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 Ā 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. ButĀ 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. Jay says:

    Pam, follow your own advice and consult a pro – either an experienced decorator or an electician that knows a few things about lighting. You are going for secondary lighting not task lighting so that you don’t feel like you are in a cave at night. As others have noted, fireplace sconces traditionally are mounted over the mantel not on the sidewalls. You have a living room skewed towards traditional design whith the fireplace taking center stage with the ceiling beams symetrical to the mantel. There is not enough room to the right for placement because of the door. A good electician should be able to work in your attic to place ceiling downlights around the perimeter. Museums and galleries do this all the time to throw light onto art d’object and paintings without lighting the entire space. They are pinlights, not the big can lights you are probably thinking of. You could then forgo cluttering the walls with light fixtures. Oh what a beautiful fireplace, oh what a beautiful living room. maybe some more floor lamps. Have fun!

    1. pam kueber says:

      okay, maybe ‘pin lights’. i will make another trip to the lighting store. Ross there is very good. But: keep these comments coming, folks, this is REALLY helpful.

  2. Lauryn says:

    That’s a tough one. Visually, I think I’d like to see them on the sides, but I think Allen might be right about the light getting trapped in the corners. Not to take the easy way out, but I actually think either could work because your living room is GORGEOUS. Oh my, so gorgeous.

    I have to ask … are those vintage sofas or something available currently? Because I am in love, love, love with them!

    1. pam kueber says:

      The loveseats are vintage Baker. I bought them at an antiques show in Saline, Mich., about 15 years ago. They were pink damask… but shredded. I had them reupholstered 9 years ago, after we moved here. At the time, there were not great midcentury style fabrics available yet. My upholstery is kind of linen-weave-looking. It was expensive to buy and expensive to get done… Thank you for your kind comments, all.

  3. Chase says:

    Hi Pam, gorgeous room!

    I am caught between the two as well.

    I think that if you want your sconces to be center of attention and a focal point, you should put them above the mantle. This will showcase them. I also feel like they will throw the light a little better. You will probably want to find something a little lower but with an organic feel to decorate the mantle with; your current vase and branch setup is beautiful, but will be too tall with sconces in place.

    If you install sconces flanking the fireplace, I think you will wind up with pieces that blend into the background; nice if you don’t have anything super special, or if you have to purchase new sconces and aren’t really wanting to make them a showcase item. You will also be able to keep your vase and branch mantle decorations.

    Sorry for the poor photoshop, but here is what something might look like above your mantle:


    And Flanking your Mantle:


    Keep in mind that you will require sconces that are fairly narrow if you want to flank the fireplace, but if you place them above the mantle you will have more leeway with the width of the light.

    1. pam kueber says:

      WOW, Chase — can I show these mockups on the blog? They are really helpful! I don’t know how to do photoshop like this!

        1. Chase says:

          And, if you have a sconce in mind, I’d be glad to at least try to put it in the picture in place of the ones that are there.

    2. Just another Pam says:

      Awesome, Chase….you’ve got mad skills and a talent for taking the pain and suffering out of the situation.

    3. Marion Powell says:

      Wow, Chase! You are a brave man. Now everyone will be sending you pictures to photoshop for them. Ha,ha

      But while I’m here I’ll vote for sconces on the front mantle wall. More traditional. I think the left hand wall would odd with the sconce in the corner and even odder centered on the space.

      Good luck, Pam. Thanks for the homework.

  4. Just another Pam says:

    You could let DH choose as he gave the go ahead. Chortle….I know, I know, crazy talk!

    I lean towards the mantle wall. That said, if you choose the location first it will influence your choice of sconces and if you choose the sconces first it will influence your choice for location.

    Good luck, I want all the lighting and lamps all the time so this kind of commit causes blood to bead on my forehead.

  5. Martha says:

    There’s a nice photo of a room similar to yours with sconces above the fireplace on page 54 of the March issue of Better Homes and Gardens.

  6. Lynn-O-Matic says:

    After looking at dozens of pix of fireplace sconces I would say that you can’t go wrong either way, Pam. It looks good both ways. I would just make sure that you choose fixtures that cast plenty of light up (to bounce off the ceiling), down, and outward. E.g., ones in the style of the wheat sconces Tappan Trailer Tami linked to would do that, and also would fit very nicely on either side of the fireplace if you decide to put the sconces there.

