Living room lighting — No to sconces… now to research recessed lighting

How to add more light to my long, wide, tall living room? Sconces? Alas, after (1) reading all your thoughts and ideas when I wrote my first story about this new project here at the ranch… and after (2) getting these extremely useful mockups from reader Chase… and after (3) experimenting by digging out some really narrow boudoir lamps from the attic, and plugging them in on the mantle to see how the light would shine….

…DH and I have decided that whether you place sconces on the setback wall (first photo), or on the face of the mantel wall itself (above)… sconces will look *not quite right*… kind of crowded… and most importantly, won’t throw enough light anyway. I hope you can follow this. The triangulation of decision-making is torturous, as forewarned. Truly, all the comments that readers provided were really helpful in terms of raising even more options for me to consider — thank you!

As mentioned, reader Chase gets mega thanks for offering to use Powerpoint to show how some of my possible sconce options might look. Wow, this was so helpful! For example, my current “top choice” new (vs. vintage) had been the Visual Comfort Boston Loop Arm Wall Sconce. It had a look I liked — colonial style like the living room… The hand-rubbed antique brass finish was right… The glass matches the modern-milk glass detail on our vintage Stiffel table lamps on the side tables across the room… I liked the glass because I thought it would allow for more light than a shade… It took a Type-A (regular) light bulb, which delivers more light than a candelabra bulb… And the quality hand-feel of the Visual Comfort pieces I saw at my local lighting store was superb. See how many “reasons” there are to choose one light fixture versus the next? It’s exhausting, isn’t it?! I still really like this light. Even so, like I said, we’re setting the sconce idea aside for now.
So what are the next steps in my project to get more lighting into the living room? –>

We are setting aside the sconce option for now and instead — based on suggestions from reader comments — we are going to explore pinlight recessed lights in front of the mantel. Over by the big window (shown back in story #1), we’re going to try side tables with table lamps for now. (I’ll come back to this part of the project later.) Continue on for more of Chase’s mockups, along with some of the sconces that I had been considering — it’s still fun to show them.

I also really like the idea of these classic Library Sconces from Visual Comfort. Actually, I think these look pretty nice in the mockups — the tall, narrow works. On the setback wall (very first photo in this story), though, they look kinda scrunched in — we need just a few more inches to the right to get the proportions right… moreover, there, they would cast a shadow — I could see this when I placed tall narrow boudoir lamps up there to get the effect of how the light would shine. On the mantel wall, they look okay, but fundamentally, the concern is that they would not throw enough light anyway.

A sconce with two candle bulbs to get more light? Good idea *theoretically* but Ack! No, in *reality*! We have these House of Troy sconces in our basement man cave, in the dark bronze finish. We love them there — and there’s that benefit that there are two candle bulbs. But they are way too too here on the mantel wall. Ack!

Stay tuned. Research on pinlight can lights is next. Lord help me, I’m pooped on this project already.


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  1. Jay says

    Good Luck Pam! The starburst mirror looks nice and is a contemporary contrast to the traditional dentil molding at the ceiling – dramatic and uncluttered. I think you made a great decision with the pin lights.

    • pam kueber says

      Thank you — and there’s a good story. I got the pair for $180 at an employee auction held by a company I was working for to raise money for the Salvation Army. They had been in someone’s office… but in storage unused for a while. They are not Herman Miller but for $90 each, I am not complaining!

      • Allen says

        Please forgive me for being picky but Herman Miller never made the Barcelona Chair. Drexel originally produced it with Knoll acquiring the rights for the chair and the name “Barcelona” in about 1965. Knoll continues to manufacture the licensed version today. Just wanted the record set straight. Thanks!

  2. Marta says

    It sounds odd, I know, but have you considered warm white LED rope lights? You can run them along the beam/ceiling seam and hide them with a suitably sized piece of molding placed beneath, and stained/painted to match. It will give you the look of tray-ceiling recessed lighting, washing the ceiling with invisible source light which greatly increases the room’s ambient light.

