What is a Sconce?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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A sconce is a kind of light fixture which attaches directly to a wall instead of hanging from the ceiling or supporting itself with its own base. In fact, the only support for a sconce is the wall to which it is attached. Sconce light fixtures usually have closed bottoms and direct light upwards toward the ceiling. However, there are also some sconces that direct light in the opposite direction, down to the floor. Furthermore, there are some sconces that are open on both ends and allow light to flow up to the ceiling as well as down to the floor.

The design of sconces is an ancient one. In fact, sconces hark back to some of the very first forms of interior lighting: fire torches that were affixed to interior walls of stately homes, castles, and public buildings. Sconces have been updated over the centuries according to the developments of technology and the changes in modern interior spaces. Torch sconces were replaced by oil and gas lamps which were affixed to walls in a similar manner. Finally, we now have electric sconces. In many buildings that are over one hundred years old, it is possible to find defunct gas sconce fixtures that are still in place.


In modern interior design, electric sconces are often placed in hallways and corridors or in large event rooms such as ball rooms and conference rooms. Sconces are often used to highlight a point of interest on a wall, such as a piece of artwork or a plaque. In this manners, sconces are often used in museums, historical locations, and other places of interest to direct the attention of visitors to specific items.

Sconces are usually placed three-quarters of the way up on the wall between the floor and the ceiling. In general, they should be placed either at eye level or above. In the instance of rooms with unusually tall ceilings, sconces may be placed many feet above the head of an adult of average height. The placement of a sconce, of course, also depends on the orientation of its light.

The instructions above for the placement of a sconce is intended for the most traditional kind of sconces: those that direct light up to the ceiling. However, the rule is not the same for sconces that direct light downward. In some theaters, sconces that direct light downward are used to light the path between seats while the rest of the theater has been darkened for a performance. Such sconces are often as low as ankle level.


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Post 4

I like using a candle sconce when the power goes out or when I have company over. These sconces hold the candles inside so that nothing will catch on fire, but they are dimmer than most light bulb sconces.

I have a couple of candle sconces with decorative backings. One is a series of hoops with the actual sconce projecting from the wall. It is a piece of cylindrical glass that goes around the candle.

I also have a few teardrop shaped sconces. They look like the shape of the actual flame from the candle.

Post 3

A rustic sconce is great in a cabin or lodge. My uncle has a cabin in the woods, and he has several rustic sconces in there.

Some of them have pine cone and leaf shapes encircling the fixture, while others stand upon antlers or tree branches. One looks like a giant piece of bark with the shape of a tree carved into it, and it is illuminated by the light within the sconce.

Post 2

I love my friend's contemporary wall sconce. It looks more like a sculpted work of art than a light fixture!

She took me shopping at the lighting store where she bought it, and I was amazed at the variety of sconces they had available. I even saw some in the shape of sea creatures that were made from blown glass.

My new house is being built right now, and I want to use sconces for lighting in the hallway, the bedrooms, and the living room. I will just use regular fixtures for the bathroom and the kitchen, since they are more about function than appearance.

Post 1

I've seen some really beautiful glass sconces hanging on the walls of places like banks and libraries. They look so elegant, and they mute the light to give the room a quiet, peaceful atmosphere.

One row of glass sconces in the library are made to look like detailed lily blossoms. The glass petals rise up from the base and spill over at the edges. The light shines up from inside the sconce.

I really love the tranquility that sconces bring to a room. If I didn't need a lot of light at my office, I would get sconces there to set a calming mood, but I really need a lot of illumination to see what I'm doing.

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