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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. couldbeveronica says:

    Sara, I second your motion about the eyeball lights! We had them in the house my parents built when I was 2 or 3–circa 1971–and they cast a gorgeous glow on the floor to ceiling brick hearth wall of the oversized fireplace in our “softly” colonial living room–moss green slighty sculpted wool carpet and med brown stained mouldings; beautiful brown, gold and green floral floor-length draperies; white walls; muted red bricks. The effect of these lights is much different from canned lights or even modern recessed lighting–the eyeballs are unobtrusive, but sort of funky and elegance if you do actually notice them.

    Pam–if you could find a vintage set of these, I think they would be a very natural update that an owner would have made to your house in the early 70’s. And by all means go for some sconces as well.

  2. couldbeveronica says:

    Okay, I meant “funky and elegant” not “elegance”–but funk and elegance are a rare and golden combination!

  3. Elaine says:

    I have two eyeball lights above my fireplace, I agree, they work great to lighten the space.

    For sconces, I favor the walls next to the fireplace for esthetic reasons, but agree the light would be better if they were on the fireplace wall. I think you would choose different sconces, depending on the placement.

  4. Elaine says:

    Eyeball lights are a little different than can lights, we have both in our beamed ceiling (1964 colonial). The eyeball lights are on each side over the center of the huge fieldstone fireplace and appear to showcase the fireplace, as well as light the room. They can be refocused in other directions. There are two can lights on each side of the room, on the other side of the beams flanking the fireplace. They are original to the 1964 house, and I am used to them so they look fine to me.

  5. Lauryn says:

    May have been expensive, but it seems like it was worth it. They are really, really lovely!

  6. Lynn-O-Matic says:

    Hi, Tami–No, although I’m a Santa Barbara native I live in Montana. Would love to come to the Bay Area sometime for the new modernism show. Mission to modern–that just about covers it for me! Where are you?

    I’ve looked at that eBay vendor’s stuff many times. I know one reason his prices are high is that he restores and rewires everything. But frankly I prefer the patina on my fixture to the shiny brass on his. Or maybe I’m just cheap and lazy!

  7. Corraun says:

    If your house is victorian period it should go on the front wall. That is traditional for that era. If your house is 1930’s era English Tudor) it should also go on the front. If your house is 1940’s and has an outlet built into the mantel it should again go on the front. I don’t know about the 1950’s or 1960’s era. And of course if you’re following your aesthetic and not tradition that it doesn’t really matter.

    C.Bourne

  8. 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.

  9. TappanTrailerTami says:

    LOL Lynn – hey, cheap and lazy works for me too! I’m in San Jose, so I went to the Deco/Modernism show in San Francisco this year, swooned over LOTS of stuff including the 6 foot long chrome Art Deco toy train…oh my…$9500 and then there was the $8500 1940’s curved floor model giant fishtank with chrome trim.

    I’m originally from Washington, so used to be closer to Montana! Give me a shout if you pass through here someday……we could go get in trouble easily enough.

  10. 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.

  11. Lynn-O-Matic says:

    I used to live in Seattle and go back as often as I can. I have family strewn from San Jose to Hayward to Santa Rosa. I will definitely come to the SF modernism show sooner or later to swoon. I assume most stuff would be out of my price range. It would be so fun to hook up with you!

  12. bux1234567 says:

    Yep, I’m a commercial/contract designer who shares your enthusiasm for mid-century modest/post-War housing.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

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