How To Choose A Wall Sconce
From proper hanging heights to room applications, we offer expert advice on finding the right wall sconce for your space.
Perhaps the most versatile light source in a home, the small-but-mighty sconce can provide four key lighting functions: ambient, task, accent, and wall washing. Sconces are a smart choice for almost any room in the house—from the entryway to the bathroom to the living room—and can be paired with a chandelier, overhead ceiling light, or recessed downlights to provide ambient light for an entire room. Their forms are varied, too, ranging from spare and functional to downright sculptural.
To navigate the many applications and options we turned to lighting designer Chandran Param. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Param worked as an electrician before he became a lighting designer and offers his insights on the aesthetic and technical aspects of sconce selection.
When should someone consider using a pair of sconces rather than just a single one?
Chandran Param: A single sconce can be used over a desk, over the kitchen sink, or in a nook, but in most other situations they work best in pairs or groups. A dining room wall with a buffet, for instance, is a place for two sconces. They can flank a mirror or a piece of art. Sconces on either side of a fireplace have nice symmetry. I’d pair two Loop Wall Sconces from Metalarte in a very modern living room or dining room.
In what situations can a sconce work as task lighting?
CP: Task lighting on the wall is a great space saver, especially in the bedroom. A swing-arm-style wall fixture like the Classic Series from Zaneen Lighting is perfect for bedside use and also provides extra ambient lighting. Another favorite bedside sconce is the Tolomeo Shaded Wall Light from Artemide. One tip: To determine the mounting height, measure from the floor to the bottom of the shade—the sconce should be eye level when you are sitting on the bed.
When is an up-facing sconce preferable to a downward-facing sconce?
CP: If you have a vaulted ceiling or unusual ceiling detail, up lighting is very attractive and provides great ambient light, as long as your ceiling is white or light-colored. The high-powered Surf Wall Sconce from Artemide is nice for high ceilings or areas that need a lot of illumination. Down-facing sconces are a good choice for task lighting. TECH Lighting’s Pull Small Wall Sconce has a functional pull cord and would be great for a reading nook or a kids’ study area.
A sconce that provides both up and down light, such as the Clessidra from Flos Lighting, can break up a boring blank wall while creating an interesting wall-washing effect. The combination of up and down light is perfect for spaces without any furniture, like stairwells and hallways, because the whole wall is visible and the full lighting effect can be seen.
How about a candle-style sconce versus a swing-arm sconce? When would you pick one over the other?
CP: There are no specific rules about when someone should use a candle sconce versus a swing arm lamp. I once saw a designer use two swing arm wall lamps to highlight a painting on the wall. It was an unusual-looking installation but it worked with the aesthetic of the home.
Can you offer some guidelines for hanging sconces—how high on the wall, and also how far apart from each other?
CP: If the ceilings are 8 feet, 74 inches above the finished floor to the center of the wall sconce is a good rule of thumb. Another guideline is to measure down 6 inches from the top of the window, and then use that as your mounting height for all the wall sconces in the room. For up-light sconces, keep in mind that you want at least 12 inches but not more than 36 inches between the sconce and the ceiling.
If a window or fireplace is centered on a wall, then place a sconce on either side centered on each wall. If you want to break up a long wall by using two sconces, place them one-quarter of the distance in from each end.
What kind of sconces do you like to use in entryways?
CP: A very transitional design, the Cabo Grande Sconce from TECH Lighting, with an amber-colored onyx diffuser, has high impact in a hallway, stairwell, or entry. Its low profile makes it perfect for narrow spaces, and the onyx hides the light source very well, resulting in a warm lighting effect. Or if you’re up for something more fun and funky, the Scotch Club A30 from Marset Lighting is a little retro and brings some color.
How about bathrooms?
CP: In bathrooms, wall sconces are ideal for mirror lighting. White or off-white glass is best because the diffused light will permeate the entire space and the color of the light will be good for using the mirror. If you are using small sconces, measure from the top of the mirror to one-quarter of the way down to establish your center mounting height.
A linear sconces like the Basic Strip by Artemide looks best if you can match the mirror height, though slightly shorter than the mirror length is ok, too.
Can you suggest any unusual or out-of-the-box applications for a sconce in a home?
CP: If you have a really high wall, consider mounting an up-light sconce high on the wall centered under a piece of artwork. It will wash the art with light and throw light up onto the ceiling at the same time, creating a unique focal point for the space.
Another idea is to create a lighted wall pattern using very small wall sconces like a Carpyen Lighting LED Wall Sconce or the Beetle AP-PL Wall Light from Studio Italia Design. This can be an expensive project, but the dramatic outcome can turn a boring wall into the most stunning one in the house.
Sconces can often have a traditional feel; how do you make them work in a modern space?
CP: I always choose wall sconces that highlight the simple forms of modern architecture and feature wood, stone, glass, or metal. Vibia’s Alpha Rectangle Wall Light highlights its own straight lines while lighting the wall with sharp-angled patterns. This sconce looks amazing in a stark modern space and if the architecture is cubist or very linear in style.
Because you’ll want streamlined shapes in a modern interior, quality and craftsmanship are important. You generally get what you pay for, and lighting is no different.
If your wall isn’t pre-wired for a sconce, what are the options?
CP: If you want to add sconces to an existing wall, expect it to get a little messy. You will need an electrician to move the power, and a carpenter to patch the wall. However, if you want to avoid cutting open your walls, there are some great wireless products on the market—such as Lutron Maestro Wireless switches and dimmers, which eliminate the need for wiring between the power source and the switch location.
Laura is a Texan who has called California her home the last ten years. As an experienced Interior Designer she has advanced knowledge of modern and classic lighting, furniture and bath products. She loves the design industry and is always attending trade shows and exhibits around the world. She swam competitively for FSU where she met her husband Peyton. They reside in Los Angeles with their dog Renegade.