Sconces - light fixtures attached to the wall between floor and ceiling - can serve as primarily functional objects, or they can create a dramatic focal point in a room.

"Sconces lend a very immediate sense of elegance to a space," says Joe Rey-Barreau, an architect and associate professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky. They create "a very soft and comforting light."

Sconces are available in a range of sizes, to match the scale of a room. The average indoor sconce is about 12 inches tall, according to the American Lighting Association, but some are as long as 30 inches.

Traditional brass sconces are still popular, but other finishes have also gained prevalence, including nickel, pewter, painted metal, and hand-forged steel. More modern styles emphasize simple lines and shapes. Some are designed to tolerate dampness, such as in bathrooms, or even work outdoors. They are frequently installed in groups of two or three.

"In a better sconce, the detail will be there once you start to really look at it," says Jerry Hopp, a certified lighting consultant who handles custom sales for Annapolis Lighting in Maryland. In less-expensive models, the metal is thinner and not as many finishes are available.

More-expensive models are built with replaceable parts, extending their life, Hopp says. Even the hardware may be different. "A better sconce will have a better socket, maybe take a 100-watt bulb."

If you're looking to wash your walls in light, here's what you can get for your money.

The bargain. If your budget is less than $50, consider a simple sconce from the Hampton Bay line at Home Depot. A one-light wall sconce in a weathered-oak finish with Scavo glass retails for about $40.

The basics. If your budget allows you to spend $50 to $200, you'll have a much larger choice of styles, finishes and manufacturers.

"Consumers should be able to find a good wall sconce for no more than $150," Rey-Barreau says.

One option in this range is Justice Design Group's Veneto Luce collection, finished with Venetian glass and white nickel, which retails for about $200.

The upgrade. For $200 to $500, you can find distinctive designs, durable enough to function outdoors.

One option is a cylinder-shaped sconce made of ceramic from Justice Design's Sun Dagger collection. This sconce retails for about $250.

The splurge. Those willing to spend $500 or more on a sconce can find one-of-a-kind products, says Rey-Barreau, who is also the educational consultant for the American Lighting Association.

One possibility would be handmade pieces, such as those made by Hubbardton Forge in Castleton, Vt. Hubbardton's Vista Triple three-light sconce, which retails for about $650, is reversible for up or down light and available in several finishes.