level of detail. And you may want those lights as far out of reach of little fingers as possible anyway. 

A new era in vanity lighting has finally arrived!

Well great news! Until very recently, the world of over-the-vanity lighting was anything from bleak and bland to just plain ugly. But suddenly there is a wide selection of really attractive vanity lighting.

Since the beginning of the modern farmhouse trend, we’ve been seeing a lot of single or double light fixtures installed over a mirror and sink. Like this one below:

Source

However, one light above the mirror (below) is not enough light if that’s the ONLY source of light you have (which is often the case).

Pottery Barn

Double lights over the mirror do throw a bit more light, especially if you have two fixtures. 

Light Source

Sarah Montgomery Design | Shop Similar Light

But if you need a wider, multi-light fixture that spans a wider vanity and mirror, you now you have some pretty great options beyond the Hollywood bar light. FINALLY!

So since new build and renovation season is coming up very soon in the New Year, I thought I would share some of the best new vanity lights. Any of these would make a lovely update to any bathroom with a less-than-inspiring vanity bar light fixture.

Lighting is one of those details that can make all the difference to the look of your room – taking it from pedestrian to designer. And you should always go for the most style you can afford. 

Light Source

Old and Brand New: Shop light here

Home Bunch: Fixture Available Here

A roundup of the best new vanity lights

Here is my roundup of really stylish vanity lights in double, triple and multiple light configurations. There are some fun modern ones as well as a few with a more traditional styles with shades.

Best Modern Bathroom Vanity Two Lights Shop Modern Vanity Two Lights
(L to R)  One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six  

Best Traditional Bathroom Vanity Lights

Shop Traditional Vanity Two Lights
(L to R) One | Two | Three | Four

Best Modern Bathroom Vanity Three Lights

Shop Modern Vanity Three Lights
(Top to Bottom)  One | Two | Three | Four | Five

Best Traditional Bathroom Vanity Lights Two

Shop Traditional Vanity Three Lights
(Top to Bottom) One | Two | Three | Four

Best modern bathroom vanity four lights

Shop Modern Vanity Four Lights
(Top to Bottom) One | Two | Three | Four

I love being the (light) bearer of good news!

Over to you my lovelies,  which one is your favourite?

And did you know that in my renovation eDesign packages I make recommendations for the loveliest decorative lighting for your specific bathrooms and kitchens? Lighting is such an important detail, don’t let it be an afterthought just because you are overwhelmed with all the choices you need to make for your new build or renovation. You can find the packages here. 

PS. Don’t miss my latest reel on the 3 Signs You Need More Lamps in your Living Room:

Related posts:

The Brightest Trends for Lighting in 2020

12 Classic Outdoor Wall Sconce Lights

One More Reason to Skip Recessed Lighting Altogether

 

Disclosure: Some affiliate links used

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  1. I couldn’t agree more about lighting! Although your picks are fabulous and I’d love to have one, unfortunately we have to use a bar style to conceal the off-center junction box. I wish there were more attractive bar-style lights available!

  2. These are gorgeous! It would be great if you could specify some attractive bar lights with the full width wall plate. I’m dealing an off-center junction box, and need something that can be mounted with more than just a small back plate.

    • Generation Lighting’s TOB Thomas O’Brien Beckam Sconce shown above in the “best traditional 2-light” option also comes in a 4-light option that is 28” wide, on a bar base and available in polished nickel or burnished brass.

  3. Ha! Just saw J’s comment after posting mine. See! Apparently lots of us doing modest updates have this issue.

  4. Anne Elise Hudson

    Ha, ha! I did a quick bathroom refresh in my rental, and replacing the Hollywood style bar light, along with the hideous protruding vanity (which was still so shallow as to be useless for storage) were my two priorities. It was a long search for the light, but I found an inexpensive version of your modern 2-light examples on Amazon, and what a transformation!

    I also helped my daughter refresh her new house’s bathroom…not only was the light the infamous Hollywood bar style, but it was offcenter, in a bulky oak case including an out of scale mirror cabinet. Ugh. Ikea came through with a mirror (Silveran mirror with shelf) and bar light (Skepp – mounted on top of the mirror) which drastically improved the space.

    These changes are worth making even with a tiny budget (my daughter), or in a rental (me).

    To reassure you, Maria, paint was also involved!

    • We moved into our house just before Covid. Needed both bathrooms renovated in a big way. Just finishing the main bath reno now. Super happy with it. Used sconces on either side of a vintage mirror. I’m a huge sucker for vintage mirrors. Already have the mirror for the ensuite bath. Love it but think I’m going to have to have a skinny pendant light instead of a sconce as there isn’t any room and the mirror is quite tall… but gorgeous and worth the extra wiring. Any suggestions for skinny pendants in a bath in a traditional finish?

