How to Choose the Right Lampshade

Sally Painter
Lamp

The best rule of thumb for selecting a lampshade is to go with a classic shape, such as the bell shape shade. This type of shade will fit most lamp styles. If your lamp isn't an unusual or novelty shape, then it can be fitted with almost any style of shade. The more unique the lamp shape, the more limited the shade choices are. Color and décor design also impact your choices in determining which lampshade is the best match for your lamp.

Selecting the Perfect Lampshade

Victorian shade

If you're stuck on which lampshade style works best, try going with one that repeats the shape of the lamp.

  • If your lamp base is round with a square base, then you can use either a round lamp shade or a square one.
  • If the lamp is a cylinder shape, then a cylinder or drum shade will accentuate the shape.
  • If your lamp is very decorative or highly ornate, opt for a plainer shade to create contrast and allow the lamp design to be the focal point.

Lamp shade colors and patterns should match your décor. Also, you want the shade color to match your lamp, although this does not necessarily mean that the colors are the same.

  • A black lampshade with a gold lining can give your room a rich ambiance since it diffuses the light.
  • A white shade will reflect more light into the room and give it a brighter ambiance.

You may wish to use the lamp as an accent piece, so you could use the same accent color used in your room.

Determining Lampshade Height and Size

drum lampshade

You want the shade to cover the socket (mechanical part) of the lamp. There are two rules to determine the height and size of lampshade that you need.

First, you want to measure the height of the lamp. This measurement is taken from the bottom of the lamp base to the bottom of the light socket.

  • The ideal size of a lampshade is 75% of the lamp height.
  • You may be able to get away with a lampshade that is 65% of the height of your lamp, but no less. For example, if your lamp is 21 inches high from base to the bottom of the socket, then you want to multiply 21 x 75%= 15.75 inches.
  • Measure on the slant of the shade from top to bottom, unless your shade is a drum or cylinder with straight sides. Most shade packaging indicates the height.

The second rule is to make certain that the shade diameter is never more than the total height of the lamp. The ideal shade diameter is a couple of inches less than the lamp height. You want to measure the wider end of the shade (usually the bottom) to get the diameter size.

Other lamp shade tips include:

  • Create a very dramatic lamp effect with an oversized lampshade. Very modern lamps are ideal candidates for this type of stylized lampshade look.
  • Before the advent of Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs, safety concerns dictated that floor lamp shades are at least three inches away from the sides of the shade.

Choosing Style

novelty lamp
chandelier lampshades

The style of a lamp shade can have more to do with your décor than the lamp, if the lamp is fairly standard in shape and design style. The following lampshade shapes go best with each period style:

  • Bell: A classic lampshade. The bottom is wider than the top with slightly flared sides and resembles a bell shape.
  • Scalloped bell lampshades are scalloped at the top and bottom.
  • Bell cut corner lampshades are another classic look from the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Chandelier: These have a clip-on fitter and attach to individual chandelier bulbs. These are a good choice for colonial or country style, modern or chic contemporary styles.
  • Coolie: This is a straight-side shade. The shade bottom is three times wider than the top. This shade makes an excellent choice for a reading lamp for downward lighting and works well in most décor styles.
  • Cylinder or drum: This is usually a straight vertical lamp shade. Cylinder shades are taller than drum shades. Drum shades are wider than cylinder ones. These are excellent for Federal, Antebellum and Colonial décors.
  • Empire: This shade is straight-sided. The bottom is two times the width of the top. This design is adaptive to most period styles.
  • Mushroom pleated: The mushroom pleated shade has a wider bottom than top. This style goes well with most décor designs.
  • Novelty: A novelty shade is designed specifically for a novelty lamp and can also transform a standard lamp for a quirky or ultra sleek look. This works well with modern and contemporary décors.
  • Rectangle: This shade is ideal for a large rectangle lamp or chic hand-carved base. It is also excellent for Chinese style lamps and classic brass or large round lamps.
  • Scalloped dome: This lampshade features fringe or beads and is ideal for Victorian décors.

Anatomy of Lampshades

bead trim lampshade

A fitter is how the lampshade is secured to the lamp. There are five types of fitters.

  • Clip-on fitter: This is a clip that's attached to the shade that goes directly over the light bulb.
  • Spider harp fitter: This shade is designed to sit on top of the harp and is held in place by a finial.
  • Spider reflector fitter: This shade sits on top of a reflector bowl that is positioned just above the harp. It's held in place by a finial.
  • Slip UNO fitter: This shade attaches to the lamp by sitting underneath the light bulb. When the bulb is screwed into the socket, the shade is secured.
  • Threaded UNO fitter: This is typically a floor lamp shade. It sits above the bulb that hangs down from the screw thread. The shade is secured when the bulb is screwed into the socket.

Making a Choice

If you follow the basic rules for lampshade height and pay attention to the lamp shape, you should be able to narrow your choice of lampshade style.

There are all types of embellishments, such as braiding, beading, rope and cord that can change a simple bell lampshade into an exotic or romantic one. The color, style and shape of your lamp as well as the height will dictate the size and style of shade best suited for your lamp.

How to Choose the Right Lampshade