What Is a Sconce?

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"Sconce" is one of those words that just makes you feel fancy. And, in a nutshell, that's pretty much what a sconce is: a fancy word for "wall light." By definition, a sconce is a wall bracket that's used to hold a lamp, candle, or light source. In days of old, wrought iron sconces held torches; later, brass brackets held candelabra. But thanks to Thomas Edison, these days most sconces hold electric lights. And they aren't just for indoor use — most porch lights and other wall-mounted exterior illumination also qualify as sconces. There are multiple varieties of sconce, and they're most often differentiated by the direction of the light that they cast, and the style of the bracket fixture that's mounted to the wall. If you've been thinking about taking to the walls with your decorative lighting, here's what you need to know about sconces.

Types of Sconce

The terminology may vary, but sconces can generally be categorized by the direction of the light that they cast: upward light, downward light, or unidirectional light. The differences between the three are fairly self-explanatory: upward-facing sconces cast light upward, downward facing sconces cast light downward, and unidirectional sconces (also referred to as 'up-down' or 'all-around' wall lights) cast a diffuse light. The type of sconce you choose will depend on how you need the light to function: Will this light source be for ambiance or for practical use? When picking out which type of sconce you want to use, consider the size and purpose of the space where you'll be placing it. Bear in mind where light is needed most in determining the proper height for your sconce (or sconces). The height of the sconce(s) lighting your hallway will most likely differ from the height of your bedside sconce.

Styles of Sconce

The different styles of sconce really refer to the different manners of mounting the light fixture to a wall. Flush-mounted sconces like the one pictured above are mounted flush against the wall, which can make changing their light bulbs a little tricky. "Wallchières" are wall-mounted versions of torchières, which are slender, flat-topped floor lamps. Then there are lantern sconces (in which the light fixture is suspended lantern-style on a bracket that extends from the wall), candle sconces (a throwback to one of the modern-day sconce's predecessors), and swing-arm sconces, which often feature one or more pivoting joints that allow you to reposition the light as you please. Picture light sconces (like the one pictured below) and sign light sconces are appropriately named given their respective uses for lighting wall-mounted works of art and signage.

Sconce Design

Modern, rustic, traditional or otherwise, whatever your design preferences are, somewhere out there is the perfect sconce to fit your decor. Every year brings new trade shows in which today's designers exhibit unprecedented innovations in home decor, and wall lights are no exception. Flush-mounts and wallchieres are the two sconce styles most often chosen to complement modern decor, while lantern sconces create a more rustic atmosphere, and candle sconces best lend themselves to traditional homes. Your choice of sconce doesn't have to be permanent, either: should your preference of wall-mounted illumination change, just replace your light fixture with one that suits your fancy.

Karyn is a passionate wordsmith and creative thinker, currently pursuing a career writing and editing in the media and entertainment industry.

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