    I first saw a tray ceiling with recessed lighting as a teen, in the home of a boyfriend whose parents had built the house in the early 60’s. The effect was lovely, and I’m sure it was achieved by a complicated system of recessed cans, as rope lighting was not even a glimmer in an electrician’s mind then.

    Although still on the expensive side, LED’s cost essentially nothing to run, can be put on a dimmer so you can adjust the light according to mood or need, and can be linked together for a combined run much longer than you would need. The heat gain is essentially nil, unlike most recessed lighting, with the power draw so small you needn’t be concerned about over-taxing your electrical circuits.

    If your ceiling has a series of squares, you can run the ropes inside, and connect each square via the easily disguised white wires. You could even split the system so that the dining and living halves of the room are on separate dimmers.

    If you want to get an idea of the effect, use painter’s tape to stick some white Christmas lights in the approximate spot, and run some wide light painter’s tape under the bottom so you get the effect of the rope being hidden. A major benifit of LED ropes is that they’re as DIY friendly as it gets from an electrical standpoint. I did find an example of something similar in a picture here:

  3. says

    This is probably why a former owner put track lights in our house. Most likely not a choice I would have made, but something I can live with. We changed out the big gold lights they had put in for small black ones. At least I can see to cook after dark!

  4. Marion Powell says

    I have recessed light over my fireplace. Thay really light up the mantle and throw a good amount of light into the room even though they are pointed towards the wall. Your mirror will reflect back light also.

    My house is much newer than most on this blog so I can’t comment on the appropriateness of these light in your setting. But I will say I light the idea better than sconces on the back wall. And on the mantle wall that tale away from your great mirror.

    Btw, I love this type post where different choices are examined and even shown (thanks, Chase).

    • Elaine says

      That’s what I have, too, from 1964 in my dark beamed ceiling family room. The two above the mantel are like eyeballs with the eyelids and you can rotate them to go more to the wall or more to the floor, or to the sides.

  5. bex says

    Personally, I am not a fan of recessed lighting in the living room. I always feel like there’s a spotlight on me and slightly blinded. I prefer lamps and wall sconces which to me feel “warmer”. Although, recessed lighting above the mantle – I could work with that!

      • Marta says

        I have two recessed 8inch can lights above my fireplace wall (10ft wide stacked granite floor to ceiling with full width 16inch raised hearth). They are what I believe is called ‘eyebrow’ lights, and you can aim them to shine where you want. They’re on a dimmer, and are original to the house (1967).

        I think they are at best unattractive, and at worst downright ugly, but they give out nice pools of light which can be aimed outward at a seating arrangement, or inward towards the fireplace. To be honest, I doubt many people actually notice the cans, and anyway, new technology allows you to do the same thing with much smaller, less obtrusive lights that would not take away from the lovely arrangement of your fireplace wall.

  6. says

    i LOVE that second mock up! i think it’s period/house appropriate and helps make statement with your fireplace.

    i am firmly pro-modern amenity in my retro renovations (i admit to recessed lighting in my laundry room), but i think you might sacrificing some charm.

    • lara jane says

      I agree! The second mock-up is perfect! The lights are dainty and the milk glass is sweet!

      They’d look pretty fab flanking the window, too!

  7. Just another Pam says

    Maybe something like a teak swing arm lamp could work if you find you don’t care for recessed lighting? Maybe over by the window? They would go well with the chairs. Gosh golly gee ;o), this is hard……

    I found the one’s here quickly as I follow Doug and his wife follows you….we’ve chatted about how wonderful you and your site are waiting for an estate sale to open where she got all the stuff I wanted as I wasn’t allowed anything that big….pout sulk….

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Just Another, Yes, I’ve thought of that and Ron even has one in his store. But… I don’t think that’s quite right. Thanks for the idea, though!

