Switch plates can add a decorative design element to a room, or simply cover a light switch in quiet anonymity. Often cheap, plastic and unadorned, switch plates have little functional value, other than to create a barrier around an electrical outlet and hide the drywall cut in which it sets. If you’re looking for a subtle way to accent a room or wall that could use a bit of pop, consider contrasting the color and material of a switch plate against the paint or wallpaper it meets.
Is the Light Switch in Plain View?
If the light switch is in a standard place near the door, finding it may not be a problem. If the light switch is not the main room switch or is placed in a non-traditional location, people may need visual help in finding it. Having a switch plate contrast the wall color will do this.
Consider the Décor
If the room is undecorated and utilitarian, such as a garage, unfinished basement, attic or laundry room, you may not need to put much thought into what type of switch plate to buy. An inexpensive, plastic cover may do the trick. Basic switch plates come in black, white and several beige or off-white colors. Most are made of plastic.
If the room is well-decorated, turn on the light in the room for which you’ll be buying a switch plate and step back. Take a look at it from different areas in the room. Would a metal or colored switch plate add to the décor, or distract from it? A sharp contrast between a light switch cover and the surrounding paint or wallpaper can add one more design touch to a tastefully decorated room. This is especially important if the light switch is not near the door and guests will need to locate the switch when they’re in the room. A loud, whimsical or ornate plate may seem fun when you first get it, but might become an annoying eyesore once the novelty wears off.
Materials & Styles
In addition to plastic, you can choose brass, bronze, porcelain enamel, iron, mirrored, wood, marble, nickel, pewter, copper, stone or pressed metal for a switch plate. You can also opt for a fabric finish, but this may absorb skin oils or other dirt, so consider where you’ll use a fabric light switch cover. They come smooth or ornately engraved, in Art Deco, Colonial, Victorian, Country, Contemporary and many other styles. If the switch plate will cover an emergency switch, look for red and white switch plates with emergency wording and markings on them. You can depart from the standard diagonal shape with rounded edges or completely free-form figurines or object shapes.
Get the Right Specs
If someone is asking you to pick up a switch plate for them when you’re at the hardware store, ask them if it will cover a single switch or two switches side by side. Find out if the switch is a traditional toggle flip switch, a round dimmer switch, push button, split function or a rocker switch, which looks like a flat tile. A split function plate may serve to cover an outlet or two, as well as a switch, or two different types of switches. Ask if the person for whom you are buying the switch plate has a color preference.
You can buy switch plates with no holes in them to cover switches you no longer intend to use, either temporarily or permanently. Some switch plates come packaged with screws; make sure the packaging contains all the screws you need. If you can’t find exactly what you need in your local store, you can order switch plates online. This may be overkill if all you need to do is functionally cover a light switch. If you need a more decorative element for your space, you may find it worthwhile to shop online to have access to the largest selection of colors, materials and designs.
Because of their similar shape and size, some companies refer to the cover plates for electrical outlets as switch plates. Make sure you examine the packaging to make sure you are buying a switch plate for a light switch, if that’s your intention.