How to Choose Wall Lights

Whether you’re interested in ambient light, task light, or a simple accent, purchasing wall-mounted fixtures can be difficult—there are hundreds of designs and styles to sort through, as well as many hidden considerations.


Two wall-mounted pendants on either side of a brightly colored vanity

Adding a wall mounted light fixture to any hallway, room, porch or outdoor area can seriously brighten your scenery. These lights are particularly useful in rooms with low ceilings where the main light source won’t be a ceiling fixture. Whether you’re interested in ambient light, task light, or a simple accent, purchasing wall-mounted fixtures can be difficult—there are hundreds of designs and styles to sort through, as well as many hidden considerations. Read on to find out which type and style will best suit your home’s needs.

Choosing the Bright Light

Wall lights should complement any ceiling lights in the room as well as the architectural style and decorating of the home or space. Well-chosen wall lights can add lasting aesthetic value and also serve any functional needs you might ask of them. Choosing what type of light fixture will provide the most functional light is dependent upon your needs. Asses whether you want to set a mood, read a book, put together a model plane at your desk or simply see down the hallway at night and then choose a type from the many described below.

Sconces

A wall sconce usually refers to a fixture with one arm that extends from the wall to one bulb with a housing of glass, cloth, or porcelain, though more than one bulb can be used (in a sconce that has three prongs, for example). Sconces can be used as task or ambient light, depending on their position, shade type and bulb wattage.

Originally, wall sconces were designed to hold candles, then oil lamps and eventually gaslights. Some older models are still popular, especially candle sconces for their ambient light. Electrically operated candle sconces reinterpret the concept of a candle by using flame-shaped bulbs set on top of a long, candle-like stem.

Wall Brackets

Wall bracket light fixtures are very similar to sconces, but are more likely to have multiple sockets. Some sconces with three sockets will be referred to as brackets; the two are generally interchangeable.

Torchieres

Torchieres are also mounted against the wall, but unlike sconces, a torchiere positions the light source closer to the wall and feature shades that point upward, creating a different type of light. Because the light hits the ceiling and upper part of the wall rather than the floor, pay attention to what spaces in the room might remain concealed with this type of fixture.

Lanterns

Lanterns are often used for outdoor wall mount lighting, providing a traditionally elegant, welcoming appearance. When installed on the keyhole side of a door or near outdoor staircases, lanterns act as both task and security lights. A unique rustic look can be achieved by installing a lantern wall mount indoors.

Wall Lighting Styles

While some homeowners choose to accent their current room or home style with fixtures that match the rest of the décor, some go the opposite route, choosing fixtures that stand out. Knowing the lingo surrounding some popular style types is an important piece of understanding what fixture style will best fit your aesthetic tastes.

Arts and Crafts

The arts and crafts style features simple straight lines and natural materials, as well as handmade items of high quality craftsmanship. This style of light fixture will usually feature darker metals, like iron and bronze and strong geometric shapes. In contrast, the usually abstract and urban Art Deco style features either soft, curving or irregularly angular glass housings.

Bathroom with mounted lights and hanging pendants

Colonial

The colonial period was a time of simplicity and colonial style fixtures reflect that mentality, offering a sense of refinement and practicality. Consider the early years of America and the features they might have enjoyed—wall sconces are the most practical, meaning that most colonial style pieces will fall into that fixture type.

Green couch in concrete room with matching green apples and decor mounted light fixtures

Mission

Mission style refers to simple, plain lines and a sense of strength revealed in boxy shapes and warm coloring.

Victorian

Victorian style lighting is based on the old gas fixtures, featuring etched or opaque glass housings that face upward and ornate metalwork. The arms of Victorian light fixtures were designed to carry gas and are thicker than in other styles.

High arched ceiling with hanging chandelier and mounted candles

Bright Ideas

Because there are so many factors to consider when shopping for wall light fixtures, we’ve compiled some top concerns (aside from type and style) here.

Spacing/Location

For ambient lighting, wall fixtures should be places at least six feet from one another and installed at a height that will prevent glare. While this can vary from fixture to fixture, a general rule is that the bottom of the fixture should be 60 inches from the floor.

Size

While sizes vary greatly, you should consider the size of your room or space before choosing any lighting fixtures. Obviously, an oversize sconce won’t be appropriate in a narrow hallway and a miniature candle sconce probably won’t suffice outdoors. Choose based on the dimensions of the space you plan to place the fixture and how much coverage you need from the light itself, but beware that larger fixtures don’t always mean greater coverage; shading mechanisms and bulb wattage will affect coverage, as well.

Bedroom with hanging lights and mounted wall fixtures

Quality

Quality is a term that encompasses many details of the fixture you choose. A good quality fixture will be made of durable, rust-, water- and/or stain-resistant materials. It will offer stability in its mounting abilities and function properly. Some popular material choices include brass, bronze, iron, glass and plastic.

Bright multi-colored wall sconces on either side of a mirror

Controls

Wall lights usually are controlled by a remote switch or knob, rather than by a switch attached to the fixture. Consider placement of the control as well as ease of use. If you would like a dimmer switch for ambience or lower visibility (for example, in a hallway at night), knobs are generally preferred.

Mounted wall lamp with a swivel arm

Wall Lighting Costs

Wall light pricing varies greatly, depending on material, type, quality, style and manufacturer. While a simple frosted glass torchiere can cost as little as $50, a complex or ornate brushed nickel sconce might cost well over $200. In general, Victorian style wall fixtures are the most expensive (some cost over $1,000) depending on details and materials.

The Bottom Line

Wall lighting is perfect for any home with low ceilings or as a complement to rooms or spaces that require that extra illumination. Choosing between sconce and lantern is entirely preferential, as most of these lights function in the same manner. However, be sure to consider exactly what type of light you want and why you want it. If your goal is to read without any strain, a torchiere probably isn’t the best choice. Similarly, if you want ambiance, a wall bracket with six sockets for bright bulbs might not do the trick.