Light Your Way

Bathroom Wall Sconces: Flattering and Practical Features

Bathroom wall sconces can contribute both to vanity lighting and a bathroom’s overall lighting plan.


Bathroom wall sconces are lighting fixtures that are mounted directly onto a bathroom wall. A trip to a lighting store or a search online will reveal that there are a great many of styles and designs available to choose from. In the bathroom, wall sconces can effectively provide both attractive and functional lighting for your space. The ideal system for bathroom vanity lighting would be to have two vertical bars of light on either side of the mirror, or a fixture at the top corner on each side of the mirror. With the right type of light bulbs and sufficient brightness, this arrangement provides optimal lighting for such tasks as shaving and putting on makeup (See this article for more details on what is best for bathroom vanity lighting). Wall sconces can be used to perfectly fit with this type of lighting configuration. If you have a narrow bathroom without sufficient space directly beside the mirror, you can mount one wall sconce on each of the walls perpendicular to the mirror instead.

What factors should be considered when choosing bathroom wall sconces?

Bathroom Wall Sconces

The most common use of bathroom wall sconces is for vanity lighting.

When choosing bathroom wall sconces, one should be careful of several things. First, remember that you do not want light from the fixture to be shining directly into the eyes of the person using the vanity. This would make it uncomfortable for a person to look in the mirror. Also remember to avoid having a light bulb that shines directly onto a mirror, as its reflection will show up in the mirror, and shine directly into the person’s eyes. Instead, look for wall sconces with shades or frosted glass that will diffuse the beams of light coming forward from the fixtures.

It is important make sure that the fixtures will allow for sufficient brightness for bathroom tasks such as shaving and applying makeup. This means checking to see what kind of wattage of bulb is used in the fixture, and how much of the light will be blocked by the shade or other parts of the fixture. Just as important as the brightness of the light emitted by wall sconces is its color. Light from wall sconces can take on a warmer or cooler light depending on the color of the shade. For bathroom vanity lighting, either cool white light, or warm reddish light is suitable, as other colors make it difficult to apply makeup and can make people’s faces appear ill and unattractive.

Sconces on Mirrors

Placing sconces near mirrors can effectively double the number of light sources.

One last thing to consider when choosing wall sconces is the material of the fixture. The steam from showering and bathing creates a very humid atmosphere in the bathroom, and you will need to choose fixtures made from materials that are able to withstand changes in humidity, and will not become mildewy when exposed to prolonged moisture. Metal, frosted glass, opal acrylic or resin are just some examples of durable and attractive materials that work well for bathroom wall sconces. If the room is a powder room only, you can be more flexible with materials, perhaps opting for fabric or paper shades.

Is rewiring necessary for installing bathroom wall sconces?

A problem that many homeowners encounter when deciding to install bathroom wall sconces is how to wire them. Many homes come wired for just one single fixture, directly above the vanity. There are several ways to deal with this problem in order to be able to install two fixtures, one on either side of the vanity.

The first solution is to rewire the area. An electrician could install two new junction boxes on either side of the vanity. Rewiring is the most expensive solution, but has the advantage of providing a clean look to your bathroom. It provides the greatest flexibility when it comes to selecting lighting fixtures, as the homeowner can simply then choose from the many styles of wall sconce available without any further restrictions. It also allows the homeowner to choose the distance between the fixture and the mirror, as well as the height of the fixtures, in order to best meet his or her needs. One thing to note when wiring for lighting that will be used in close proximity to water, is that it is important to install an instantaneous circuit shutoff, called a ground fault interruptor, to protect against the risk of electric shock.

For those who do not wish to rewire their bathrooms, there are alternative solutions. Some companies offer fixtures with sconces that mount at the ends of a metal bar, the center of which can be mounted into the existing junction box. The wall sconces thus appear to be mounted on a track. A variation on this idea would be to use small pendant lamps mounted from the ceiling instead of proper bathroom wall sconces. If you choose this route, it is best to hang the lamps 12-18 inches out from the wall, with the shades at eye level.

Lighting Wires

Initial installation of wall sconces can be tricky, but replacing them is rather easy.

There are also companies that produce fixtures designed to fit flush with the mirror, directly on either side of it, which integrates well with modern bathroom lighting. The existing junction box and the wires for the wall sconces are hidden behind the mirror. Alternately, it is possible to purchase bathroom vanity cabinets or mirrors that come with sconces built in. These come in both modern and traditional styles, and eliminate the problem of how to hide the wires.

Putting it all together

The best lighting configuration for a bathroom vanity is to have light sources on either side of the vanity at eye level. Bathroom wall sconces provide a great way to meet this ideal. Some factors to remember when choosing bathroom wall sconces include:

  • make sure that the brightness and color of the light emitted from the fixtures is suitable to bathroom vanity tasks
  • make sure the materials can withstand the humidity of the bathroom
  • if your bathroom is only consider whether you wish to rewire the vanity area, or look for fixtures such as vanities or mirrors that either come with built in sconces or will hide the wiring for your sconces.

This article was written exclusively for by Katherine Bader, M.A. Mrs. Bader studied art history and architecture before leaving the professional world to raise her children.


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