If you’re looking to add lighting to your home, one of the best ways to brighten things up is with sconce lighting — light fixtures that are installed on the wall.
Sconces produce a unique lighting pattern. Because they’re installed close to a wall, they produce both direct task lighting — great for bathrooms and as reading lamps — and soft, ambient light that reflects off walls, ceilings, and floors.
“By illuminating the ceiling, they make it seem higher and so make the room feel larger,” says contractor Mike Gasch of Artisan Remodeling in Madison, Wisconsin.
Architectural lighting designer Bruce Yarnell of Shawnee, Kansas, adds, “They have a similar effect as floor lamps because they light a specific area, but with multiple sconces on a single wall switch, they’re much more convenient.”
Plug-In or Hard-Wired?
There are two types of sconces:
Hard-wired sconces don’t have exposed wires and are permanently wired to your home’s electrical system. They operate either by a wall switch or by a switch in the fixture.
For control over your lighting scheme, put sconces on a dimmer switch. If you want each sconce to operate independently, such as for reading in bed, then an on/off switch in the fixture is the way to go.
Plug-in sconces attach to a wall but have an extension cord that must plug into a wall outlet. They’re much easier and less expensive to install than hard-wired sconces, but the trade-off is that the cord hangs down and is visible. Plug-in sconces have switches at the fixture.
Where to Put Sconces
Sconce lighting is almost always installed in pairs, and they really shine when placed in areas that are naturally dim, such as hallways, entryways, stairwells, and alcove walls. Place sconces on either side of fireplaces, beds, and exterior doors.
By far the most common location for a pair of sconces is on either side of a bathroom sink. “Light coming directly at the face is more flattering than light from above, which tends to highlight wrinkles,” says Yarnell.
Locate sconces so light bulbs are at about eye level. Typically, that means the bulb is about 65 to 70 inches off the floor, though there are times when Yarnell puts them higher: “On a staircase, set the fixture well above shoulder height to avoid knocking into it,” he says. In rooms with high ceilings, cheat them up a bit to match the proportions of the room.
The Cost of Sconces
Sconce lighting comes in hundreds of styles, shapes, and finishes, and costs between $50 and $300 per sconce. Make sure you choose fixtures that are UL listed (meaning they’ve been laboratory tested for safety).
Installation of hard-wired sconces is not a do-it-yourself task. You’ll pay an electrician about $300 to $400 to hard-wire a pair of sconces into your home’s electrical circuits and add a wall switch.
If the installation requires cutting open drywall, add another $250 to $500 for drywall repairs and painting.