modern wall sconce

The Modern Wall Sconce: How to Make It Resonate With Your Design

Modern wall sconces are one of the most popular forms of lighting, and just like overhead lights or floor lamps, there are sconces to suit every design style.

If you want your home’s lighting to be functional, glamorous, and effective, you may consider incorporating the modern wall sconce into your home’s lighting layout.

Read on to learn everything there is to know about the wall lighting fixture that’s illuminated the endless potential of thought-out wall lighting.

What Are Wall Sconces?

At its core, a sconce is a lighting fixture supported by a wall. They were originally a form of classic antiquity, holding candles and torches in the years before the lightbulb was invented.

Although sconces typically direct light upwards, modern wall sconces point light in any and every direction. They take a classic lighting technique and update it to match sleek, contemporary interior design aesthetics.

Sconces vs. Wall Light

Often used interchangeably, there technically is a difference between a sconce and a wall light. A wall light (or wall lamp) has an uncovered light source, while sconces use various materials to cover it.

Today, lights are rarely categorized by this type of technical difference. Lighting designers can use them to divide a room by creating different atmospheres throughout the interior space, or they can combine them to build creative lighting features.

The Modern Wall Sconce

Modern wall sconces are often made from one type of material, two at most. They are known for their simple, trendy, and breathtaking designs, and stay on the cutting edge of fashionable lighting design by following all the latest lighting design trends.

Typically, modern wall sconces will be designed to fit into small spaces or to be statement lighting pieces that spark conversation and provide interest to the room. 

The Importance of Wall Lighting in Your Space

Layering light throughout your home requires thoughtful combinations of different lighting sources. Few lighting designs are complete without the added touch of at least one wall lighting fixture.

Sconces bring the following aspects into any room or exterior:

1. Depth

Sconces add a layer of depth to the lighting of your home, whether they’re inside or outside. 

Having multiple light sources in a room creates shadows that are more decorative than dark. Sconces are a subtle, intentional way to introduce more lighting fixtures without making it impossible to walk around your home without sunglasses.

Soft illumination on your exterior walls gives your home layers of interest after dark. Your home is your castle; wall sconces let you show it off!

2. Functional Light

Dark corners seldom look inviting. Wall sconces provide seamless sheets of light to your walls, brightening each room and keeping your home from feeling dingy and dim.

Wall sconces prevent dark dead zones around your house by providing soft illumination once the sun goes down. No more tripping over sprinklers or accidentally stepping into your new rose bush because your wall sconces spread functional light.

3. Decorative Flare

The design of your sconces can form part of the critical design features in each room. Old-fashioned brass sconces stop Victorian furniture from looking out of place. Modern and angular wall sconces, on the other hand, build a foundation of sharp edges for sleek modern furniture.

You can use picture lights to emphasize shimmer in abstract resin epoxy art pieces.

Exterior sconces can call attention to key features of your home’s architecture, such as arches or wall cutouts, or they can be features themselves.   

The Elements Of A Wall Sconce

Sconces are made with the following three elements: i) shades, ii) backplates, and iii) arms.

Lighting designers use these elements in different ways to produce unique sconce designs to match different aesthetics. Some use bold shades, statement arms, and understated backplates, while others skip the shade altogether to highlight an artsy backplate. 

To find the perfect wall sconce for your home, you need to understand how these elements work together to create hundreds of different styles. 


1. Sconce Shades

The element that makes the largest impact on the overall design, sconce shades surround the lightbulb and direct their flow of light. Shades are available in many materials, including:

  • Clear, frosted, or colored glass
  • Metal
  • Fabric
  • Ceramic
  • Plastic
  • Crystal details

Sconce shades change the amount of light the sconce gives off. 

Clear Glass Shades

Clear glass shades provide wide and bright light, making them perfect for bathrooms or dressing rooms. When placed next to mirrors, they provide even lighting across your face.

Stick to sleek dome glass sconces if you’re looking for a modern and contemporary style. When placing them, you want them slightly higher than eye level so the bulb doesn’t shine directly into your eyes.

Metal Shades

Metal shades prevent light from spreading throughout the whole room, so they work well in areas where you want strongly directed light.

Some metal sconce shades have cut-outs that send eye-catching shadows across the room. Children’s bedrooms could have sconces with cloud or star cut-outs while living rooms can dazzle with intricately patterned cut-outs.

Fabric Shades

Fabric sconce shades provide a subtle and soft light with gently directed output. This type of shade is good for ambiance lighting and prevents harsh shadows.

Since light is thrown upwards, downwards, and is softened around the room, fabric shades are ideal for spaces such as hallways, lounges, or stairways that need an unobtrusive glow.

To find the perfect sconce shade, try to match the main aesthetic of your room, or mimic an understated feature to bring cohesion into the overall look. This is the most striking feature of your sconce, so make sure to put enough thought into it.

2. Sconce Backplates

This is the element that connects the light fixture to the wall. Backplates can be anything from simple to extravagant. 