  5. Had to use big box bar lights for rental renovations. $$$$$$

    Lone woman on the project, they only cared for $$$$

    Bar light pricing proves, they’re slave labor. Materials probably fire hazard, and they’re shipped across the ocean to get here for that $$$$.

    Only good choice to make? Choosing bar lights with the fewest lights. And use lower wattage bulbs.

    Thankfully, was able to remove row of windows, back of house, replace with French doors leading to a new terrace outside. Previously, the property had zero doors to the backyard. House rented within a week, rent increased from $600 to $1,400.

    When tenant toured property, I was with general contractor, she began to cry, walking into the laundry room. He got my best Cheshire Cat smile. I had spent $15 for heavy wire shelves, waist high, topped with leftover kitchen counter, placed beside washer/dryer. Yep, he had railed at that $15.

    Pick your battles !!!

    My choice for bar lights? Those requiring the least dusting.

    Garden & Be Well, XOT

  6. You’re right on target, as usual. There’s so much ugly lighting out there. It took me almost two years to find something for a modest guest bath renovation because I needed an over-the-mirror fixture. Light fixtures can make or break a room. Thanks for this post!

  7. No bar lights at all for us. That’s the first thing we got rid of when redoing our bathroom 2 years ago. We had our electrician install six 4-inch pot lights/down lights in the ceiling instead, and it was the best decision we ever made. We had it wired so they can be turned on 6 at a time, or just 3. They are on a dimmer so if you need to use the bathroom at night you can push the bar low before turning the light on at all. The bathroom fan/fan light is on another switch right next to it.

    Best investment we made.

  8. This post came at the perfect time because I was planning to buy vanity lights today for our neglected basement bathroom. We currently have ugly mauve 80s Hollywood box lights and I am hoping two of these lovelies will line up with our off center Junction boxes. I can see why someone installed two five light boxes spanning the whole vanity – it’s because the boxes aren’t centered. Unfortunately we have huge custom mirrors in there and corian walls so moving the fixtures around becomes too involved. I will be happy to have at least one pretty item in the room though 🙂

  9. Bar Lights in a bathroom are not a good idea no matter what they look like. Lighting should come from the side of the mirror not above it.

  10. I don’t like overhead lighting, even in bathrooms, so I want my vanity lights to provide almost all of the required light. Some of your choices simply provide nice ambient lighting, or mood lighting, so those would not be on my list. Several of your modern lights are perfect for me, but they would need to face down, over the sinks, and not simply light the ceiling or upper portion of the walls.

  11. Reading the title of the post, I thought, “Gee, I didn’t know bars were big now – do many people really have them and why not just buy a pretty lamp? Do they have weird beer can lamps and such?” IOW bars where alcohol and glasses are kept.

    Defending my doofusy assumption, I wasn’t completely awake, having been woken up by one orangey cat who wanted breakfast! 😀

    • All of the suggested light fixtures are very odd looking. I would not use any of them, anywhere. Fortunately I did a complete refresh on one bathroom a year ago and did the lighting on another this summer. Still waiting for the paint for that one to be finished, covid production delays.
      However, it was very easy to get new lighting for both bathrooms although I have 2 sconces in each, not a strip light. Wayfair has many thousands to choose from

  12. Boy, can I ever relate to this post. I just finished a spreadsheet with 90 lines of mirrors and lighting for a new 5 bedroom, 7 bathroom beach house along with diagrams for placement of each in the bathrooms. It required not only mirror selection but also drawing the furniture placement on the floors of the house. I even bought different size beach balls to hang to make sure sizes of pendants and chandeliers were correct before ordering. It was a huge task but well worth it. The lighting fixtures available are vast and stylish. In my first beach house renovation I had limited time to spend on this project so I selected the same light for every bathroom. Exactly as you stated, previous owner had hideous bar lighting and I wasn’t willing to invest changing it to sconces. But I found lights very similar to your pictures of traditional ones with white shades. After 12 years they still look fresh. Now that I’m retired I have lots of time to spend endless hours on the internet searching for lights. I must have 500 pictures saved of their images. Everyone is selling lighting, and I’ve found it in some unusual places such as Etsy, Urban Outfitters, and Anthropology. My favorite on line store is Shades of Light. I’ve also visited some brick and mortar stores, but especially during the pandemic, shopping from my couch has been the least hassle. Your blogs have been a tremendous help to me. I get so excited when I receive your blog notifications since reading them is like unwrapping a beautiful present.

  13. Thank you so much for this post, Maria! I have two bathrooms in the condo we recently moved to. One has the ugly Hollywood bar light, and the other bar light—well there are no words; have never seen such a thing! I hope for sconces in the b.r. that will get a larger do over, but the Hollywood bar will probably need to be replaced without major rewiring. There are a number of the ones you posted that please me. Thanks again!
    Linda

  14. Yay mine is on the traditional list! The search was like finding a pretty needle in a hideous haystack. Now I just need to hang it
    More posts on lighting please- I just made an oversized 500.00 mistake above my kitchen table!!

