/ Learn / Buying Guides

Written by Chris Johnson on August 14, 2015

8 Things You Need to Know About Wall Sconces

1. What Is a Wall Sconce, Anyway?

An ornamental bracket fixed to a wall for holding a candle or electric light. In this case, of course, we are talking about electric lights. Wall sconces come in a variety of materials, shapes, sizes, lamp wattages, and with a variety of design accents and light sources. For example, wall sconces may be translucent, opaque, or transparent; come in various forms of glass, metal, or paintable textured ceramic with incandescent, or fluorescent light sources; and may have a polished brass accent, a brushed nickel accent, an antique brass accent, a satin chrome accent, or no accent at all.

2. Function

They can be quite functional by providing some or all of the general lighting in a space. At other times the light provided by a sconce or a series of sconces can help one safely negotiate a long hallway or a stairway. Wall sconces can also provide task lighting when they are used on either side of bathroom mirror, for example.

3. Aesthetics

There are a number of marvelous opportunities to be creative and make an aesthetic statement. In fact, certain wall sconces might be works of art themselves. In some instances, the design elements of the wall sconce might be used to complement the design elements of other items in the space. Some are paintable, which means that the color of the sconce can be selected to complement or contrast with the other colors used in the space. Sometimes it's simply the glow provided by the wall sconce that makes the greatest contribution to the aesthetics of a given space. In an office space, they can add a touch of upscale professionalism to the decor, impressing visitors and inspiring pride in those who work there. If wall sconces are located on highly textured walls they can provide a dramatic lighting effect on the wall called "wall grazing," which highlights that texture by creating a contrast between light and dark, calling attention to the wall's texture.

4. Light Sources

Wall sconces may use incandescent, fluorescent, or LED light sources. These light sources might provide a good deal of light, a modest amount of light, or just a hint of light.

5. Where To Use Them?

In a number of places: hallways, museums, art galleries, trade show exhibits, offices, conference rooms, studies, churches, restaurants, taverns, hotel rooms, libraries, bathrooms, bedrooms, stairways, dining rooms, and living rooms. What do all these places have in common? They all have walls!

6. Where on the Wall Do You Install?

Generally wall sconces are installed at a height of 66 inches to 72 inches above floor level (rooms with vaulted ceilings can take a higher placement). If sconces are used in a hallway, they should generally be spaced about 8 feet to 10 feet apart and should be placed so that a given wall sconce on one wall is facing the area between two on the opposing wall. If they are placed in a location that can be viewed from above (for example, at the bottom of a stairway or under a balcony), you may want to consider covering the top with a louver or a diffuser to avoid glare.

7. ADA Compliant

A sconce that is ADA compliant means that they comply with the specifications outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act applies to light fixtures used in public circulation or egress spaces. In practice this means that wall mounted fixtures located below 6 feet, 8 inches in halls, corridors, passageways, or aisles must extend no greater than 4 inches from the wall. This also means that if the bottom of the wall sconce is 6 feet, 8 inches or more above the floor level, it does not have to meet this standard.

8. History

Long ago, sconces were primarily mobile lighting devices which were carried to light the way throughout a home or passageway. These were frequently hung on a wall or over a fireplace where they were readily available for a person's use. Today, they are attached to a wall to provide permanent illumination.