Onion-Style Porch Lanterns
These nautical-inspired sconce lights add coastal cottage charm to your home's entry, no matter the locale
Warm, glowing onion lanterns have been welcoming Americans home for nearly a century. But these wall-mount porch fixtures began life in the early 1800s as work lights on fishing vessels. They are named for their bulbous, onion-shaped globes, which shielded a whale-oil flame from wind, rain, and sea spray. A cage—added later as improved glass-blowing techniques yielded thinner, lighter orbs—protected the globe from breakage. Fitted with a loop handle on top, onion lanterns were a portable light source that could be hung on the wall with a wood peg or a metal bracket.
These days, onion lanterns are electric, and that old peg is now a mounting plate, often decorated with a faux hook. And instead of the original tin, they now come in sturdy brass or copper, as well as aluminum and steel with a painted or plated-metal finish. You can also choose from caged or uncaged globes made of clear, air-bubble-filled seeded, or rippled optic glass. Here, 12 of our favorites.
Tip: To get your proportions right when selecting and installing your onion lantern, follow the rule of fifths: The fixture's height and width should be about one-fifth that of your door, and it should be placed one-fifth of the way down from the top of the door casing.
Size: 5"W x 9"D x 11"H
Made of: Solid brass with an antiqued finish; optic glass
Highlight: Light refracts through the thick, unprotected rippled glass of this faithful handcrafted repro. A hookless mounting plate provides an understated look.
About $270; wayfair.com
Size: 9"W x 11"D x 17"H
Made of: Steel with a dark bronze finish; seeded glass
Highlight: It has a curved hook and bubble-filled glass—hallmarks of the style as the lantern evolved into a porch light—and a nice price.
About $40; lowes.com
Size: 12"W x 12½"D x 19"H
Made of: Aluminum with an oil-rubbed bronze finish; seeded glass
Highlight: At over 1½ feet tall, it's scaled for big impact, particularly when flanking a double doorway.
About $140; maximlight.com
Size: 9"W x 9"D x 15"H
Made of: Steel with a distressed dark red finish; clear glass
Highlight: A more modern take, the spherical globe provides room for a two-ringed cage.
About $190; potterybarn.com
Size: 9"W x 10"D x 15"H
Made of: Steel with a black finish; seeded glass
Highlight: With a spherical globe, round mounting plate, and contoured waist, this one's all curves.
About $140; atgstores.com
Size: 7"W x 8"D x 13"H
Made of: Brass with a bronze finish; seeded glass
Highlight: Minimal projection from the wall makes this lantern ideal for small porticos.
About $140; houseofantiquehardware.com
Size: 9"W x 10"D x 11"H
Made of: Iron with a dark bronze finish; seeded glass
Highlight: It has a weighty look, thanks to a thick cage and a boxy backplate.
About $290; lampsplus.com
Size: 7"W x 9"D x 15"H
Made of: Solid copper with an antiqued finish; clear glass
Highlight: The metal body of this uncaged lantern is clear-coated by hand to preserve its warm russet tone.
About $300; wayfair.com
Size: 10"W x 11"D x 18"H
Made of: Steel with a rust-colored finish; seeded glass
Highlight: A matte-brown body color gives this lantern an aged appearance.
About $75; hayneedle.com
Size: 8"W x 9"D x 16"H
Made of: Copper with a verdigris finish; clear glass
Highlight: Artisans apply an oxidizing solution by hand to achieve the mottled green finish.
About $165; sandwichlantern.com
Size: 8"W x 10⅛"D x 15"H
Made of: Aluminum with a bronze finish; clear glass
Highlight: A burnished finish accents extra detailing, such as the beveled backplate.
About $115; lightinguniverse.com
Shades of Light
Size: 8"W x 8"D x 13"H
Made of: Stainless steel with a nickel finish; seeded glass
Highlight: The traditional lantern shimmers in an unexpected silvery color.
About $70; shadesoflight.com
Size: 9"W x 10"D x 16"H
Made of: Brass with a black finish; seeded glass
Highlight: Its tall, pointed "witch's hat" top and heavier wire cage are accentuated by its ebony hue.
About $150; lightinguniverse.com
Onion lanterns are not just for hanging on the wall. Their iconic shape translates handsomely to other fixture types, for use as a suite or on their own.
Use this pendant in covered entries with high ceilings. Leave at least 7 feet of space from the bottom to avoid head bumps, but make sure the lantern is not so high that it can't be admired from the street.
With a compact profile, it's perfect for a porch with limited headroom or clearance to accommodate front-door swing. Also good in windy areas, where a pendant might sway.
Mark the entrance to your driveway or front walk with this style. It makes a statement on its own but is typically used in conjunction with wall or ceiling fixtures that offer more light closer to the front door.