To fit the style of your space, decide what role the backplate needs to fill. Should it be unobtrusive and present only to attach the light to the wall? Or do you want it to make a dramatic design statement, too?

You can use unique shapes and bold accents on the backplate to take a simple sconce and transform it into the focal point of the room. The potential for customization is endless!

Backplates can be made from a variety of materials, ranging from traditional metals to unique and unexpected materials like painted porcelain and mosaic tiles. 

For a sleek and elegant feel, go for either a small backplate or one made of one material. Polished metals are a favorite for modern aesthetics!

If your interior feels a little dull, you can bring in color and texture with an unusual backplate.  

3. Sconce Arms

Sconce arms connect the light to the backplate and they change how far the light protrudes from the wall. Often, they have subtle features that reflect the design of the backplate or shade.

Not all sconces have arms, although this element can make the fixture versatile and flexible. Fixed arms are good for spaces that need consistent directed task lighting, while moveable arms are useful for spaces with multiple purposes and therefore differing lighting needs.

If you’re working in a small or high-traffic space, consider choosing armless sconces to keep the area streamlined and useable. Long sconce arms aren't obvious safety hazards, but the wrong space makes them more of a nuisance than a decoration!

Finding A Sconce For Your Space

To find the best sconce for your space, look at how these elements interact with each other. Then consider what purpose you want the sconce to fill: function, ambiance, or decoration?  Lighting fixtures can meet any combination of these three needs.

Do you need functional lighting in the dark corners of your study?

Do you need ambiance lighting in your bedroom instead of the harsh overhead lighting that stops you from relaxing and reading in bed?

Do you need decorative lighting to stop the walls in your hallway from being boring and flat?

Once you’ve determined what the sconce needs to contribute to the space, you can start looking at specifics.


Most lighting nowadays is dimmable, which is an important feature when you want to alter the atmosphere in a room. Dimming capabilities give you the flexibility of light intensity, letting you change the tone of the space throughout the day.

Will your sconces be the primary or secondary source of light in the room? This impacts the necessary brightness of the bulbs as well as the direction of light. Primary light sources that direct light downwards might not give you the light you need for a living room to be functional, but might work perfectly in a stairway.

If your area needs illuminating light, consider wall washing. Wall washing, or fill lighting, is a method used to brighten flat walls and evenly distribute light from the floor to the ceiling.

Modern wall sconces are often used for wall washing as their sleek design accommodates a smooth and seamless glow.

Size and Placement 

Sconces are a great lighting fixture because of their versatility. They are available in all sizes, from mini sconces that take up only 10 inches of wall space to oversized floor-to-ceiling sconces.

Your personal taste and design style largely determines what size fits best in each room. But, there are some rough guidelines that lighting experts use to narrow down the endless list of sconce options. 

When deciding what size sconce to get, the first thing to do is figure out the ideal fixture placement.

For this, there are two rules of thumb: i) sconces work best at eye level (around 5.5 to 6 feet from the floor), and ii) the bulb shouldn't be visible unless the scone shade is glass or the light has an exposed bulb. 

Sconces are typically mounted so that the light source is about 70 inches from the floor, or about 35 inches above a bedside table, vanity, or desk. 

Lighting a Hallway 

If multiple sconces are the primary light source in your hallway, you want to make sure you don't place them too close together. Without enough room surrounding them, they can make the hallway feel short and cluttered. 

Mount them roughly 7-10 feet apart at fixed distances. You can either mount them at the same height or stagger them to create visual interest.

Slimmer sconces work well in hallways because they don't protrude and get in the way of the walking space.  

Lighting Around a Mirror 

When in a bathroom or bedroom, you want the lighting around a mirror to be as even as possible. The closer to eye level you can get your sconces, the better! This placement limits harsh shadows on the face. 

For mirrors that are used purely as decoration or to visually widen a room, you can play around with their lighting. Here, you can use techniques similar to those for lighting artwork.

Lighting for Artwork    

If you are lighting a painting, a texture-rich wall tapestry, or even one of your home's architectural features, you can use sconces to highlight your favorite elements.  

Lights placed close to the piece of art create a feeling of intimacy as they draw you in for a closer look. Often design statements in themselves, you can find wall lighting that either mirrors or contradicts the artwork to add further interest to the area. 

If you're looking for a more casual way to illuminate your art, consider washing the wall with light. Wall washing provides seamless bright light across the wall, highlighting your art while lighting the rest of the room.  

Since natural light and halogen bulbs damage art over time, you want to invest in the correct type of lighting right from the start. Use LED bulbs since they are low heat and emit no UV light.


Uplighting adds drama and intrigue to any room. By directing light towards the ceiling, they brighten the entire space without shining directly into your eyes.

This type of lighting is a gorgeous addition to a room with a patterned designer ceiling or a false ceiling. 

When using sconces for uplighting, mount them between 10 and 20 inches from the ceiling. 

