6 Best Tips To Picking The Right Exterior Light Fixture
6 Best Tips To Picking The Right Exterior Light Fixture
6 Best Tips To Picking The Right Exterior Light Fixture

Size Matters…Or Does It?

The truth on exterior light fixtures.


Light fixtures are like jewelry for the home. They can add bit of bling, sparkle and much needed light to any space. With so many styles to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming. Have you ever walked into a lighting store? The fixtures cover the walls and ceilings everywhere. It’s like walking through a candy store providing more options than you can digest!

While there are basic rules of thumb when it comes to selecting the perfect light fixture, you don’t always have to follow them. The most important things to consider are style, function, and price.
I recently was hired by a beautiful couple who decided to relocate to Asheville, NC. Their new home was under construction, and they wanted help selecting colors and materials during a 3 day-weekend in which they flew in. Time was of the essence.

To truly understand someone’s style and taste, it can take time. When you’re limited with that resource, seeing inspiration pictures helps. The other challenge can be the budget. With so many expenses being incurred during the building process, the outflow of money can seem like a leaky faucet and it can become “emotional”.

While I help each client find their personal style, I also respect their budget. Building and designing a home is never easy, and there are times when unexpected challenges happen. It’s also very common to select a color, finish or fixture, and once it’s in place, you decide you don’t like it as much as you thought you did in the store (or in a photo).



Note: these fixtures are approximately 1/4 to 1/3 the height of the front door. Notice the placement of the fixtures, their shape and style next to each door.
Back to the story on our light exterior light fixtures…

We found a fixture they really liked, both in terms of style and budget. The glass within it matched perfectly to their new front door, and we were all confident with the selection! A few months passed before the fixtures were installed due to the construction process. When they were finally attached to the front of the home, they looked small in size. The 8’ high door was taller than your standard one of 6’-8”. In addition, the contractor installed the electrical boxes toward the top of the door frame, which I learned was standard for their building style. If the lights would have been placed a little lower along the door frame, their size might not have been an issue.

When the clients returned to the job site for another visit and check-in, they decided they didn’t like the sconces on the house due to their small scale. Disappointment was felt and a return trip to the lighting store was needed. In the end, a larger fixture (and more expensive) was selected and installed.

Building and renos are like going to the gym. No pain, no gain. While we would all love days that never included any setbacks, tweaks or disappointments, that is not reality. So knowing these things can happen help us to handle them. All design and construction projects incur tweaks. You can watch any episode of Fixer Upper and see Joanna or Chip calling the client to explain what happened. They can be unexpected or simply be a “change of mind”.

I’ve had that happen many times in my own home. One time I picked out a beautiful soft shade of orange to paint my hall bath. When the color was on the walls, it looked like a tangerine exploded everywhere! I hated it! I wanted a punch of color, but I didn’t want to actually feel it. Back to the paint chips I went to find something more soothing to my palette. I took a risk and it didn’t pan out. It was totally OK.

Think about some of your shopping trips.

Have you ever had buyer’s remorse on something?

We all have.

So what is the right size exterior light fixture for your home, should you want to avoid having to make a change?

Experts will tell you…a simple rule of thumb is to take the height of the exterior door, divide by 4 and determine your fixture size. They recommend you to look for a light fixture that is ¼ to 1/3 the height of the door. For example, if your door is 6’8” tall, you’d look for a fixture that is approximately 19-26” tall.

I disagree with that calculation if you are working with a single door. If you have double doors, or sidelights on either side, which increase the width of the front entrance, a larger size light fixture will work. You also need to take into consideration where the light fixture is mounted. If at the top of the door frame, you can go with a taller fixture because it will hang down. If the sconce is mounted below the door frame, a bit lower on the wall, your size can be smaller.

If you only go by the suggested rule, your light fixture can look odd. Honestly, there are thousands of 12” – 13” high light sconces on the market. Using the “rule”, you’d have to put those on a door that was 4’ tall. I don’t know any home with a door that size.


Many 6’ 8” doors use a 12” – 18” tall sconce. As you drive or walk around, you might start to notice the different styles and sizes of exterior lights on homes. You’ll see how some work perfectly and look balanced, while others don’t. Some of the smaller height fixtures blend perfectly with the style of home, if placed correctly. I’ve also seen fixtures that were way too large on a home, for my personal preference.



Note: these sconces are approximately 12″ H. See how they look different depending on where they are mounted next to these front doors with casing and sidelights.


Knowing all that, what do you do next?

Here are my 6 best Tips to pick right, the first time…

1. Pick what you love in terms of style, size and function.

2. Consider your budget.

3. Know the dimensions of your door (height, width, include sidelights if applicable, trim/casing, and the location of the electrical box/connection to help you determine a size. Note: Once the electrical box is in place, it can be costly to move due to labor and materials (electrical and exterior).

4. If you find yourself clueless, take a photo of  exterior door(s) to your lighting store, and ask for their recommendation. Once they see the style of your home, they’ll be able to point you in a direction.

5. Ask if there is a return policy. Some places have a restocking fee, if it’s a special order item.

6. If you get the fixture and decide you don’t like it, know that it’s OK to change your mind. Give yourself permission…it’s freeing.


Light fixtures enhance the look of your home. Every person has a personal style that reflects who they are. If you don’t know what your style is, look through magazines, online and drive through neighborhoods to get inspiration.

You’ll find the perfect fixture! It’s out there waiting for you.

Have you ever felt overwhelm when it came to selecting a light fixture? If so, please comment below with your story.

Here’s to your bright and happy home!

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