Up or Down? Why Sconce Direction Matters

Bathroom Sconces Up or Down


For years, bathroom sconces have been the first choice for lighting in a bathroom, particularly above the vanity. Sconces come in a variety of colors, styles, and sizes to complement the look of any bathroom style. One of the most common questions that buyers of sconces ask themselves when faced with the various style options is, “Should bathroom sconces be up or down?”

How do you know if bathroom sconces should be up or down? Bathroom sconces that face up create diffused, ambient lighting that is great for lighting an entire room. On the contrary, bathroom sconces that face down create directional lighting that is best for accomplishing a task. 

Let’s dive into the best way to position your sconces to achieve your lighting goals.


Should Bathroom Sconces Be Up or Down?


Sconces are a popular bathroom light choice and come in a variety of sizes and designs. These fixtures mount on a wall, usually facing up or down. 

Up sconces have the bulb enclosure facing upwards, and down bathroom sconces have the enclosure facing downward. 

Deciding the direction of a bathroom sconce isn’t as complicated as it sounds. The light needed and the desired light effect in a bathroom determines if a bathroom sconce is up or down.


Brighten the entire roomBrighten a specific dark corner or area
Reduce shadows in the roomProvide directional light to accomplish tasks, such as applying makeup
Light a large spaceCreate flattering light when shaded and positioned at head height


When Should Bathroom Sconces Be Up?

Bathroom Sconces Up

When a bathroom sconce is facing up, it creates more of a diffused, ambient light. This type of light radiates throughout the room and creates a warmer, brighter atmosphere. Sconces that face up are perfect for bringing more light to a space and enabling the light to fill the entire room.


When Should Bathroom Sconces Be Down?


Bathroom sconces that face down create the opposite effect of sconces that face up. Instead of a diffused light that brightens an entire room, downward sconces create a stronger directional light. 

This type of lighting is the perfect type of lighting to apply makeup or style hair. The directional light of the sconce will brighten the area and create better lighting for completing daily tasks.

Before deciding if your bathroom sconce should be up or down, read through this post on “How to Choose the Best Bathroom Vanity Lights.” You’ll get tips from a bathroom designer on the types of lighting in the bathroom and vanity light options.


What Color Temperature is Best for Bathroom Lighting?

Light Temperature and Bathroom Sconces

Color temperature is a key component of great bathroom lighting. According to Wikipedia

In practice, color temperature is meaningful only for light sources that do in fact correspond somewhat closely to the color of some black body, i.e., light in a range going from red to orange to yellow to white to blueish white.” 

Simply put, color temperature is the color hue that a light emits.

Journeyman electrician, Michael Matiko, says, “The type of lighting and color temperature you need in your bathroom depends on the size of your bathroom and the ambiance you want. Ideally, it’s always best to strive toward natural daylight lighting. That being said, in small spaces some daylight color temperatures can appear brighter, so it’s important to carefully consider your bathroom space.”

Color temperature is measured in Kelvins (K), and temperatures can range from 2000K (a warmer orange color)to 6500K (a cooler blue color). Neutral white light falls in the middle at 3500 K.

The ideal Kelvin temperature for a bathroom is 3000K (“bright white light” and 3500K (“neutral white light”), depending on your preference. See the table below when to use each type of lighting in your bathroom.


Warm Glow2,000K - 2,499K
Warm White2,500K - 2,999K
Soft White3,000K - 3,499K
Neutral White3,500K - 3,999K
Bright White4,000K - 4,449K
Cool White4,500K - 4,999K
Daylight5,000K - 5,500K


Why Color Temperature Matters When Choosing a Bathroom Sconce

Down Bathroom Sconces Above Mirror

Choosing the right color temperature is an important part of deciding whether or not a bathroom sconce should be placed up or down. If you’re looking for overall lighting, you need to know what atmosphere you want to achieve.

For example, if you want to light your overall bathroom at a neutral temperature of 3500K, you would choose lightbulbs at this temperature and place them in upward sconces in your bathroom space. 

Likewise, if you want the best lighting around your bathroom vanity or mirror for your warmer skin tone. You would consider choosing a downward sconce with light bulbs at 2700 K.

When you combine color temperature and a specific direction of the sconce, you get different effects and atmospheres.

 Learn more about color temperature in the bathroom. Read What’s the Best Color Temperature for YOUR Bathroom?


