Wall Sconce Light Fixtures Style Guide

Published By: Shades Of Light

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Last Updated: October 05, 2020

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Adjustable modern wall sconce

Successfully layering light throughout a home requires a thoughtful combination of several different categories of lighting fixtures. In areas where ceiling lights and hanging lights alone leave something to be desired, stylish wall lights can provide a much-needed boost of both luminance and panache. Sconces are a timeless style of lighting fixture that can complement existing lights and design elements in every room of your home. These fixtures never go out of style, and have been in use for centuries! Before the advent of electricity, wall torches and wall candle holders were essential for keeping rooms well lit; in fact, antique-inspired sconces and traditional wall sconces that evoke the style of pre-electric wall sconce designs are still popular choices for contemporary homes! If the vintage look doesn’t speak to you, simple minimalist sconces and modern and contemporary sconces come in a wide range of appealing finishes and styles. This spectrum of styles helps interior designers and home decor lovers alike keep on the cutting edge of lighting design, while still celebrating a centuries-old light fixture that never looks outdated.

How to Choose a Stylish Sconce

Most wall sconces come complete with three specific design elements that set this fixture apart from other lights. Primarily, wall sconce parts will consist of:

Parts of a wall sconce light

Sconce shades surround the light source and help direct the light. Sconce shades are available in fabric, metal, and glass configurations and will affect how much light the sconce emits. For example, a sconce with a clear glass shade will cast light out into the room (which is why this style is good for bathrooms), but a sconce with an opaque metal shade might only throw light directly down (making them useful for desks or positioned above artwork).
Sconce backplates connect these light fixtures to the wall and can be subtle and unobtrusive or dramatic statement pieces.
Sconce arms connect the light source and shade to the backplate and are often accented with subtle details that help underscore the design elements in your backplate and shades. This sconce part can also be fixed or moveable—if you prefer a sconce with an adjustable arm, search for swing arm fixtures!

To find the best sconce for your style and space, consider how these three design elements interact and what kind of statement you want to make. Shades frequently make the most impact in the style of a sconce, so finding a sconce with a shade that matches your aesthetic is an easy way to add cohesion to your space. Some designers use uniquely-shaped or boldly-accented backplates to add flair to this style of fixture, so if your style sensibility tends toward the avant-garde, look for backplates that offer an interesting twist. And sconce arms often affect how far the fixture protrudes from the wall. If you need directed task lighting, sconces with arms that arch from the backplate or are adjustable are ideal. If, however, you need a slimmer silhouette, look for sconces with arms positioned close to the backplate or that have no arm at all. ADA sconces, in particular, extend less than four inches from the wall, making them ideal choices in small spaces or in areas where a protruding sconce may pose a safety hazard.

Choose a Fashionable Sconce Shade

Whether you are purchasing a sconce for the first time, or you are looking for a wall sconce replacement shade to update an existing fixture, the cover you choose for your sconce light bulb is one of the most striking aspects of the fixture.

Vice Wall mixed-metal glass sconce

Our Vice Wall Sconce has a super trendy clear glass shade, making it ideal for areas where you need lots of light. Sconces with clear glass shades are particularly useful in bathrooms and powder rooms where you need even light spread across your face when you look into your mirror. These shades come in a wide array of shapes to help you customize your style. Try mason jar sconces for a rustic farmhouse look, or sleek dome glass sconces for a more contemporary design. Just be sure to mount sconces like this slightly higher than eye-level to keep the bulb from shining directly in your eyes.

Flush mount half circle shade sconce

For sconces with subtler, more directed light output, opaque fabric shades like the one in our Modern Classic Wall Sconce are ideal. This flush mount sconce has a half shade, also called a shield shade, that blocks the bulb from view and washes the wall with a soft ambiance. This particular sconce casts both uplight and downlight, but the opaque shade blocks the light from shining directly out into the room, making this fixture ideal for areas where an unobtrusive glow is required, like dim hallways or stairwells.

Full circle wall sconce with silk fabric shade

This Full Circle Wall Sconce is a perfect example of how the sconce shade, arm, and backplate work in tandem to create a unique look. This elegant design uses a cylindrical fabric shade; while most wall sconces with fabric shades mount the shade above the arm, this fixture updates the look by suspending the shade from an arm accented with a small ring, echoing both the shape of the shade and the shape of the backplate. The light color of the fabric creates a soft glow when lit that would be stunning displayed on either side of a living room mirror or oversized art piece.