  8. Andi says

    I love your living room! Have you thought of (and do you have room for) pole lamps? I have a dark living room as well and we put two vintage 1940s fabulous pole lights in there (re-wired for safety), and the difference is amazing. They have the giant light bulbs (“mogul”) plus auxiliary “candle” type lights around that, which can be turned on separately or together. The light is softened by a white milk glass “cone” fitted over the bulb, and filtered by original cream-colored silk shades. They work beautifully to brighten up the room and make reading possible in the chairs they are behind. Plus, I love them. We were lucky to get them from a neighbor’s estate for a song.
    Pole lamps come in so many styles that I can’t imagine something wouldn’t be perfect for your space.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Andi, Yes! I am thinking of just this sort of lights — or a pair for over by the big window. Just the kind you are describing!

      • TappanTrailerTami says

        Hi Jay,

        Mogul base bulbs are NOT extinct…..yet. I was super worried (having 4 mogul base bulb floor lamps in the house) that they would be banned as part of the incandescent light bulb ban. I thought I was going to have to stock up on 30 years worth of light bulbs!

        After doing some research though, most mogul base bulbs are a 3 way bulb (100/200/300 watt), and 3 way incandescent bulbs are considered to be a “specialty” bulb and are therefore exempt from the ban. I just bought 3 more 3 way Mogul bulbs at Lowe’s the other day.

        The one thing I would recommend to everyone using antique light fixtures or lamps: it is not good enough to *just* rewire your lamps/fixtures. Make absolutely sure you also replace (or have replaced) the cardboard insulator sleeves in the sockets. These sleeves after 40+ years become extra dry/crisp/brittle and are a fire hazard, probably even more so if you are using high wattage bulbs such as Mogul bulbs.

        • pam kueber says

          Thanks, T3, for the tips. Readers: Consult with a licensed professional about how to rewire and refurbish your vintage lighting!

          • TappanTrailerTami says

            Hi Pam – y/w on the safety tip. Since it appears you might be considering a pair of 6 way pole floor lamps down at the window end (LOVE!), I found this Stiffel lamp on, for a really great price at $110. It also has a remote dimmer control (you won’t get that with vintage lamps). It has really great reviews also. It is also a very classic style without being over-done, I think very much in keeping with your house style and decor.

            It is inexpensive enough that if you aren’t crazy about the shade, you can get better silk shades and still not go to the poor farm. I think I paid $125 each for the shades I just bought for my pair of vintage Rembrandt floor lamps.

            Sometimes the problem with vintage is A) you have to have it rewired, and B) you probably have to do a new shade, and C) if you have to have a matching pair – you can kiss $400 – $800 goodbye just buying the lamps – no shades or rewiring done yet, and then there is the interminable wait to find the right pair at the right price!

            These new Stiffel lamps could accomplish the same goal for a lot less than vintage if you keep the existing shades, or – maybe you’d be in for about $450 total with new silk shades if you buy two, which would be at the lower end of rehabbing vintage lamps. No rewiring needed also, just plug in and enjoy.

            Take a look:


            More reviews on this lamp (or really similar) here:


            • TappanTrailerTami says

              Pam – another note for you re: vintage 6 way floor lamps. Since they are such a common design of the 40’s you can get by a lot less expensively if they don’t exactly match each other.

              But since your Baker loveseats exactly match, then I think (just my opinion), that if you go to floor lamps on each side of the window, they too should exactly match each other. In the realm of vintage matching pairs of 6 way floor lamps, they are VERY hard to come by….most of the matching pairs out there in vintage land will be torchiere style like I posted in the original thread on your fireplace – no fabric shade, and no extra 3 candle lights.

              I’m very fortunate that my mom gave me her pair of 6 way Rembrandts …and in the last 20 years I can count one one hand how many times I’ve come across matching pairs of 6 way floor lamps (vs. torchieres….much more common in pairs, still spendy though!), and I think that is why they command such a HUGE price when they are found.

            • pam kueber says

              I like them — and at that price, wow. However: Out of stock. I was seriously going to buy two just to get this over with. Now, I’ll wait to see if they get restocked at that price… And meanwhile, start keeping my eyes open for vintage — I’m pretty lucky that way, once I start looking, I see…

              • TappanTrailerTami says

                Oh, crap! I didn’t even notice the out of stock message, I am sorry! I looked around and the price was regularly about $360-$400 for those. I’ll keep trying to locate for you also!

