Sconces – where to hang, why they’re great

I love a great sconce. They are all the things – decorative, functional, practical. They add sparkle and light up a space. But, to be functional, they have to be hung at the right height.

Linda Merrill design Michael J Lee photo New Hampshire farmhouse kitchen body type Sconce
Linda Merrill, design | Michael J. Lee, photographer

While working on this New Hampshire farmhouse project, I received an urgent email from my client. For background, their contractor was already hired when they called me in to help with the decorative and design aspects of the project – so I wasn’t managing the trades. My client was in India on business when the electrician was at the house and they were hanging the sconces. Even though I’d provided instructions for placement of these beautiful Hubbardton Forge sconces on the windows over the banquette, they hadn’t heeded them and had drilled the holes much higher up on the window frames. The point, aside from nice ambient lighting, was to provide more light for reading or games playing at that end of the room. The contractors had emailed my client a photo of the first sconce installed which she forwarded to me asking if I thought this was wrong.  Um, yes! Can you imagine how they’d look if they’d been 10″ higher? Awful. So, they had to patch the holes and hang them correctly.

My rule of thumb is that the starting point for sconces should be roughly eye level for an average height person, or about 5’6″ off the ground. And then tweaked for the specific space and functional needs.

New Hampshire bathroom white marble scones
Linda Merrill design | Michael J. Lee Photography.

In the same New Hampshire project, I’d specified these fantastic chrome sconces (can’t remember the brand) to be mounted on the mirror. While they are quite blingy, they also need to be highly functional for a bathroom. A sconce on either side of the vanity provides the most balanced light, especially in a bathroom that has no windows as is this case.


Linda Merrill Bathroom Les Touches Walls and Windows Boston picture sconce
Linda Merrill design and photography

In the case of the above powder room, there was no room for a pair of sconces to flank the sink even with a smaller mirror. In this case, a picture light hung above the mirror provide sufficient working light for the sink and mirror area.

Color of the Month Black and White Wilson Kelsey Design Michael J Lee Photo Black and White Bathroom Cowtan Tout Wallpaper sconce
Wilson Kelsey Design | Michael J Lee Photography

For this sweet powder room designed by my friends at Wilson Kelsey Design, they opted for one double sconce in the middle of the wall washing lighting down the fabulous wallpaper. In a small powder room, “working light” isn’t as necessary, much like my bathroom above with the dotty black and white wallpaper. Speaking of wallpaper, this topiary/tree wallpaper in the Wilson Kelsey bathroom was one of the contenders for my New Hampshire Farmhouse bathroom above. I just loooove this pattern.


Behr Color of the Year 2023 Blank Canvas bathroom

From the Behr color of the year photography, we see three sconces flanking two mirrors. This works well because there’s sufficient space between and on either side of the mirrors for a pleasing spacing of lighting. If there was not sufficient width on the far left and right sides for the front facing placement of those sconces, I might suggest putting them on the side walls with the center sconce remaining where it is. This would still provide a nice even coverage of light. If the sidewalls literally flanked the mirrors (much like my black and white bathroom above) then lighting over the mirrors with the central sconce would work well too.

South End living room design by Linda Merrill French sconces flanking the fireplace
Linda Merrill design | Michael J. Lee Photography

In this project in the South End of Boston, I installed a pair of antique French crystal and bronze double sconces on either side of my client’s art over the mantle. Classic placement!


2 thoughts on “Sconces – where to hang, why they’re great”

  1. No backsplash for powder rooms guarantees the expensive wallpaper will need to be replaced too soon….big mistake, I think.


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