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Classic Update: The Sconce

From the simple torch to the ornate candelabra, the sconce has been lighting the way for centuries

Written by Kari Costas

Wall sconces can conjure images of dimly lit medieval castles or the secluded corridors of Gothic cathedrals. But in fact, sconces are as ancient as man’s discovery of fire and have been used across cultures and countries—from caves to castles. The first sconces were really mobile lighting devices, as rudimentary as a wooden torch, and were often hung on the wall where they would be readily available to pick up and use. It wasn’t until the 18th century that they truly became decorative objects and, not unlike today, they took on a plethora of shapes and materials. 

The “Strada Sconce” from interior designer Kelly Wearstler’s debut collection for Visual Comfort, available through Circa Lighting, is an edgy take on the classic wheat sconce ( “Florence” wallpaper is from Schumacher (

In France, sconces were commonly made of gilt bronze, with a Louis XV silhouette that held multiple candles. In Northern Europe, they were made with silver to enhance light, while in Italy, the candeliere used mirrors to achieve the same effect. However many its personalities, there is one thing the sconce categorically is not: a wallflower.  

“Montreuil” by Aerin

“This sconce is an updated rendition of a traditional candlestick sconce. I love the soft curves and slender arms, which make it delicate, but it still has wonderful presence. It would be beautiful in an entry foyer or a dining room.” 
—Christina Murphy Pisa, New York City

“San Pietro” by Jiun Ho

“The beauty of this fixture is in its simplicity. It’s a timeless classic that can be used in contemporary spaces with a subtle nod to Art Deco. I envision this in a mahogany bar room, imagining the feel of a Parisian brasserie in the early 20th century.” 
—Jen Going, West Hampton Beach, New York

“Tole Tent Lantern Sconce” by Coleen & Company

“This sconce brings a whimsical touch to any setting. The punch of color and playful tent and scallop detail give unexpected flair to the classic wall lantern. We would include a pair in a breakfast nook on either side of a banquette, or in a more formal powder room with a dramatic wallcovering.” 
—Elle Clymer & Stephanie Woodmansee, New York City

“Trapeze 2” by Apparatus

“Apparatus’s lights have quickly become part of our designer tool belt, fitting into almost every project from traditional-leaning to modern. These are some of my favorite pieces from them. I am partial
to the glow that is achieved in the porcelain versions.”          
Brian Paquette, Seattle

“Cooper” by Robert Long Lighting

“I am always looking for sophisticated sconces that look as good in a transitional design setting as they do in a modern one—a go-to sconce that is like the perfect little black dress! That is how I feel about the Robert Long sconce, with the ultimate simplicity of the back plate, coupled with the lean arm and the perfect glass shade.” 
—Jamie Herzlinger, New York City & Scottsdale

“Parrett” by Soane

“The wicker shade in this sconce adds a fresh update to a classic fixture. It allows the light to shine through and cast a beautiful glow throughout the room. I could see using it in a beach house,
or in a casual country setting placed over bookcases.”         
—David Phoenix, Los Angeles