Where Should You Place Bathroom Sconces?

modern vanity with concrete sink

Now that you’ve determined the ambiance and color temperature you want in your bathroom, you may be asking yourself, “ Where do I hang my bathroom sconces?” While you can hang a bathroom sconce anywhere in your bathroom, the most common location is above the vanity.


Consider Your Mirror When Placing Bathroom Sconces

Down Sconce Above Mirror

The mirror is a key component in deciding where to place a bathroom sconce. Is your mirror wide, short, rectangular, or oval? All these factors are important when considering where you want the sconces to be located. 

If you have a wide mirror, you would want to consider putting a multi-light sconce above the length of the mirror. You could also consider the same concept with an oval mirror, using fewer lights in the sconce. Fewer lights above an oval mirror will accommodate for the narrower shape of the mirror and the ends of the sconce will become parallel with the mirror sides.


Where Do You Need More Light?

Light with Sconces in Bathroom

When determining where you want to place the bathroom sconces on the wall, it’s also important to consider how much light you require.

If you need more light, consider putting a sconce above the mirror and on either side. This will illuminate the area and will provide more light for applying makeup and hairstyling. 

You also have the option of forgoing a sconce above the mirror altogether and simply putting one on either side of the mirror. You can also use 3 sconces if you have two small mirrors by placing a sconce between the mirrors and on either side. 


How High Should Sconces be in the Bathroom?

Height of Bathroom Sconces

One of the mistakes many people make when installing a bathroom sconce is placing it either too high or too low. 

So, what is the ideal height for a bathroom sconce? A bathroom sconce should be approximately 60 inches to 80 inches from the floor. 

Optimally, a sconce should be either at eye height or above (depending on location). You don’t want anyone to be able to look over the sconce.


Above the Mirror75 in - 80 in (190.5 cm - 203.2 cm)40 in
(101.6 cm)
6 in from top
(15.24 cm)
Beside the Mirror65 in - 70 in
(165.1 cm - 177.8 cm)
about eye level4 inches from sides
(10.16 cm)
36 in - 40 in
(91.44 cm - 101.6 cm)


Bathroom Sconces Above the Mirror

Put a Bathroom Sconce Facing Down Above Mirror

Sconces above the mirror are in the highest location. These bathroom sconces will be about 75 inches to 80 inches (190.5 cm – 203.2 cm) from the floor and approximately 40 inches (101.6 cm) from the vanity or 6 inches (15.24 cm) from the top of the mirror. 

It’s very common for bathroom sconces in this location to face down towards the mirror to provide that directional light. Remember, however, that your downward sconce should not overhang the mirror as it will create shadows.


Bathroom Sconces Beside the Mirror

Bathroom Sconce on Both Sides if Mirror

The second most common location for bathroom sconces is on the sides of the mirror. These should be at eye level and about 65 inches to 70 inches (165.1 cm – 177.8 cm) from the floor. The sconces should also be about 4 inches (10.16 cm) from the sides of the mirror and at least 36 inches to 40 inches (91.44 sm – 101.6 cm) apart from the bathroom sconce on the other side of the mirror. 

While bathroom sconces on either side of the mirror can be either up or down, it’s very common for them to be up, particularly if shaded. Upward sconces in this location diffuse the light and brighten the area above the vanity.

For details on hanging bathroom sconces next to or above a bathroom vanity mirror, read Ask a Designer: How to Hang Bathroom Mirror and Sconces.


Do You Need Sconces in the Bathroom?

Modern Down Bathroom Sconce

Despite being common in bathrooms, people still ponder if bathroom sconces are necessary for a bathroom design. Technically, no. You do not need bathroom sconces in the bathroom. 

That being said, you should use them. Bathroom sconces are the most practical light sources in the bathroom, especially above the vanity. These fixtures create directional and diffused light that are important for daily routine tasks completed in these areas. 

If bathroom sconces are not for you because they don’t match your style or the vision for your bathroom, there are many other light fixture options that you can utilize in your bathroom space. 

For more fixture ideas read, 7 Types of Bathroom Lighting Fixtures to Make You Say WOW!


Are Bathroom Sconces Still in Style?

Down or Up Bathroom Sconces?

You may be leaning towards bathroom sconces because the lighting is more practical than other fixtures, but you could be hesitant, wondering if bathroom sconces are still in style. 

So often, when thinking about sconces we imagine the old-style sconces that our grandmothers’ had in their bathrooms so many decades ago. Thankfully, bathroom sconces are not the same as they used to be. The style of flowered shades with wood or mental beveled backings has died.

