Are Candle Sconces Outdated?


Candle sconces have a rich history and were once a staple in homes across Europe and North America. Featuring candles mounted on decorative wall plates, these sconces provided beautiful ambient lighting and warmth to any room. But over time, they fell out of fashion as electric lighting became widespread in the early 20th century.

In recent years, we’ve seen a revival of interest in candle sconces and their vintage charm. Many interior designers are bringing them back, with modern twists on their traditional designs. But some wonder, are candle sconces outdated relics of the past? Or can they work in contemporary homes? Let’s take a closer look at the history of these fixtures and whether they still have a place today.

History of Candle Sconces

Candle sconces have been used for lighting and decoration for centuries, with their origins tracing back to Medieval Europe. In castles, cathedrals, and manors, sconces were mounted on walls to provide ambiance and light. The candles were made of beeswax or tallow, and the sconces crafted from metal, wood, or stone.

During the Renaissance era from the 14th to 17th centuries, sconces became more ornate and were symbols of wealth and status. Elaborately carved wooden sconces and gilded metal sconces with glass hurricane shades became popular interior decor. Sconces were placed throughout homes, lining hallways, above fireplaces, and flanking beds.

In Colonial America, candle sconces were essential lighting fixtures. Simple wrought iron sconces with reflectors to amplify light were common. Sconces transitioned from practical lighting to decorative accent pieces by the Victorian era. Ornate brass and crystal gas sconces also emerged as gas lighting became available.

The original purpose of candle sconces was to provide lighting indoors before electricity. Their design allowed candles to be safely mounted on walls where they could illuminate hallways, entries, bedrooms, and living spaces. Sconces were decorative but functional lighting fixtures, relied upon for seeing at night.

Decline in Popularity

Candle sconces began falling out of favor in the early 20th century with the rise of electric lighting and changing home decor trends. As electric lights became more common and affordable, the practical need for candlelight diminished. And as interior design aesthetics shifted towards sleeker, more modern looks, ornate candle sconces came to be seen as old-fashioned and outdated.

The elaborate crystal and gilt sconces popular in Victorian times gave way to simpler, cleaner lines. With less elaborate molding and trim in homes, there were fewer places to mount decorative sconces. The popularity of overhead or tabletop lighting left little need for wall sconces in many rooms.

By the mid-20th century, candle sconces were rare in the average home. They were seen as fancy or antiquated decor that evoked a bygone era. For those who still appreciated their warm, ambient glow, electric candle sconces provided a similar look without the hassle of dealing with real candles. With effective and affordable electric lighting, decorative candle fixtures took a backseat in most residential settings.

Reasons They Fell Out of Favor

Candle sconces saw a significant decline in popularity over the 20th century for several key reasons. As electric lighting became more ubiquitous in homes, candle sconces were seen as less practical and more of a decorative piece. The open flames used in candle sconces also raised some fire hazard concerns, especially as homes began to fill with more synthetic and flammable materials.

Additionally, the ornate designs of many antique candle sconces gave them an association with stuffy, outdated decor. Candlelight was still valued for ambience, but sconces came to be seen as relics of the past rather than a modern decor choice. Changing aesthetics and the minimalist design movement also contributed to the decline in interest in ornamental sconces.

In summary, the emergence of electric lighting, fire safety issues, outdated associations, and changing design tastes all played a role in candle sconces falling out of widespread use and popularity by the mid-20th century. They came to be seen as impractical, hazardous, and old-fashioned by many modern homeowners and designers.

Their Comeback

In recent years, candle sconces have made a comeback due to their vintage appeal and ability to create a warm, inviting ambiance. With many vintage and antique styles available, candle sconces can lend a classic feel to both traditional and modern decors. Their comeback is likely also tied to rising popularity of reusable, eco-conscious products – with LED battery-operated flameless candles now available, the same candle sconce can be used repeatedly for years. This makes them an attractive lighting option compared to frequently replacing burned out lightbulbs. As more people style their homes with hygge and cottagecore in mind, candle sconces have reemerged as a cozy and renewable way to add mood lighting to any room.

