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What Is a Wall Sconce? Your Complete Guide to Wall Sconce Lighting

Lighting fixtures come in a wide range of styles and types, each with its own purpose and functionality. Many fixtures rest on a table, desk or floor, while others are mounted to the ceiling. But what about vertical surfaces around the home? For that, you have the wall sconce. And in the right place, a wall sconce can be both decorative and practical.

But just what is a wall sconce? Here’s your complete guide to wall sconce lighting. Below, we explore the different types of wall sconces you will come across. Plus, we offer a few placement options for various rooms and areas in the home. 

What Is a Wall Sconce?

Wall sconces have a pretty interesting origin. The rod sconce is abbreviated from the word “esconce,” which means to settle an object firmly or snugly somewhere — like the wall of a cave! What was once simply a torch or flaming stick that our ancestors used to light their path inside dark passageways is now a wall sconce. Back then, they carried flame-lit torches through, securing them to the wall to light the way for others.  

Modern wall sconces project light in a different way than most lights. Typically, they cast light upwards, unlike recessed lighting or pendants. They are also more directional, unlike chandeliers that cast a well-rounded glow to a space. Sometimes, you can find wall sconces to cast downward, especially to accent something or provide task lighting. 

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6 Types of Wall Sconces

While there are all kinds of unique variations, there are essentially six different types of wall sconces to know. From the common flush mount wall sconce to the purposely placed picture sconce, here is what you can expect of each and how they are often used to illuminate a space. 

Types of Wall Sconces

#1 Flush-Mount Wall Sconce 

Flush-mount style wall sconces, also referred to as wall washers, are the most common type. With a half-moon shape, it fits snug against a wall, illuminating and accenting an area or focal wall in a “wash” of light, hence the name. Flush mounts are the perfect lighting for adding a small touch to a room, but it’s not ideal for lighting large rooms and spaces. 

#2 Lantern Wall Sconce

Lantern wall sconces offer a traditional touch to a home, both inside and out. However, it can come in many different styles, from rustic to farmhouse and more. For that reason, it’s a very popular style of lighting. 

Outside wall sconces are often positioned over entryways and garage doorways or tucked beneath a porch veranda. 

#3 Candle Wall Sconces

Candle wall sconces are wonderful lighting choices for a period-style home, offering lots of styles from more ornate Victorian brass looks to minimal, wrought-iron rustic variations. Intimate and great for giving off a dim yet soothing glow in a dining room or hallway, they offer just the right amount of lighting in certain spaces. 

If you’re worried about needing to replace any specialty flame-tipped incandescent bulbs constantly — don’t be! Today, you can find these unique bulb styles in energy-efficient LED versions, bringing these old-world sconces into the new age.

Swing Arm Wall Sconce

#4 Swing Arm Wall Sconce

A swing arm wall sconce offers an elbow of sorts that can be pushed and pulled around to your liking. More than a fixed lighting piece, the freedom of movement allows you to redirect the light source where you need it. Furthermore, sometimes you will find swing arm sconces that not only have hinges to move left to right but up and down, especially when fixed to a wall-mounted vertical rod. 

Adjustable and versatile, a swing arm-style wall sconce can be placed practically anywhere. Hang in above beds, over an armchair or generally in places where there is little surface area or floor space to hold a desk lamp, table lamp or floor lamps. This mobility makes it perfect task lighting for a variety of locations around the home — bedrooms, kitchens, you name it! 

#5 Wallchieres

Tall and slim, wallchieres are designed like a torchiere floor lamp, only vertically mounted. Wallchieres can offer ornate detailing and scrollwork along the exterior encasement, or they can be sleek and streamlined, giving off an art deco or mid century modern vibe. Either way, these wall sconces are great for adding a beautiful accent to a wall. 

Due to the size of some wallchieres, you can get a good amount of lighting, too. Like a wall-mounted floor lamp, a wallchiere offers just as much illumination without sacrificing valuable floor space. These vertical sconces are ideal for flanking each side of a vanity, a dining hutch or a mirror mounted over a sideboard. They can also be placed beside large furniture pieces, such as a sofa or within an entryway foyer. 

#6 Picture Sconce

Intentionally designed with a slim silhouette, picture sconces, also known as gallery lighting, casts a downward light aimed at wall-hung artwork. Picture sconces are used to accentuate and hold focus on the piece without causing distraction like a more oversized sconce would. When you want to show off a painting, photography or even tapestries, it’s a perfect choice. 

Choose a picture sconce light that is roughly half the width of the framed artwork. Once mounted, tilt and position the light at a 30-degree angle from the art, too.  

Wall Sconce Placement

Wall Sconce Placement 

Now that you know the various types of wall sconces, let’s discuss where they should be hung along a wall. Of course, this can change based on the mount and installation instructions, but the following advice is a good rule of thumb to follow.


