Installing sconce lighting by your bathroom mirror is one of those design sweet spots where you get to justify style with absolute practical functionality. Not that style ever needs to be justified! But mirror sconces make any bathroom look classy while also ensuring optimal mirror task lighting—when they are installed correctly.
Sconces can be placed beside or above the bathroom mirror. When positioning sconces beside the mirror, they should be level with your face and 36-40 inches apart and no less than 1 inch from the mirror’s sides. When placing a sconce above the bathroom mirror, position the light 1-5 inches above the top of the mirror and centered over the mirror.
“Spacing sconce lighting next to and above your bathroom mirror is more an art than a science,” says bathroom designer Kathleen Finley. However, as with all aspects of design, there are some guidelines that you can follow if you are looking for some assistance. Below are practical designer tips from Kathleen and other bathroom designers to make sure all your fixtures flow, and you get the best use out of your sconce lighting.
Before You Take out Your Measuring Tape
Designer Julie Khuu says that one of the most common mistakes people make when remodeling their bathroom is not taking the time to plan.
Lighting, in particular, is a part of bathroom design that requires a great deal of forethought and planning because it’s not a matter of just hanging the fixtures; there is also all the wiring to consider.
Check out this article by Kathleen Finley on the secrets to achieve the best bathroom lighting. Then, when you have a good lighting game plan, you can grab your measuring tape and move onto the specifics of sconce light positioning, etc., that I provide in this article.
But if you don’t have a bathroom mirror yet, you’ll also want read this post to determine how big the bathroom mirror should be for your bathroom vanity.
And I encourage you to purchase the type of mirror that was, until recently, only available at luxury hotels: a steam-free, anti-fogging mirror. Many of these have LED lighting and are dimmable. Read more about how steam-free mirrors work and recommendations for the best ones.
Do Sconces Go Above or Beside the Bathroom Mirror?
As your goal is to create stylish task lighting, the position of your bathroom sconces is crucial. You want the light cast by your fixtures to illuminate your head and face and not throw shadows, blind you, or illuminate everything but your actual face.
Popular Bathroom Sconce Light Positions
There are three popular options for the positioning of sconce lighting by a bathroom mirror:
- On either side of the mirror
- Above the mirror
- Both above and next to the mirror
However, keep in mind these important words of wisdom from Kathleen Finley:
“If you put the sconces beside your face you’ll look less wrinkly than if you put them over the mirror.”
Lights That Flank the Mirror
Putting a wall sconce on either side of the mirror is an excellent design because it provides even lighting with little chance of your arms and hands creating shadows over your face as you use the mirror.
However, not everyone has the wall space to install a sconce light on either side of the vanity mirror.
Lights Above the Mirror
Even if you only have the space for one side light, it’s better to opt for light placement above the mirror. The problem with one side light is that one side of your face will always be in shadow, which is not very practical.
The Best of Both
Of course, you could always opt to go wild with the full Monty and install lights on either side of the mirror as well as above it.
Just bear in mind that this triple lighting option is better for bathrooms with bigger mirrors and bigger walls.
To install three light fixtures around a small mirror can make the vanity area look crowded, and as it will be so well-lit, it will draw the eye immediately.
Where Should Sconces Be Placed Beside a Mirror?
Now, if you have chosen to install your vanity lights on either side of the mirror, then you have to consider the height at which they should be installed.
User Height Is the Determining Factor
This is actually a fairly subjective matter, not because it makes no difference, but because sconces need to be placed so they are even with your head and face. As everyone is a different height, there are no dimensions that I can provide that would apply to everyone.
Designer Starting Points for Sconce Lighting Height
Even though user height is the determining factor, most designers would start with a height of 60 inches from the floor for side sconce lights and 80 inches from the floor for lights above the mirror.
From there, they would make adjustments to accommodate the height of the people who are going to be using the mirror as well as the size of the mirror.