Tips for Using Candle Sconces Today

Candle sconces can add beautiful, ambient lighting to any space when used properly. Here are some tips for placing and styling candle sconces in your home today:

Placement: When deciding where to install sconces, consider placing them flanking a mirror or piece of wall art. They work well lining hallways or staircases to illuminate pathways with a soft glow. You can also place them above the bed on each side as cozy nightstand lighting. Just be sure they are high and centered enough to avoid flames coming in contact with bedding or curtains.

Safety: Choose sconces made from non-flammable materials like metal, ceramics or glass. Look for hurricane candle sleeves or LED faux candles to contain the flame if using real wax candles. Place out of reach from pets and children. Never leave burning candles unattended.

Style: Match the style of your sconces to your interior decor. Vintage, rustic bronze sconces pair beautifully with farmhouse looks. For modern spaces, opt for minimalist metal or glass sconces. Place sconces at 60-66 inches high for optimal visibility. Group 3-5 sconces together on a large wall for dramatic effect. Mix and match shapes, sizes and materials for eclectic styling.

Modern Candle Sconce Designs

While traditional candle sconces often featured ornate, baroque metalwork and accents, modern sconces take a sleeker, more minimalist approach. Contemporary candle sconces utilize creative materials like colored glass, concrete, and wood to create simple, geometric shapes.

Modern sconce designs tend to steer away from frilly embellishments and instead focus on clean lines, negative space, and an artistic, avant-garde aesthetic. Many new sconces have an industrial vibe, incorporating materials like galvanized metal, exposed bulbs, and raw finishes. This creates an edgy, modern look perfect for urban lofts or modern farmhouse designs.

Minimalist sconces with floating candles suspended on nearly invisible frames are also popular. This creates an ethereal, magical effect where the candles seem to hover and glow. Backlit, geometric sconces in bold colors make a dramatic style statement. There are endless options for modern, innovative takes on candle sconces today.

Where to Buy Them

There are several places to find beautiful, modern candle sconces to suit your home’s style.


The internet offers the widest selection of candle sconces. Retailers like Wayfair, Overstock, and Amazon have hundreds of affordable sconces across various designs. For more high-end, designer pieces, check stores like Lumens and YLighting. Etsy is also great for unique vintage-inspired sconces.

Vintage Shops

Vintage and antique stores can be treasure troves for interesting one-of-a-kind sconces. Look for shops specializing in architectural salvage, lighting, or mid-century finds. Estate sales and flea markets are other places to uncover hidden gem sconces.

Lighting Stores

For help selecting the perfect sconce, visit a lighting showroom. Stores like Lamps Plus, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, and Restoration Hardware have knowledgable staff to assist you. They also allow you to see sconces in person rather than just online.

Alternatives for Ambient Lighting

Candle sconces certainly aren’t for everyone. If their classic elegance doesn’t fit your personal style, there are plenty of other options that can set the perfect mood with ambient light. Here are a few popular alternatives to candle sconces:

Wall Sconces

For a similar fixtures to candle sconces but without the hazard and hassle of open flames, try electric wall sconces. These plug-in sconces with shade lamps come in all shapes, sizes and styles to match your decor. Swing arm sconces allow you to adjust the direction of light.

Table Lamps

Freestanding table lamps placed in corners or along walls create soft pools of light for an ambient glow. Opt for dimmable bulbs and lamp shades made from linen or rice paper for the most flattering light. Match lamp style to your room’s existing decor.

Floor Lamps

Slender floor lamps tucked beside seating areas like sofas and chairs are an excellent way to accent the space with ambient light. For minimal impact, choose minimalist designs with simple lamp shades. Position the lamps nearby instead of directly in seating areas to avoid glare.

String Lights

For a whimsical feel, install mini string lights along walls, ceilings, headboards and shelving. Choose warm white bulbs for the coziest glow. You can mount the lights permanently or temporarily fasten them for special occasions.


While candle sconces may have declined in popularity for a period, they are making a comeback as an elegant and functional source of ambient light. With a wide variety of modern designs now available, candle sconces can lend warmth and atmosphere to many different decor styles. When used properly and safely, they remain a classic decorative lighting option. If candlelight is not for you, alternatives like wall sconces and pendant lighting also create inviting ambiance. With so many choices today, it’s easy to find beautiful sconces to illuminate your home.

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