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Ideas and Inspiration

Mar 20, 2013

Archived Lighting Tips

Exploring Different Sconces, Styles and Wall Lighting Ideas

The latest look in decorative wall lighting has hit the wall.  Sconces, light fixtures attached to the wall halfway between the floor and ceiling, get thumbs-up approval for adding sophistication to a space.

“The most significant current trend in sconces is the extraordinary variety of styles that have appeared in the marketplace,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, AIA, IES, CSI, architect, educational consultant for the American Lighting Association and professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky. “It seems as if every conceivable material, finish and style is available. This is a trend in the lighting industry in general, but sconces have significantly proliferated as a category in the last three to four years.”

“Trends are all over the board,” agrees Dave McKee, chief operating officer of west coast retailer Seattle Lighting, with 15 showrooms in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. “Everything from petite colored sconces to ornate, oversized ones; from traditional design to contemporary.” Different Sconces Styles continue to diversify.

While traditional brass sconces continue to rate raves, there has been an increase in painted metal, and nickel or pewter finishes. Hand-forged steel offers rustic appeal. Post-modern sconce styles emphasize simple sconces with modernist lines and shapes but with some variety in the details and the ornament.

Sconces range in size and shape to fit any wall. While the average indoor sconce is about 12 inches tall, some are as long as 30 inches and quite slender.

“People are increasingly looking for sconces with a clean, architectural look,” says Brandon Levin, vice president, sales for Justice Design Group, in Los Angeles. “Brushed nickel and dark bronze are popular finishes which work in a wide variety of applications.”

Most exciting is the availability of shades made of glass, fabric and other materials. Rey-Barreau says, “Traditional sconces with exposed lamps designed to simulate the appearance of a candle tend to be glaring, since the filament of the light bulb is exposed. Shades help soften the look.”

Sconces add tremendous comfort to a space because they bring attention to the perimeter of a room. Added to soaring spaces, they offer a method of creating a more human scale. When controlled by a dimmer, they are extremely valuable in places such as family rooms, media rooms and living rooms as a means of controlling the mood of the space. Wall lighting is both convenient and aesthetically pleasing.

“We see sconces as wall art,” says George Chandler, chief executive officer and designer of Vermont-based lighting manufacturer Hubbardton Forge. “It’s the sconce itself, as well as how the light and shadows play on the wall. We try to design a certain amount of sculpture into each piece we do.”

From their perch on the wall, sconces create a play of light and shadow that changes as the evening darkens. Add a dimmer to control the light quality of a sconce, and a room can be modified to create unique and varying moods.

Technically, a sconce is a term used to define wall-mounted fixtures that are installed on the inside of a home. The use of wall lighting on the exterior of a home is a common detail, but these fixtures are more commonly called outdoor fixtures or wall lanterns. They serve the same purpose as interior sconces, but are designed to withstand exposure to varied weather conditions.

Tips for Choosing the Right Sconce

Sconces lend ambient light to a room and offer a soft glow which complements ceiling fixtures, portable and recessed lighting. This splash of light on a wall can only be provided by sconces. Styles of sconces vary greatly allowing you to choose between wide varieties of lighting ideas. Because they are often accent lighting, sconce selection ranks as mostly an aesthetic decision.

“Sconces are generally chosen to complement the primary fixtures of a house,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, AIA, IES, CSI, architect, educational consultant for the American Lighting Association and professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky. “Therefore, the main finishes, colors and textures for a room can help guide your selection.”

When shopping for sconces, the American Lighting Association suggests the following tips to help you decide on the right lighting ideas for your home.

Survey the Situation:

To determine the right style sconce for your home, begin by surveying the room. What color, material or trend is predominant in room’s decor? How do you want to enhance that statement? Traditional homes can command more ornate, decorative sconces, while modern abodes demand a less-is-more philosophy in design.

Design Savvy:

Visit lighting showrooms armed with a photo or sketch of space you are trying to light, fabric and color samples. “If we know the size and shape of the wall, color and fabrics of the furniture and drapes, then we can really help in the process,” says Dave McKee, chief operating officer of west coast retailer Seattle Lighting, with 15 showrooms in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Plan Ahead:

Sconces can be used in any space and in any type of home or style. However, it is often difficult to install them in existing homes where the walls have not been pre-wired to accept the sconce. It is much easier to plan and install sconces in new home construction where the wiring has been installed before the finished wall is up.