To avoid bumping into or brushing shoulders with a wall sconce, you need to position it high enough along a wall. Somewhere just above eye level, around 60 to 72 inches above the floor (or stair riser) should suffice. Have vaulted ceilings? Feel free to raise them a bit to reflect the room’s overall height. 

However, this can also vary if, say, you need it closer to a reading level in bed or next to a chair in your home library. If needed, you can mount a swing mount wall sconce even lower, such as above a child’s bed or nightstand. The general idea is to just keep it out of the path or harm’s way. 

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid mounting a wall sconce so low that you can see the bulb inside and cause a glare.


If there is a row of sconces along a wall, you want to space them out adequately, roughly six feet apart. If the room is larger, you can lengthen their spacing to something more like eight to 10 feet. Of course, if the sconces are intended to cast light on a particular area, such as a mirror or bed, this distance can be adjusted as necessary.  

If the sconce is to be positioned close to a door, window frame or even decorative wood cabinets, don’t crowd the area. Instead, give the sconce some breathing room, mounting the fixture’s canopy or widest part at least six inches from the molding edge. 

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Wall Sconce Placement Ideas: Room by Room 

Looking for ideas on where to add a decorative wall sconce? Here are some of the typical placements, as well as some more unique suggestions:

Foyer, Hallways and Corridors

A wall sconce makes a beautiful addition for a hallway, corridor or even a stairwell. Since it’s tricky to add furniture to these narrow, compact spaces, a wall sconce keeps the footpath clear while lighting your path as well. 

A flush-mount wall sconce or a wallchiere is ideal for hallways and corridors. For a more romantic, period-style touch, you could also use a candle wall sconce. And since hallways often feature family photos and artwork along the walls, you can also accentuate them with a picture sconce. Finally, if your foyer has but a small entryway table, mount a wall sconce to the side over the key bowl and mail.  

Wall Sconces in the Living Room

Living Room

The living room offers several spaces where you can mount a wall sconce. Above a fireplace mantel is an excellent location, providing a soft glow that matches the embers. Another great place is above a sofa or settee. If you have a club chair in a corner reading nook, a swing arm wall sconce is the perfect addition! 

The Kitchen

Kitchens have lots of cabinets, which is why this room leans more heavily into ceiling-mounted fixtures. But there are still a few places you can add a sconce. For a farmhouse kitchen, a lantern wall sconce is a must. Mount it above a fireclay apron sink to shine some light when cleaning dishes. When installing sconces for task lighting in the kitchen, they should be a minimum of 24 inches above the countertop. Above a window is fine, too! One tip: Match your sconce’s finish to your kitchen knobs and pulls to tie the room together. 

Dining Room

In a dining room, the chandelier is often the center of attention when it comes to lighting. However, many chandeliers can be offset with sconces located throughout the room. Buffet sconces can help illuminate and fill out dark corners, making a room appear more spacious. Dining room sconces also act to balance out the grandeur of the chandelier, too. 


When you have a tight bedroom that requires you to make the most of your space, you have to take advantage of every surface area. That’s where a wall sconce comes into play! In the bedroom, you can mount a swing arm wall sconce above a nightstand in lieu of a table lamp, freeing up the top of the nightstand for other things. Nightstands and bedtime reading aside, you could also flank a dresser mirror with a pair of wallchieres or candle wall sconces for a romantic-inspired bedroom. 

Be mindful of the mounting height for each of these areas. For example, when the standard bed height is 25 inches, a suitable mounting position for a sconce would be five feet above the floor, ensuring you don’t hit it with your head sitting in bed.


A bathroom vanity or lavatory is a fantastic place for a sconce, especially a horizontal flush-mount style. However, you can also place a candle wall sconce or even a lantern wall sconce to each side of a framed mirror. A tall wallchiere adds a luxurious, spa-like look beside a soaking tub, too!

When mounting sconces beside a mirror, keep them at eye level to avoid harsh shadows while applying makeup or grooming. Whatever sconce you choose to flank a mirror, it should provide just enough lighting, especially if you use a brighter bulb. However, as a more stylish choice for the bathroom, it helps if sconces are accompanied by some recessed lighting as well. 

Van Dykes Wall Sconce

More Wall Sconce Tips

Love the idea of a wall sconce or two to add some ambiance to a room? Here are some extra tips and tricks to keep in mind.

Pick Your Sconce Out First — When renovating a space, pick out your wall sconce (and other lighting fixtures, for that matter) before you place the junction box. Why is this important? Because it helps you to prepare and ensures you place them at the proper height and distance. 

Outdoor/Indoor Installation — When searching for a wall sconce, keep in mind that you can also use outdoor-rated versions indoors. An outdoor rating simply means the fixture features more weather-resistant electrical components. The opposite is not true for indoor-only fixtures. If you plan to mount a wall sconce in an outdoor patio, for example, it must be rated for outdoor use.  

Explore Van Dyke’s extensive selection of wall sconces and other lighting fixtures today! 


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