Look for a Unique Sconce Backplate

Sconce backplates can be made of traditional metals like brass, iron, and wood, or they can be made from more unexpected materials like mosaic tiles, art glass, or painted porcelain.
Wood wall sconce with up and down light

Rustic wood sconces, like our Timber Bath Sconce, are a tried-and-true go-to for rustic, farmhouse, lodge, and boho eclectic decor aesthetics. Wooden backplates give these fixtures a bold, rugged personality.

Iron Candle Vertical Sconce

Iron Candle Sconces get their distinctive look from iron backplates. This classic vertical sconce design has an ageless appeal and the dark finish offers versatility when paring with other décor elements.

Art glass wall sconce with brass bulb base

Art glass wall sconces are sure to bring a fashionable elegance to your space, while brass wall sconces are clean, timeless, and refined. This gorgeous wall fixture represents the best of both styles and still casts lots of light with two bare bulbs.

Fitzgerald ultra-modern porcelain wall sconce

Porcelain wall sconces have a unique, feminine charm, and this ultra-modern Fitzgerald wall sconce would be a perfect fit in a trendy, boho eclectic bedroom or office.

Consider a Sconce with an Interesting Arm

The arm of a sconce can add considerable fashion or change the overall function of the light. Swing arm wall lamps have long, adjustable arms so you can position the lamp to suit your needs. These adjustable arms also add an extra opportunity for more stylish design features, making these lights perfect for both flair and function.

Adjustable arm bronze finish metal sconce

This Adjustable Arm Cone Wall Sconce is a metal wall sconce that offers several points of articulation to ensure the light is perfectly positioned. Because the lamp can be angled freely, this sconce features a metal shade that ensures the light is only cast where the shade is pointing. The metal construction has the bonus of creating a sleek, minimalist effect with only one material and finish on this bronze wall sconce.

Bronze and glass long arm wall sconce

Sconces without adjustable features can still create unique looks with overemphasized arms. This fixture has a slimmer silhouette but the long arm gives this sconce a boost of style that helps accent the glass sconce shade.

Accordion retractable plug in wall sconce

For a truly eye-catching take on a traditional swing arm style, try an accordion wall sconce! These retractable fixtures can extend for use and tuck away once your tasks are complete, plus they add a distinct vintage industrial sconce look that’s fun and quirky, yet sophisticated. If hardwiring your sconce isn’t ideal, you can also find plug-in wall sconces that can be hung anywhere near an outlet (just be sure to consult a professional if the light is on the heavier side to ensure safe installation).

Polished nickel mid-century arc sconce

If you tend to prefer mid-century wall sconce styles, fixtures like this arc sconce are high impact because of the dramatic shape of the arm; the sleek polished nickel finish on this wall light and otherwise minimalist design lend an uncluttered, modern appeal.


How Sconces Work: Features & Specs to Review Before Buying

As you search for a sconce that fits your style, you’ll want to review the technical details of any potential fixture to ensure that it will be convenient for you to install and use. Shades of Light recommends checking the following product specs, so you can be sure you know how a sconce works before you buy. It’s important to identify what you want your sconce to accomplish before you complete your purchase. Do you need a hardwired fixture or a fixture with a cord and plug? What type of on/off switch, dimming capabilities, and light output is best for your unique lighting situation? Are there any positioning constraints you should consider, such as narrow walls, swinging doors, or safety concerns if the sconce extends into a walkway? The answer to these questions will help you find a lamp you’ll love for years to come!

Plug-In Wall Sconces vs. Hardwired Sconces

Both hardwired wall sconces and plug-in wall sconces are readily available in a range of styles, and which works will best for your space is determined by both preference and configuration of your home. Plug-in sconces offer a more temporary lighting solution, as they can be mounted wherever an outlet is accessible. If you rent your home or apartment, or just like to be able to rearrange your space easily, plug-in wall fixtures are simpler to install and can be moved at will—just be sure to follow all mounting directions to prevent a safety hazard or damage to the wall. Hardwired fixtures, on the other hand, should always be installed by a professional electrician.
Plug in corded wall sconce with bare bulb

This Industrial Droplet Plug-In Sconce is a corded wall lamp that showcases a bare bulb, giving it a rustic industrial flair.