Centering the Sconce Lighting
As the height of the people who will be using the mirror is of paramount importance, your sconces might not be centered beside the mirror; they may be aligned with the top of the mirror or even the lower half of it. There is nothing wrong with this.
Solving the Problem of Height Differences
If you share your bathroom with someone who is quite a bit taller or shorter than you, then how do you handle the question of light height?
After all, the ideal placement for the shorter person will likely only illuminate the taller person’s chin; and the ideal placement for the taller person will not provide sufficient illumination on the shorter person’s face to be functional.
Well, a great option is to use a long sconce light with a tube instead of a bulb. Take a look at the Hamilton Hills New Flush Mount Brushed Nickel Modern Frosted Bathroom Vanity Light Fixture. This will provide sufficient illumination for both face heights.
Alternatively, you can try something like this Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Vanity Light (below) which has a bulb on each end, providing light at two different points on the mirror.
Or you can do a bit of math, which is what Kathleen Finley did when placing sconces in her own newly-remodeled bathroom.
“I’m 5’2 and my husband is 6’3,” she explains. “My eyes are at about 5 feet high and his are at 6 feet. So I put the center of the sconces smack in the middle of that at 5 feet 6 inches. And we’re both happy.”
Where Should Sconces Be Placed Above a Mirror?
The answer to the question of where you should place a sconce above the bathroom mirror is very simple: center it over the mirror.
For wider mirrors, you can consider a longer sconce lighting fixture with multiple bulbs along the length of it.
Alternatives for Sconce Light Placement
Above and beside the vanity mirror (or both) are not the only options for sconce light positioning; there are some other, less common options.
Lights on the Mirror
Some people install sconce lighting onto the mirror itself. This approach is typically adopted for very large vanity mirrors that span the wall, preventing the lights from being installed onto the walls directly.
Use Adjacent Walls
In situations where the mirror is above a narrowed, recessed vanity, then there is always the option of installing the sconces on the adjacent walls instead of the same wall as the mirror.
What Is the Distance Between the Vanity Light and the Mirror?
We’ve covered general positioning; now, let’s get specific in terms of the distance between the vanity lights and the mirror.
Remember, the guidelines provided here are just that—guidelines. If you have a different vision for your bathroom, by all means, see it through!
How Much Space Should Be Between Mirror and Sconces?
First, we look at how close side sconces should be to the mirror.
Logically, you know that you need the lights close to the mirror; otherwise, what would be the point? Still, you don’t want to crowd the mirror.
The broadest part of your sconce light should not really be less than 1 inch away from the mirror, but the optimal distance depends a lot on the shape of your mirror and sconce.
Typically, designers more often talk about the distance between the two sconces as opposed to the distance between the mirror and the light.
How Far Apart Should Bathroom Mirror Sconces Be?
Bathroom sconces should be between 36 and 40 inches apart. This is the optimum distance to ensure full and sufficient illumination of the face.
Another dimension you can use as a guideline is the sconce should be installed approximately 18 inches out from the center of the bathroom sink.
This distance refers to the side lights that are separated by the mirror, but what about double vanities?
Sconce Distancing for Double Vanities
If you have a double mirror vanity and you want to flank both with sconce lighting, the two middle sconces will likely be significantly closer to each other.
If your two sinks and mirrors are quite close together, you should consider only installing one middle sconce.
Then, you will center this between the two mirrors and install the other two lights equidistance from the mirrors on the other side, as long as this does not set them more than 36-40 inches from the middle light.
How Far Above the Bathroom Mirror Should the Light Fixture Be?
If you are installing your sconce lights above your vanity mirror, then you should install them so that the bottom edge of the light fixture is 1 to 5 inches above the top of the mirror.
For bathrooms with large vanity mirrors, you should aim for a smaller distance between the light and the mirror to ensure that it is not too far away from your face to provide optimal illumination.
A smaller mirror may require a greater distance between itself and the light to ensure that the light cast by the bulb is sufficiently diffused at the point on the mirror in line with the user’s face.
