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How To Choose Wall Lights: Wall Lighting Buyer’s Guide

Wall lighting plays an important role in lighting design and no matter what style you prefer, the fundamentals of how to choose wall lights should be understood to successfully use them in any room. Their role in an interior is as much decorative as it is functional so where do you start in your selection process? 

Let us equip you with a few key principles of design: you can make your own choices in confidence and transform the lighting in your space with our wall lighting buyers guide.

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Table of Contents

Why is Wall Lighting Important?

Wall lights are an indispensable asset for the lighting and design in any room, they must be useful as they have been around since the days of candles on a girandole sconce! They remain the primary opportunity to introduce a source or ‘layer’ of light that is positioned in between the ceiling and the lower shades of table lighting, illuminating people and objects roughly at head height. This sideways accent illumination into a space assists in cancelling out the shadows cast under peoples noses and eyes from downlighters and ceiling lights. This ‘human level’ lighting is a key ingredient to every successful lit environment. 

In this LED era wall lights have come of age and grown into modern useful task lights, reading lights, offer a huge variety of accent lighting, contribute to general lighting and protect us in times of emergency.  

Where to Use Wall Lighting

It’s difficult to think of a room that cannot suit a sconce, so let’s look at where some work best by considering the type of light they create.

Accent Lighting

Bathroom mirrors are a fantastic place for linear vanity lights, framing each side of the glass with a design statement and washing the viewers face from both sides with a flattering light that negates downlight shadowing. 

Artwork always benefits from lighting and adds an accent layer to the room. Picture lighting over each poster or artwork is ideal or could be placed higher so the light spreads over a group to wash a gentle accent light into the room. Surface mount spotlights positioned 4’ to 6’ away from the wall will also wash a beautiful light across the pictures.

Add accent lighting from the wall wherever a statement of design will look great and create a pocket of light that adds a contrast and beauty to what would otherwise be a dark area when the sun goes down and artificial light takes over.

Task Lighting

Task lighting can come from the wall to illuminate a surface or area for a job to be done. It could be reading by bedroom wall lights positioned where the typical table light would usually be. Bedside LED reading wall lights will specifically provide a tight bright beam of light for the read before bedtime. 

Home offices with limited desk space can still benefit from direct lighting from a wall mounted adjustable spotlight instead of the desk lamp. Kitchens with high ceilings can struggle to position strong light over the prep and washing areas of sinks and worktops. The directional wall light provides the source of light close to where it’s needed.

Dining tables need task lighting for eating and working on, so use wall lights to throw light onto the table surface as an alternative to when downlighters cannot be used.

Ambient Lighting

Remember that all rooms need a general illumination that should be built up from various sources and not lit from an overhead central single position. Wall lighting can play a key role in adding ambiance from multiple positions, contributing to the overall luminance with pockets of light.

Uplighting from wall lights positions the light source closer to the ceiling than any other solution, creating a powerful reflectance of ambient light back into the room from the ceiling. 

Lighting the outdoor side walkway of a house usually depends on the exterior wall to mount on a PIR wall light to sense the presence of a user and turn the lights on, either for convenience or security. A pair of up and down wall lights perfectly frame a front door for useful illumination and always looks great.

Light levels and the direction it comes from will directly affect the atmosphere of a space, so use wall lights as perfect sources for dimming ambient and accent lighting to set a relaxed mood.

Choose the Design

As lighting experts we typically think that your choice of wall light should really begin with what it needs to do before deciding on what it looks like. That said, how it coordinates with the room is just as important so begin with deciding whether it’s a decorative statement or a refined integration of light with interior. Wall lighting can become the focal point that most rooms need but in interior design less can often be more, so you can be bold in choice without disrupting the space with too much of a statement. It’s a fine balance but ultimately there are no rules to follow and good taste is subjective, so if in doubt re-consider and always be mindful of how your wall sconces will impact the overall interior.

How to Use Wall Sconces

A wall light needs to look great and perform well. 

Where to Position a Wall Light

The positioning of sconces on a wall are chosen according to their size and shape, the space on the wall they have to fill and the type of light it’s providing.

The physical size of wall lighting works best in a room when the proportions are on the larger size compared to the space they are going into, so let the choice be bolder rather than demure. 

Once chosen, trial where on the wall your choice will look best before installation, so the power can exit the wall exactly where it’s needed rather than your wall light choice having to move to a less ideal place because the power location dictates it.  

If you are using an established location on the wall because the power is already there, then just make sure your sconce choice suits the shape of the space around it – does it need to be narrow to suit a slender wall space, large and wide to fill a space that is not big enough for two lights? 

Corded wall lighting gives you the flexibility to choose a position without the commitment of providing the wall box in the wall, as long as you are happy with a trailing lead running down the wall into the nearest wall socket.

Uplighters will need a higher position on a wall to ensure the strong source is well above head height and closer to the ceiling than usual to ensure most of the light is reflected back into the room.

Avoid Glare

You also want to reduce potential glare and avoid seeing the light source unless it’s a part of the design with decorative bulbs. For a person walking past it’s usually around 1650mm or 5.5 feet to the centre of the fitting. A badly positioned wall light will create glare.

Calculate How Many

Calculate the number of wall lights required from the available space on the wall, if your wall is under 6 feet then 1 wall light is fine, 7 to 9 feet long then use a pair. A long wall space in a corridor suits repetition from smaller fittings, creating a rhythm of lights and darks leading the user through. 

You choose the number of wall lights required by considering what part the light you are creating will play in the whole room in conjunction with the available space.

Ergonomics

Consider the impact of the actual size of a wall light has on the use of its location.

Lower profile fixtures suit narrower spaces or areas where someone needs to step close to the wall. ADA design standards were set to help you choose fittings that are 4” or less, particularly for stairways and corridors.  

Seating around a dining table can have chairs close to a wall so keep the wall lighting choice shallow in depth.

Choose the Type of Wall Light

With such a variety of styles and types on offer, there truly is a wall sconce out there for you both for the interior and exterior of your home. 

Choose the Source

LED should always be your first choice if possible. LED as a source of light is small, highly cost effective in running costs, long lasting with a variety of choices to suit most interiors.

Get a lighting designers tips on choosing LED at: The Best LED Wall Lights: Buying Guide and Reviews

Andrew Orange , the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.