Choosing Lamp Shades: Size, Shape, and Style Tips

Photo by Huseyn Kamaladdin on

How do you find the right size replacement lamp shade? Many people are bewildered and I have seen more than my share of bad choices.  For better understanding, let’s start with the anatomy of the lamp.

The large bottom of the lamp is called its base and its shape is typically round or square. Above it, we find the neck which connects to the socket, the cylindrical holder into which you screw the light bulb. The wire harp is fitted under the socket and rises to the top of the lamp to hold both the lampshade and, many times, a decorative finial on top.  

When choosing a shade, mimic the shape of the base or choose the Empire style.  However, if you like the look of a round or oval shade with an angular base, go for it. 

Now, follow these simple guidelines. The shade should be two thirds the height of the lamp base and twice as wide. For example, if the base is 12 inches tall, the ideal lampshade should be 8 inches tall. If the width of the lamp base is 5 inches, the width of the bottom of the shade should be 10 inches. (Yet, you can always give an inch or two in either direction.) Finally, your lampshade should always cover the neck, harp, and all the lamp hardware.  

There are always exceptions, right?  Some very short lamps have chic tall narrow shades or very tall bases like a candlestick lamp don a much shorter shade. If you place a square base on a round table, a round lamp shade nicely complements the table shape. Also, if the shade is too wide for the location you place the lamp – say you are bumping into it every time you enter your foyer, opt for a narrower shade in which the proportion is still pleasing to the eye.

Now come the fashionable choices – what material and style to select. Materials range from silk to rattan while others are made up of strings of wooden beads or seashells. A translucent or light-colored shade allows more light to enter your room while an opaque or darker color (including the shade’s lining) creates a moodier atmosphere and limits light transmission. In traditional decor, pleated shades work well while contemporary rooms sport smooth shades. 

In closing, my best advice is to bring the lamp, harp, and tape measure to the store when shopping for a new lampshade.  If you want to get it right the first time, you will be glad you did. 

With many satisfied clients since 2008, Barbara Graceffa owns and operates Secretary of the Interior in Quincy, MA offering decorating services at reasonable rates. If you have a blog topic to suggest or need professional help with decorating, downsizing, decluttering, or home staging and relocation services or wish to learn more about her decorating workshops and quilt trunk shows, please contact her via her website or phone 617.921.6033.

By Barbara Graceffa

Barbara Graceffa, CEO of Secretary of the Interior, serves decorating clients; assists with professional organizing, home staging and moving assistance; teaches on these subjects; and delivers quilt lectures and trunk shows.

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