          • TappanTrailerTami says

            Hi Pam! Just came across these in my eBay travels, and I’m breaking my own rule – there is a pair from the seller, but on separate auctions. I don’t think they will go terribly high at all….they are starting at $9.99 each.

            I kind of think these would be a good solution on the mantle, without resorting to “canned” ceiling lights, or having to wire in sconces. These would spot light your mirror really nicely without crowding it – they are relatively small and pretty simple, they are vintage (yay!), and I think I like the fact that they are orbs which would echo the mirror being round. They need some rehab (repaint/rewire), but I’m sure you’re up to the task.


  9. TappanTrailerTami says

    Oh, Pam, I love that you “torture” yourself and all of us with your potential design ideas! This has been a very fun exercise, and I really LOVE the Boston Loops sconce…….even if you don’t use it!

    Have fun deciding what to do!

  10. lynda davis says

    I think the sparkly little ceiling lights will highlight the museum quality of a vintage home! The room will look lovely and you won’t even realize the light is coming from the ceiling.

  11. PJ Fedora says

    Pam, my fireplace mantel has two duplex outlets in the top of the mantel (it came that way). You could have yout mantel wired that way (check local codes…you could also use commercial outet covers used in floors in businesses) and then use a variety of buffet lamps on your mantel as your mood strikes. The outlets also come in handy for holiday lights. Hope this helps. Paul

  12. Jeanne says

    Why not do those sconces on the window wall, and recessed above the mantle? That Boston Loop sconce is a beauty.

  13. JKaye says

    I think the reason the sconces don’t work hanging next to the sunburst is that it results in too many things floating around up there that have a similar density or heft. While the sunburst takes up a lot of space, it is rather airy. It just doesn’t have enough bulk or density to “carry” the two sconces. If you had a framed painting there, or a big mirror, sconces on either side might work because there would be enough bulk there to support them.

    But the sunburst looks so perfect there, that it would be a shame to move it just to get sconces. Perhaps you could consider placing lamps on the mantle in the same locations as the two vases in the first photo? If they rest on the mantle, they would have a foundation, and not look like they are floating around. Also, their placement below the sunburst would allow the sunburst to be the true focal point.

  14. Lynn-O-Matic says

    Pam, I can definitely see why you’d hesitate to crowd your cute sunburst mirror. Overcrowding aside, depending on where you’re trying to get the light to fall, don’t underestimate how much light two sconces can give. We have these sconces from Rejuvenation in the corner where our piano is:, except in a bronze finish with amber shades. It is a corner, so they’re at the two ends of an L rather than on the same wall, but they provide enough light to read or play piano (although I usually turn more lights on). I think one reason is that they direct light up to reflect off the ceiling, as well as sending light in all other directions. The cute Boston Loop scones above would provide less light with the same size bulbs because of their design. But they would still make nice accents and add to the overall glow and ambiance.

    Also, just to clarify, when I hear “pole lamp” I think tension lamp–one that reaches from floor to ceiling. What some people seem to be calling pole lamps here are what I could call floor lamps. Is this a regional thing?

    • TappanTrailerTami says

      Lynn – not sure if “pole” vs. “floor” is regional or not….but I’m in your camp, “pole” is the floor to ceiling tension lamps, and floor lamps can be:

      A) 6 way 40’s style w/ fabric shade…B) torchiere….C) bridge floor lamp D) goose-neck or goose-arm or swing-arm floor lamp….there’s probably more, I just can’t remember right now!

  15. IMissLiberty says

    I love my Solatubes. They provide great light when the sun is shining, and you can get them with a light bulb inside as an option. I used them in my mid-century ranch thinking they look very modern. In fact, the light is so good that last week, when the power was off for 12 hours, the full moon light coming through the Solatubes in my hallway was enough to navigate by.

    The advantage here is that they would not compete with the decor.

  16. Karen says

    This is lighting too awesome not to share. I can’t copy the website with my computer, but look under “Vintage 1960’s Lucite Spaghetti 4 Light Ball Lamp” on ebay.

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