Today, bathroom sconces come in a variety of modern colors, styles, and designs. They aren’t the straightforward sconces of yesteryear. Modern bathroom sconce designs include:


Up OR Down Sconces

LNC Home - Down Sconce for Bathroom
Check out the beautiful LNC Home Industrial Bell Sconce Light.


The sconces are the classic and timeless sconces enclosed in glass or shaded and can face up or down


Up AND Down Sconces

See the Kira Home duo 14 inch modern wall sconce with frosted glass shades at Amazon
See the Kira Home duo 14 inch modern wall sconce with frosted glass shades at Amazon


Sconces that are up AND down are similar to sconces that are up OR down. These sconces provide more diffused lighting than an upward sconce can on its own. They tend to be used on the sides of mirrors.


Candle Sconces

LNC Home - Candle Bathroom Sconce
Check out the LNC Home Pencil Arm Candle Sconce.


These sconces mimic the look of candles and create a relaxing and classy atmosphere.



1STOPlighting - Wallchiere Bathroom Sconce
Check out the beautiful Kenroy Home Weston Wallchiere at 1STOPlighting.


Wallchieres are among the lesser-known styles of wall sconces. These sconces come in different shaded light styles: only above, only below or the shaded lights will be above and below the fixture. They tend to have a decorative style and are more linear on the wall while creating diffused lighting.


Lantern Sconces

1STOPlighting - Lantern Bathroom Sconce
See the modern Designers Fountain Monroe Wall Lantern at 1STOPlighting.


Lantern sconces are a great option if you love the rustic style and feel. When paired with the right color temperature, they provide light that gives a bright and warm feeling.


Bath Bars

1STOPlighting - Bath Bars for Lights in the Bathroom
Check out the Minka Lavery, Parsons Studio, 3 Light Bath Bar at 1STOPlighting.


Bath bars look like multiple up or down sconces in a row or are a straight bar of light. They provide the most amount of lighting in a small space and are preferred for lighting above a bathroom vanity mirror.


How Do I Know What Size Bathroom Sconce to Buy?

Bathroom Sconces on Side of Mirrors

So you’re all set. You want sconces in your bathroom, you know where to hang them, and the type of lighting you desire, but what size sconce do you need? The size sconce you need depends on the size of your bathroom and the area you are trying to light.

While it all comes down to personal preference, it’s important to layer lighting. When considering what sconce to buy, layer your lighting based on general lighting or main lighting in the room, task lighting, and accent lighting.


General Lighting

The general lighting in the room is the lighting that will be used the most and creates the brightest lights in the room. If using sconces to create general lighting, consider using several larger sconces throughout the room and/or on either side of the mirrors. Upward sconces, linear bath bars, and wallchieres are great options for general lighting.


Task Lighting

In the bathroom task lighting is used specifically near the bathroom vanity for hair styling or applying makeup. In this area, consider using a large multi-light bath bar above the mirror for brighter light in this space. If there are other areas in your bathroom that you would like to illuminate with directional light you can use a single downward sconce to brighten these areas.

To learn more about vanity lighting and fixtures, read the post How to Choose the Best Bathroom Vanity Lights.


Accent Lighting

Accent lighting creates more light often to create a specific ambiance or to create variety in the space. Consider using candle sconces or lantern sconces for variety and style in your bathroom


So Should Bathroom Sconces be Up or Down?

Bathroom Sconces

So should bathroom sconces be up or down? The answer is both! Both upward facing and downward facing bathroom sconces can light your bathroom space. Just keep in mind what the light will be used for. 

Most likely, you’ll want to use a downward sconce above your mirror for that directional task lighting and use an upward sconce for diffused light throughout the vanity area. Throughout the rest of the bathroom, you can vary light as you please. 

Use the appropriate lighting to layer the light.

To learn more about layering lighting, read the post, Best Bathroom Lighting – A Designer’s Secrets.

It doesn’t matter how you choose to light your bathroom. You can choose up or down sconces. What matters is that it reflects your style and the vision you have for the space.


Note: If you’re about to start a bathroom remodel project, don’t miss out on my free Save Big $$$ Cheat Sheet. You’ll get designer hacks that can literally save you thousands of dollars. Just fill out the form below.

Tags: how to space bathroom mirror and sconces, sconces above mirror, sconces beside mirror, types of bathroom sconces, up or down bathroom sconces, where to put a bathroom sconce

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