Lighting Stairwells 

You can use wall sconces to keep your family from tripping on the stairs. 

Place slim and understated sconces around 10 inches from the floor, making a smooth incline that follows the stairs.    


Backlighting is a simple form of mood lighting and is one of the best techniques to bring depth into any lighting design. You can use wall sconces as accent lighting and keep your home from looking flat or one-dimensional. 

Play around with the position of lighting fixtures to highlight different aspects of the room. 

Mount simple flush wall mounts behind a decorative wall, furniture, art piece, wall panels, headboards, or behind mirrors. In an instant, the room will be transformed and modernized. 

Types of Wall Sconces and Their Uses

There are several types of sconces, each designed with a specific purpose in mind. They lie on a scale from purely functional to art pieces in and of themselves.

Armed Sconce

Armed wall sconces are mounted on a fixed, often bendable, arm. Their design encourages movement and allows for constant customization of light.

Modern, graceful, and versatile, armed sconces work well in spaces where your lighting needs change from day to day. You can swivel it out the way as soon as you don’t need it!

Candle Sconce

Paying constant homage to their origins, candle sconces are a timeless addition to rooms of every design style.

These are the finishing touch in old-fashioned rooms, but they aren’t limited to classic design styles. The ambient glow of candlelight is easily modernized with sleek candle holders and sophisticated silhouettes.

This type of lighting is perfect for hallways or lounges, and they create an atmosphere of intimacy, relaxation, and romance in a way no other light form can!

Floodlight Sconce

As the name suggests, floodlight sconces provide a deluge of delicious light with a beam spread of up to 120 degrees.

Because of their intensity, they are most often used outdoors as functional light sources.

Flush Mount Sconce

This versatile type of lighting sits flush with the wall, making it perfect for smaller areas where space is in high demand.

They are used to seamlessly blend patches of light together to create an understated, but gorgeous glow.

Half-moon Sconce

Discreet and widely popular, half-moon sconces have a semi-circular shade that directs light upwards.

These work well in bedrooms and hallways by brightening the room without any harsh, exposed lightbulbs.

Lantern-type Wall Sconce

These lights are self-explanatory: they’re lanterns that hang from the wall.

This style is harder to modernize as lanterns have an inherently antique feel to them, but their design can be mimicked with streamlined elements.

Picture Lights

Picture lights are used to highlight portraits, paintings, or other pieces of wall art. There are many techniques for lighting artwork that differ depending on the medium and available space.

These lights add drama and intrigue while they illuminate your favorite artist or family portrait in a practical and stylish way.  

Recessed Light Sconce

Recessed light sconces are installed directly into the wall and provide seamless and subdued lighting to a space.

Understated and effective, recessed lighting can have beautiful decorative trims to add charm and excitement to the light.

Spotlight Sconce

Spotlights provide powerful beams of light and call attention to whatever they point at. Useful for desks or workplaces, spotlights must be three times brighter than the rest of the room's lighting to be effective.


One of the most unique sconce options, a wallchiere mimics a free-standing torchiere lamp while being supported from the wall. They have an upright, torch-like shape, and are known for being slender and tall.

They combine the aesthetics of vertical lighting with the convenience of a sconce.

The Features of Your Perfect Wall Sconce

While you're on the hunt for a sconce that matches your style and aesthetic, there are technical details that you should review as well. 

It's important to know what you want the sconce to do before you purchase anything. This ensures you end up with a fixture that fits your lifestyle and preferences. 

Hardwired vs Plug-in  

Plug-in sconces are a flexible lighting solution. You can easily unplug them and move them around your home if you decide to rearrange, redecorate, or renovate.

Simple to install (and uninstall), plug-in wall sconces are perfect for renters and homeowners who enjoy playing around with different designs in their homes.  

Hardwired sconces are designed to be permanent additions to the lighting design of your home. They require professional installation and can't be easily moved after being installed. But, they have no exposed wires and are permanently worked into your home's wiring system. 

If you go for hardwired sconces, make sure their design matches your style and their placement flows with the room layout. 

Pull Chains vs Switches 

The pull chain is an invaluable addition to any lighting fixture and effortlessly brings convenience and style together. They work well for bedside lighting or in a reading nook, as they are easy to grab hold of if you're standing, sitting, or lying down. 

Some fixtures make their pull chains a design feature by using unique materials or attaching eye-catching details to the end of the chain. 

Switches are sleek and timeless. Most modern interiors use switches for their lighting so that they don't distract from the rest of the decor. 

Transform Your Home With a Modern Wall Sconce 

There are countless wall sconce options to choose from for any aesthetic or design style. If you're looking to add depth to your lighting, bring functional light into spaces that just aren't working, or create a design statement, wall sconces are the fixture for you. 

Check out our blog for more lighting tips to elevate your home and add design flair to the areas you feel deserve it. 

Let's work together to bring your home to life with lighting! 

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