Pull Chains & On-Off Switches

For wall fixtures mounted over nightstands or reading nooks, consider finding a pull chain wall sconce. Instead of an on/off switch located on the backplate or a rocker switch on the cord, these fixtures offer a convenient pull chain that makes turning on the light from bed or your favorite reading chair a bit easier.

Brass swing arm pull chain wall sconce

This stylish brass Transitional Swing Arm Sconce incorporates a pull chain as an added design accent.

If, however, your sconce is used to light a corridor or illuminate art or an architectural feature on the wall, on/off switches on the body keep the design of the fixture sleek, compact, and understated. This style of switch is also useful on hardwired sconces that you intend to control with a wall-switch!

Crystal torch wall sconce with on off switch

This crystal torch sconce has a petite on/off switch that doesn’t detract from the design of the beautiful arm.


Dimming Capability

Just like hanging lights, many sconces have dimming capabilities that make them the perfect choice for atmospheric ambient lighting and to accent artwork and wall mirrors. Check the specifications of your chosen sconce to see if it is dimmer compatible and be sure to leave the installation to an electrician.

Fully dimmable 2-light vertical sconce

Dimmable wall sconces are available in many different styles and lighting configurations. This two-light vertical wall sconce is perfect for brightening your space or creating comfortable mood lighting at your discretion.


Fixture Dimensions & Shade Sizes

Since sconces come in all shapes and sizes, from mini sconces less than 13” to tall and oversized sconces. The exact dimensions of your sconce will largely depend on personal taste. However, there are a few general rules you should take into account during your search. Sconces typically function best when they are mounted roughly at eye-level. Unless your sconce has a bare bulb or clear shade, the light source should not be directly visible. For sconces mounted on either side of a mirror, this positioning eliminates harsh shadows across the face; for fixtures mounted in hallways, this height helps light the walkway safely. Generally, sconces should be mounted with the center of the sconce around 66-72 inches from the floor, or around 30-36 inches above any desk, nightstand, or vanity. If you hang multiple sconces along a hallway, mount them about 6-10 feet apart; be sure not to overwhelm the space with too many fixtures, or you will risk creating a runway effect. Slim ADA sconces are particularly useful in this situation as they lower the risk of protruding designs creating safety concerns.

If you are using your sconces to accent a mirror (other than your vanity mirror), piece of wall art, or architectural feature of your home, these heights can be tweaked to match the feature you’d like to highlight. For example, uplights intended to illuminate the ceiling can be mounted around 12 inches from the ceiling, twin fixtures on either side of a living room mirror can be centered to the mirror itself, and picture lights can be mounted just above your favorite piece of artwork. When sconces serve as design accents and ambient lighting, personal preference can take precedent in placement, so feel free to experiment and create a look that’s unique to you! (Bathroom lighting, however, does require some more technical considerations so check out our Vanity Lighting Guide for more tips on how to light your bathroom like a pro!)

Any sconces purchased from Shadesoflight.com will either come with a matching shade or will be designed to be mounted without a shade. If, however, you want to customize a bare-bulb sconce or replace the shade on an existing sconce, take a look at the bulb shape and wattage of the light. Sconce shades come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors, and most will attach to the bulb with a clip. Ensure that you select a shade with a clip that will fit the bulb in your sconce and ensure that the wattage of the bulb is not higher than can be safely used with your chosen shade. Slimmer sconces without much room between the backplate and bulb may need shield style shades.


Bulb Base Sizes

The bulb requirements of your chosen sconce will vary based on fixture, with the base of the bulb dependent upon the socket type. You can find ‘bulb base’ listed in the technical information included with every lighting fixture on Shadesoflight.com, along with the maximum wattage, and whether or not a bulb is included with the fixture. If a specific bulb shape is recommended for use with your chosen sconce, that information will be noted in the product description accompanying each fixture.

Not all sconces available on shadesoflight.com will include a bulb, and we also offer a selection of sconce light bulbs for your convenience. Whenever possible, we recommend choosing LED sconce bulbs, as these bulbs are more energy-efficient, longer-lasting, and more customizable than traditional incandescent bulbs.

Ultimately the best sconce for your space is a personal choice that reflects your unique sense of style and flair. Utilize these tips and tricks along with our comprehensive selection of fixtures to craft a room you’ll be proud of! And for designs you won’t find anywhere else, be sure to check out our range of exclusive wall lights, available only on ShadesofLight.com, to make your home a haven (and your office space the envy of the video conference call!)

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