How to place lamps on a buffet or console

Linda Merrill Formal Historical sideboard with symetrical lamps how to place lamps

I think accessorizing is one of the hardest pieces of the decorating puzzle – it pulls the space together, it tells the story. Too little and the room looks like a furniture store, too much and it can slide into horderville and obscures the beautiful furniture and finishes.

When it comes to how to place lamps we’re talking both function and form. And form and function need to play nice together to work.

Traditional design, such as the rendering above, is very symmetrical – classic sideboard with mirror, flanked by two tall thin lamps. Historically, these lamps would have been candelabra and the more the merrier. The thin lines of the legs on the sideboard are mimicked by the thin lamp bases.

Of course, times, they do change…

Linda Merrill modern formal sideboard with lamps how to place lamps

In today’s homes there may or may not be a formal dining room but there may be a foyer or breakfast room. An inherited family heirloom may work well with fresher more modern furnishings and bring a level of classic patina to a space. In this case, I think retaining a little tradition feels right. Still symmetrical with tall thin lamps, but a fresher overall feel. Symmetry and balance do read very classic and traditional.

Linda Merrill modern sideboard with single lamp how to place lamps

Moving into a more modern or transitional space we may want to move into a more balanced asymmetrical look. The large art work is slightly off center to and  the stunning sculptural lamp placed to the side. Functionally, we’re more likely to have recessed lights for a more balanced level of ambient light and we can place lamps with form taking precedence over function.

Linda Merrill modern sideboard with double directional lamp how to place lamps

Of course, centered and balanced is fine, but is maybe a little bit boring. I also wanted to point out that not all lamps can be turned into pairs. The vintage French sculptural lamp I’m showing has a clear “direction” and putting two together just does not work. The point of a symmetrical balance is just that – balance. This looks like lamps on parade.

Linda Merrill modern sideboard with oppositional lamp pair how to place lamps

If this vintage lamp came as a “set” they would be mirrors of each other. I still prefer the more asymmetrical placement above for this scenario. Don’t be afraid to shake thing up – even if it’s just a shift to the side.

Linda Merrill Coastal Casual Living Room sideboard lamp how to place lamps

This is my modern coastal casual project. We have a few spots to place lamps – the sideboard in the living room, the mirrored chest flanking the fireplace and the console in the front hall. The sideboard is quite tall – 60IN W x 41IN H x 15D. We could do two taller lamps on this sideboard, but we don’t need the ambient light. Since this is intended for entertaining, a single task light that’s also pretty will work well. Plus – we need the room for wine and appetizers!

Linda Merrill design photographed by Michael J Lee faux bois sideboard with lamp how to place lamps
Design styling by Linda Merrill. | Photography by Michael J. Lee

This is a pretty vignette I created several years ago. It’s cut off a bit, but the lamp in this case was centered on the amazing faux bois table with the large art piece centered behind the table and chair to pull the vignette together.



Thibaut console with lamps how to place lamps

And finally, this one is a little bit of a “don’t” for me. It’s a pretty image showcases Thibaut Fabric’s Travelers Palm pattern. For me, this small console is a bit overwhelmed by the two chunky lamps with shades.

Final tips on how to place lamps on consoles or sideboards:

  • Traditional: balanced and symmetrical – creates a pleasing “whole” without necessarily calling out individual details.
  • Modern/Contemporary: asymmetry provides tension and the ability to focus the eye on specific details.
  • Modern/Contemporary:  can be symmetrical, but don’t overwhelm a smaller base piece.
Pin for Future Reference.

Linda Merrill How to place lamps pin


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9 thoughts on “How to place lamps on a buffet or console”

  1. I totally agree that the details are where the room’s story comes together! These are great examples, personally, I go for the asymmetrical look too. It feels more casual.

  2. Thank You for this post, Linda. I am struggling with my buffet lamps on a traditional mahogany buffet. I want more of a classic, but fun feel in this dining room. I also have a ‘matching’ round table and Hepplewhite chairs that I would like to reupholster. Any tips that you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Thanks for the helpful tips and renderings they illustrate your points, Linda.

    After looking at all of these, I prefer the asymmetrical look as it feels more like *me*, but I can appreciate the calm sense of order that perfect symmetry brings, too.


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