    As far as losing too much light in the corners with a side placement, I don’t think you’d lose much since the projection is only six inches and any fixture you chose would probably project at least four inches. And even if you did lose a little, it can look very dramatic and turn your fireplace into more of a feature, and you can still have plenty of light: http://www.houzz.com/photos/77551/Living-room-contemporary-living-room-toronto

    I second those who’ve suggested skipping the sconces flanking the windows. I think four sconces in one modest-sized room is too many (and believe me, I have a HUGE fetish for light fixtures and lamps, so I don’t often counsel less rather than more!). My first choice would be swags in the corners. The light would bounce off both walls and the ceiling and reflect back into the room. No wiring required, and you can change them if you find lights you like even more. I think they could fit in without moving your plants or interfering with your current decor.

    Can’t wait to see pix of the finished project. Oooh, shopping for vintage light fixtures. I envy you!!!

    1. TappanTrailerTami says:

      Hahaha! Lynn – you and I would get along great. I could spend my WHOLE life shopping for antique/vintage light fixtures, lamps, etc. Anything that takes a light bulb. It is my number 1 vintage fetish, LOL.

      After I posted the Rembrandt torchieres for Pam, I totally caught myself trying to find a place to fit them into my own house. Shame shame. I need one more light like a hole in the head. But really, is 7 floor lamps too many?

      1. Lynn-O-Matic says:

        Ha ha, Tami! I have no problem with seven floor lamps. Can you ever really have too much lighting? That’s why I surprised myself telling Pam to maybe rethink the four sconces!

        I actually have that same Markel chandelier you posted, but with a different shade–it has green & orange flowers. You’ve probably seen it. I paid considerably less than that listing. It is gorgeous. Yes, I can and have spent entire days combing eBay and/or Etsy for lights. You and I could have a lot of fun light shopping together!

        1. TappanTrailerTami says:

          Lynn – that’s too funny about the Markel light being in your house! I have very similar sconces, but mine have yellow and pink roses on them with a chrome back plate, and I have a flush mount ceiling fixture with the matching shade.

          As for cost, the guy that posts those on eBay, RossMCT, is one of the most pricey, but he always has really grand lights.

          And yes, we could have more than a lot of fun light shopping! You aren’t in California are you?

          1. 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!

            1. 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.

              1. 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!

    2. pam kueber says:

      Lynn-O, the room is actually quite large: 30’x15′ by 106″ tall — and, the adjacent dining room, open to living room but separated by a built-in counter-like cabinet, adds another 15′ of length. I know it’s my bad that I did not show whole room, which makes it harder… but there were craft projects going on in two spots! Here’s dining room: https://retrorenovation.com/2011/11/13/a-vintage-lightolier-for-my-dining-room-finish-what-you-started-week-5-weigh-in-upload-your-photos-too/

      1. Lynn-O-Matic says:

        Thanks, Pam. It’s kind of hard to get perspective on the room size when only seeing one end. I didn’t realize it connected to the dining room. Of course I remember the dining room from the light fixture pix. (I never forget a light fixture. Tee hee.)

        Dying to see what you come up with!

  7. Annie B. says:

    Yea! More photos of Pam’s abode at last. I just knew it would be a knockout and it certainly is!

    I’m voting for sconces on the main wall. Could there be some type of mirror-backed sconce in keeping with your decor which could provide more illumination?

    Is there some kind of up/down lighting fixture, maybe in a brushed brass, like the inverted cone wall-mount fixtures? Your ceiling is too beautiful not to light. I’d imagine an up light would create a dramatic effect on it at night.

    Oh, my. You asked for answers, not more questions. Bottom line here is that, personally, I’d go with something simple and unobtrusive, but very period, which would blend with my current decor and hopefully with any future additions. Sconces once installed are there for the duration, more or less.

    1. Annie B. says:

      Or maybe, just go over the top with brass sputnik sconces with star lights on the main wall. Too much is never enough, you know.
      (No window sconces, though; floor lamps.)

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