Wall sconces and how to place them around a fireplace?

placement of wall sconcesYeehaw! Dear Husband says that after 10 years of living in the house, he is still tired of our big living room being so dark at night, and can we please add some sconces in order to brighten things up. “Yeehaw,” because I get to do a project… and it’s been while, so I have the patience, desire and money to attack the issue. That said: I didn’t say I wouldn’t make it a torturous project. Starting with my  first torturous decision: Where to place the sconces flanking the fireplace — at the edge of the mantle, or on the main wall just beyond and in this case, set back a bit? What is the “right” answer? Is there a “right” answer?

Let me note, the living room and dining room in my 1951 colonial-ranch are one big open concept room, about 45′ long by 15′ wide. See those two round steps to the left of the Barcelona chair? Those are steps up to the dining room. There are a lot of windows, and the light is fabulous in the day time. But, the only built-in lighting fixture in the space is the chandelier in the dining room. The ceilings are quite high in the living room. And at night, when we closed the pinch pleat drapes, it’s very difficult to light the room with table lamps. We also have a pole lamp. I don’t really care if it’s darkish. But Dear Husband wants light. 10 years later, he still wants it. Okay.

We’ll put a pair of sconces flanking the fireplace, and another pair at the far end of the room flanking that window. That’s it, though. The rest of the space will use table lamps. I am concerned that any more sconces will make the room look like an airport runway. I’ll show a panorama of the space later, as I continue to ask your opinions as I eat my kishkas (sp?) out.

I rarely make decisions that involve calling in electricians, cutting holes in walls and carefully applied grasscloth and in general, mean “permanent” changes… easily. This project will likely involve scores of hours of research and much nail-biting and second guessing about not only the right style of sconce, but also how tall, how wide, how far out it will stick, the shade, the finish and of course, the cost. Already, excitedly, I have spent two hours with DH looking at vintage sconces online and kind of getting a general focus in place… then I went to the local lighting store and spent two hours looking at new lighting in catalogs… and then I came home and another three online again, looking at both new and vintage. Let the games begin.

placement of wall sconcesSo back to the question of the day — where to place the sconces that will flank the fireplace? Some key measurements: The fireplace and mantle are set on a wall that protrudes about 6″ from the main wall behind. Where you see the light switch by the door at the right, there’s about 10.5″ of wall space. The big decision:

Should I put the sconces on the main wall (outside arrows) or on the mantel wall?

What do you think, readers? Any “original” go-to examples in your homes?

Categoriesliving room
  1. kirsta says:

    I feel like this room has so much symmetry already in the placement of steps on either side of the fireplace, as well as the layout of furniture. I would go for A) something to offset the symmetry, B) overhead lighting, perhaps staggered potlights.

  2. Stacy says:

    Very late to these comments, but wanted to vote with Saundra on using the left wall only. I think it might look better if you weren’t going for symmetry. My first thought was a pair of small sconces would look great on the left, and nothing by the windows. I don’t know how much light it would add, but it would be pretty!

  3. Kate says:

    My first thought when reading your question regarding the mantle vs wall placement was “neither”. I vote for ceiling. One of the things I’ve noticed in beautiful, well designed homes is that they tend to have a combination of lighting. Up lights, down lights, and free standing (lamps, swags, torchiere, etc) are usually utilized. I think your mantle is beautiful and adding scones anywhere on that wall will detract from its impact and look cluttered. I’ve lived in a lot of different types of housing over the years and one thing I noticed was that overhead lighting is crucial. Crucial. After living in apartments built in the 1970’s and 1980’s which all lacked any sort of overhead lighting, I demanded overhead lights in the first house we bought. And then gladly donated half of the twenty lamps I had accumulated over the years. Good riddance.

    I think Bux was spot on in his/her advice that pin lights from the ceiling will best enhance that part of the room. I’d suggest strategically adding them to other locations in the room as well. Then you can accent with sconces on the far wall. Or maybe you won’t need them after the strategically placed overhead lights on dimmers are installed. Someone suggested an uplight from the plant as well. I think that would look fantastic.

    My grandparents had sconces in their living room on the fireplace bump out and they never put off enough light to to anything other than annoy and highlight the ceiling.

    You mentioned your hesitance over cutting holes in the grasscloth. I think that is your subconscious sending you a message.

    My grandparents had sconces in their living room on the fireplace bump out and they never put off enough light to to anything other than annoy and highlight the ceiling.

    Also, like others have mentioned, an experienced electrician would be able to tell you the best place to add the best lighting based on your specific needs and demands for that space. Maybe Chico from Candice Olsen’s show reads this blog.

  4. MEW says:

    I love your blog. But the answer I have for you, in my straightforward midwestern way, is: neither. I’d get a funky floor lamp to go with those great chairs. The mirror stands on its own. If I had a mantel and that cool mirror, I’d let it be. No vases, no sconces. If any objects, something low profile and metallic. If the starburst mirror goes somewhere else, like above a bed, then sconce away and find something else for the middle. Again, I greatly enjoy your blog! Have fun figuring out what makes you and hubby happy in this arrangement.

  5. Marta says:

    Late to this, I know, but you have some lovely artwork grouped around the room. Have you considered lighting that? Those bar-type downlights haven’t changed much over the years.

    Wires could easily run along and be disguised by the crown molding, and the drop to the lights hidden with cord covers, which, by the way, could themselves be covered with the grass cloth wall paper so that you would hardly notice them.

  6. Saundra A. says:

    Pam – are you set on a pair of lights by the fireplace? My experience with mid-century is limited to my grandparents home (’43-’61), so this might not fit what you have, but have you considered a single light on the left wall where you now have a grouping of pictures? The right fixture would complement your starburst mirror and balance visually with the mirror. It would also be easier to install, and with two sconces by the window would stay with the classic adage that odd numbers are more visually appeally. If you wanted the light more balanced, you could also install the tiny (about half dollar sized) recessed lights in the ceiling. Then you’d have the look and the light. Have fun whatever you pick!

  7. Susie O. says:

    I think on the fireplace rather than to the sides. I feel the lighting will be more effective that way. I also think the righthand sconce may look a tad awkward if mounted on the side wall. That is my opinion. 🙂 However, I would consider future art or decor you may want to hang in place of the starburst mirror eventually. Sconces may prohibit larger items…

  8. Robin S says:

    I vote fireplace wall – the light will flood room better without the wall edges to contend with. I also think that sconces are the next generation to what would have been gas lights or candles and the natural place for that type of light would have been mantlepiece wall. However, I think it is fine to have them flanking window as well – that would have been natural with gas/candle as well.

    I think that you could find some cool ones that complement the mirror.
    Good luck!

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