The Brightness of the Bulb Can Influence Sconce Distances
The quality of the light emitted by the sconce light will also make a difference to how close the light fixtures should be to the mirror.
However, even though it definitely makes a difference, it should not. What I mean by this is that you should not have to place your lights closer to your mirror in order to create sufficient task lighting.
How Bright Should Sconce Lighting Be?
When it comes to bathroom task lighting, then the brighter the bulb, the better. Rather install a dimmer switch and be able to adjust the brightness easily than use a weak bulb to start with.
Dimmer switches for sconce lights are also great when it comes to creating an amazing ambiance with bathroom lighting.
Ideal Task Light Temperature
While you are out selecting a powerful lightbulb, you should try and get one with a 4800-5000 color temperature. This color will mimic natural daylight better than something warmer and more yellow.
However, some people cannot stand white light, so it’s not a rule.
The Art of Placing Sconces
With all that said, Kathleen Finley says there are exceptions to every rule. “If you have a historic house or space limitations, you need to work with what you have. Sconces can be on the mirror. In certain situations the space for the mirror is limited,” she says. “In these cases you can improvise placement, and even consider alternatives like putting the sconces on the mirror or even hanging pendant lights in place of sconces.”
Size of Bathroom Mirror Sconce Light Fixtures
How Long Should Bathroom Sconces Be?
According to the designers at Lamps Plus, in an average size bathroom, your sconce lighting should be 18 inches long at most because this length will be appropriate for most normal bathroom mirrors.
You do not really want your side sconce lighting to extend above your mirror or below it—what would be the point of that? Your sconce lights should be the same length or shorter than the sides of the mirror.
How Wide Should Bathroom Sconces Be?
Then, for the sconce above the mirror, you also do not need it to extend past the mirror. The fixture should ideally be the same width as the mirror unless your mirror is particularly wide, then aim for something shorter.
Consider How Far the Lights Protrude From the Wall
Slim and streamlined lights will not be appropriate for vanity mirrors that have thick frames because the light they cast will be impeded by the frame.
If you have opted to install the sconce lights on the adjacent walls because your vanity is recessed and narrow, then make sure the light fixtures do not protrude too far from the walls.
For lights above your mirror, you do not want the bulbs to stick out so far that they essentially become overhead lighting because this will create shadows, defeating the purpose of installing task lighting.
Do Finishes on Fixtures Need to Match?
One common question that comes up when choosing sconces for the bathroom is how to mix and match metal finishes. For a comprehensive look at how to approach this, read my post Should Bathroom Faucets Match Light Fixtures and Doorknobs.
For larger bathrooms that might have room for two vanities, another question that arises is whether the vanities themselves should match. You can get expert advice on the do’s and don’ts of matching vanities here.
How to Get the Right Size Bathroom Vanity
If you’re in the market for a new bathroom vanity, then you’ll want to make sure it’s proportional for your space. But that’s not the only consideration: You’ll also want to be sure it’s a comfortable height for everyone who uses it.
To help you pick the right vanity, see the Complete Bathroom Vanity Size Guide. I’ll walk you through standard sizes and vanity types.
If you happen to be a tall person (6 ft or 1.8 meters or more), you’re also going to want to read THIS Is How High Your Bathroom Vanity Should Be.
The Art of Spacing Bathroom Mirror and Sconces
Lighting is so important in a bathroom. If you are constantly moving to another room to perform grooming tasks that you should be able to do in the bathroom, then it is probably time to reassess your lighting situation.
Installing task lighting in the form of sconces beside the mirror, above the mirror, on the mirror, or on close adjacent walls is an excellent place to start. Knowing where to install your sconce task lighting is crucial for optimal functionality.
Note: If you’re installing new mirrors and sconces above the bathroom vanity as part of a remodel, don’t miss the chance to save thousands on your bathroom renovation. Get designer hacks sent straight to your inbox by filling out the form below.