Indoor sconces can perform many smart tricks. Just as theater sconces shunt light to the ceiling and floor to prevent glare and allow guests' safe movement, lighting fixtures in the home can work similar magic.
The right wall sconces can bring comfort with warm, ambient light, can illuminate details with bright, radiant light, or can stand alone as works of art.
Think of sconces as part of an overall lighting scheme, experts say. Layers of light - including overhead, table, task (say, over a kitchen counter), and sconces - blend comfort and practicality.
"Sconces are like a fireplace because they add warmth," says Bobby Wilson of Wilson Lighting in Overland Park, Kan. "They have a magical draw."
As an ambient light source, sconces can be especially effective when overhead lights are absent, dimmed, or shut off.
"Light leaks from sconces," says Shirley Allen, who owns the Light Shop in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City, Mo. "A sconce pushes light up and out so it's flattering and intimate."
And the aesthetic effects of the soft, muted light from sconces should not be underestimated, particularly in powder rooms and family rooms.
"Wall lighting has a nice feel because it makes us look more appealing," says Terri Mott of Rensen House of Lights in Overland Park. Because sconces light from the walls and not overhead, they eliminate shadows from faces, Mott notes.
On the other end of the spectrum, sconces can be useful for bright light. Radiant sconces can brighten the bathroom where homeowners groom, help visitors navigate a stairwell, or provide proper reading light in bed.
Apart from the light they emit, the fixtures themselves can take many forms. Sconces have been around for centuries, first illuminated by candles. Their evolution has culminated with style in many sizes, from almost undetectably small lights at the foot of stairwells and hallways to wall hangings that are as much about art as they are lighting.
Styles and materials also vary considerably, from stately crystal to fixtures with fabric-covered shades to artsy, contemporary, free-form glass or metal.
"Lighting is a decorating tool that allows a homeowner to share personal tastes so that visitors get a sense of who you are," Wilson says.
Sconces can influence an overall decorating theme, too. They can be fashioned to coordinate with pendant lights or chandeliers, and custom-made fixtures can match railings and door pulls.
Artisans can tie the pieces of a home together, says Jon Cale of Green Light in Overland Park. Plus, making the pieces to fit the homeowner's style eliminates the hunt for the right fixtures, he says.
Recreational rooms. Artemide sconces designed by Ron Rezek highlight windows in the home of John and Diane Deadwyler of Lee's Summit, Mo.
"This is comfortable lighting," says Shirley Allen, owner of the Light Shop in Kansas City, Mo. "You don't see where it's coming from. You just see it cast into the room." Placing sconces above windows also allots plenty of room for wall art, Allen says.
Bathrooms. In areas where homeowners apply makeup or shave, sconces are best when they are about eye level. Lighting above mirrors casts shadows under the eyes and chin, while sconces at eye level brightly show every hair and pore, Allen says.
In the master bathroom of Rick and Mindy McDermott's Fairway, Kan., home, Allen placed Estiluz sconces designed by Leonardo Marelli - perfect for grooming.
In a powder room, however, choose a sconce (or a set) that emits a relaxing, low light. An Oval Reed sconce from Hubbardton Forge creates a soft feel.
Stairwells and hallways. A large Leucos Selis fixture in Rick and Mindy McDermott's Fairway stairwell emits radiant light and has the added benefit of illuminating wall art.
For a hallway, wall torch sconces from Hubbardton Forge are punctuated with a matching chandelier over the staircase.
Bedrooms. Sconces that frame beds and couches can be great sources of reading light.
Two bowed, swing-arm sconces by Hubbardton Forge provide convenience. The drum-shaped shade is a popular trend in sconces and can be replaced to match a change in decor.
Stand-alone art. Jon Cale of Green Light is a sculptor whose craft includes lighting for retail and residential clients. Some of his custom work involves fashioning iron railings in a stairwell with matching door pulls, chandeliers, and sconces. Cale equips his sconces with LEDs, which he says can last up to 50,000 hours.
Recycled, stacked glass produces diffused, ambient lighting. Cale cut and fused scraps from a discarded window, and to the natural green of the glass, he added blue and black.
Cale also fashions lighting from almost every kind of metal, including bronze, iron, aluminum, copper, and steel.
Considering sconces? Is the wall pre-wired? Check with an electrician. How many should you use? Often sconces work best in pairs, flanking a fireplace, bed, sofa, window, or mirror. Multiple sconces work well for long hallways or home theaters. Try an artsy single sconce in a small passageway or nook.
How high should sconces be placed? Sconces flanking mirrors in the master bathroom should be about five feet from the floor (eye level) and no farther than 36 inches apart.
If the sconce is bowl-shaped, you might want it higher, about six feet from the floor, so that the bare bulb and internal parts of the sconce are never in view.
If your ceiling is very high, some experts recommend placing the sconce halfway between the ceiling and the floor.