Check It Out:

Before buying a sconce, take time to really examine the fixture. The detail, finish and castings should be high-quality, neat and trim. Shades or other attachments should fit properly.

Right Light:

How the sconce produces light is a very important consideration. If you plan to use the sconce as a major source of light in a space, choose one with a shaded bulb and a minimum wattage of 75 watts to reduce glare. If the sconce is strictly decorative, wattages less than 75 are sufficient, but shades or shielded bulbs are still preferred.

“If the sconce is to be placed in a two-story space, it’s important to identify if the viewer will be able to see into the sconce when standing on stairs or looking down into the space,” says Rey-Barreau. “Some sconces have shields that don’t allow a view into the fixture when seen from above.”

Seek Guidance:

If the choices are not clear, it’s always best to rely on the help of a lighting consultant in a lighting showroom to help give you some lighting ideas. Lighting consultants often have design backgrounds and help move you in the right direction. Sconce Sense Sconces bring decorative demeanor to any room. In today’s newer homes, high windows, walls and soaring ceilings increase the need for supplemental lighting. Older or historic homes were often designed with sconces in mind.

Once de rigeur in home interior, sconces are gaining in popularity. “Sconces can expand a space and decor visually by lighting the perimeter of the room,” says retailer Dave McKee, chief operating officer of west coast retailer Seattle Lighting.

Sconces make themselves at home today in any room. Look for them over beds and behind bathroom doors, framing mirrors, marching down fences and lining great rooms.

“They can be used in any room, and when used with dimmers can add significantly to the decor and mood of a space,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, AIA, IES, CSI, architect, educational consultant for the American Lighting Association and professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky. “The main obstacle to using sconces is simply not thinking enough about using them.”

To help you get en-sconced, the experts at the American Lighting Association offer these tips on why you should use sconces and where they should go.

It’s Elementary:

Look around the room. Coordinate sconces to detail already established. “If your fireplace has a lot of scroll work in it, for example, pick up that element in your sconce design,” says McKee.

For Art’s Sake:

Sconces can be as visually important as any other wall-hung art. In addition to their shape and form, consider the sconces play of light on the wall as a design element, too.

“Use a sconce anywhere;  you do not have to over-light,” suggests George Chandler, CEO and designer of Vermont-based lighting manufacturer Hubbardton Forge. “Sconces make great accent lighting.”

Space Saver:

Unlike portable lamps, which need a table or floor on which to roost, sconces are space efficient, attaching directly to the wall.

Display Stand:

Standing sentry at entryways, flanking fireplaces, lining hallways and adding a decorative dimension alongside stairway walls are some common spots for sconces. Ditto over a piece of furniture, like a sideboard in the dining room or a sofa in the living room.

“When you consider sconces and the shadows they create as wall art, these light fixtures can really go anywhere,” says Chandler.

The Right Height:

Wall placement is very important, and it is generally recommended that the sconce not be mounted less than 5 ft. 6 in. from the floor. As a room increases in height, it is visually more appealing to increase the mounting height so that the sconce is in proportion to room size.

Installation Station:

Sconces are most easily and economically installed when the walls are open during a remodel if wall junction boxes do not currently exist. Junction boxes can be installed in existing rooms, but this is a bit more involved. For temporary applications (like juvenile-themed sconces in a kidís room,) consider mounting the fixture to the wall and have a cord extend from the bottom that plugs into a regular outlet.

Alone or Together?:

Sconces are generally used to complement other elements in a room and are almost always installed in pairs. But do not discount solo sconces.

“Sconces often make effective stand-alone applications,” says Brandon Levin, vice president, sales for Justice Design Group in Los Angeles. “A sconce works alone on a wall near a reading chair or sofa to provide functional light. Or a single sconce can be used in a short hallway to provide additional light.”

Don’t stop at one or two. Multiple sconces can effectively light long hallways, large rooms and home theaters.

Click here to shop thousands of decorative and functional wall sconces at Capitol Lighting’s