  15. These are all very modern or Art Deco style to me – what are some classic options for a more rustic timber frame home with lots of wood? I don’t want to be too trendy with the farmhouse/industrial styles but don’t feel like your examples would fit well in a more rustic/lodge/mountain style home.

  16. Love the lights you have selected Maria. The bar lights above a mirror are a thorn in the side of any designer. However, the reason we have been stuck with these for so long is the restriction here in the states that specifies bathroom (with any shower or tub which creates humidity) must be a damp rated fixture at minimum. So all the pretty lights are not within code. I do agree, many of the lighting companies have finally come around to adding a bit a glamour and bling to this category of lighting!

  17. We also just completed some bathroom updates. Had to keep over the mirror lighting in 2 of the bathrooms and happy to say my choices are similar to what you selected. In the master, we had a 7′ mirror and Hollywood light removed. Replaced with 2 arched mirrors each flanked with 2 sconces. It is such an improvement and well worth the cost of the electrician and drywall repair.
    Thank you for all the the information you share here!

  18. Timely post! I’ve put up with my ugly, overly-bright, Hollywood bar light for far too long. Time for a change. I’m happy to see that the vanity lighting choices have expanded. Can’t wait to shop!!

  19. We, too, we unable to put sconces in either of our bathroom remodels due to the configuration and space available. Really ran into a problem when I picked a fairly tall mirror/cabinet combo which further limited the over the mirror space. Worked it out but not 100% happy; it will do for now and I’ll probably address it down the road.
    One thing I noticed with the beautiful options you show installed is that they all have rather high (to me) ceilings. We have a 1960s house with 8′ ceilings and a lot of the pretty options still might not work. I love the sturdy construction of our old ranch but I do wish the ceilings were higher since that makes a room look lighter and more modern.

  20. Ugly is a harsh word. Are those lights ugly, or just a little dated?

    We place such a harsh expectation on what is pretty and what is ugly. About 2 years ago, I had an acquaintance visit my home and had the nerve to say she was surprised to see my “ugly” 80’s brass and glass chandeliers, because I hadn’t changed out all the old fixtures from the 80’s yet. They were in perfect working order and I eventually donated them to a thrift store once my husband and I got around to picking their replacements. Mind you, my home is paid off and I was putting my money elsewhere, like putting my kids through college, which was none of her business. Needless to say, she wasn’t invited back.

    I actually like my bright overhead lights in my bathroom. I can see myself the way the world sees me. My seven light bar over my 8ft. long double sink vanity does the job I need it to. I can see the wrinkles in my clothes and fix them. I can see the pet hair on my sweater and remove it. Yes, we recently replaced our Hollywood style light fixture with something fabulous and fresh, but I insisted it have the same wonderful space-filling light that those Hollywood light bars provide. Being current didn’t come cheap. It cost us $700 in light fixtures alone to have both bathroom lights replaced, and that’s with my husband doing all the labor. After removing my brass (which is all over the market place again) I chose a black metal frame with heavy glass lamp shades in white. To be honest, many of the brass and glass globe style lamps posted as new examples up above look like an updated design of the old Hollywood style. I like to see fresh design as much as the next enthusiast, but let’s not call everything from the past ugly.

  21. Good topic and good post! You certainly did your due diligence. All of the new lighting that you found is a far cry from the old Hollywood bar lights. I especially like the traditional ones with a shade. Another topic is how high to place them according to your heights (both occupants) if using the same space for the best coverage. The old bar lights do not give a flattering light. Have you ever put on your makeup and then looked in a mirror in natural light and said OMG who is that?

    Great post Maria!

  22. Well I’m pleased to see several of the lights I recently purchased among those you’ve featured here. I have three bathrooms in my house and none of them have windows so we’ve had to figure to other ways to introduce natural light into two of those rooms. For many years we had skylights but after replacing our roof and having to address water damage we decided to switch to Velux Sun Tunnels instead due to cost. I’ve added lights in the showers and don’t know how I lived without them before! I wasn’t too concerned about a light bar per se since I have a dressing table outside of the bath area which was my bigger concern as far as correct lighting goes. My favorite change though was heated floors! As we’re now in the throes of completing the last bathroom I can’t wait for the floor!

  23. I’m planning to update three bathrooms in a boring generic lake home that has absolutely nothing going for it other than a view. I want to chose timeless finishes that suit my home. Are brass and black the only acceptable finishes to use now? Neither seems right for a lake house. Are these finishes trendy or will they be timeless?