Organize & Clean

How To Determine the Right Lampshade for a Lamp

updated May 7, 2019
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I recently purchased this lamp and its twin brother. Now I had to choose a lampshade. What size? What color? With so many to choose from, where do you start? Let me walk you through this surprisingly challenging process.

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

There are six basic shapes:
Coolie: small on top, very wide on the bottom, it’s an adaptable shape, best on wide lamps but it can also work well on tall skinny lamps.
Empire: slightly wider on the bottom then on the top, this is the most common shape and it can fit many lamp styles. Try it in traditional, antique and transitional settings.
Bell: This is the curvy shape seen in bedrooms in old TV shows and movies. It flares out at the bottom and works best on urn shaped lamps. Traditional.
Oval: Also good on urn shaped lamps. Contemporary. Modern.
Drum: a rounder version of the oval shape, the same width on top and bottom. Good on elongated lamps or column lamps. Modern.

Measure & Decide on Size
Measure the lamp’s height from the base to the top (the “top” of a lamp is where the socket begins). Now measure its width at its widest point. Now you can calculate the approximate size you need. The formulas vary slightly but the basic premise suggests that the shade should be ⅔ the height and 2x the width. If your lamp has a harp (the metal piece in the shape of a harp with a screw on top to hold the shade in place) measure that too. The height of the harp is the smallest height your shade should be. It’s the size “suggested” by the lamp maker and it’s good to think of it that way; if you end up going with a very tall lampshade or prefer that the bottom of your shade sit lower than the bottom of the socket, the harp can be changed.

This is a matter of style. Do you want a plain linen shade or would you like prefer something a little more decorative? In the last incarnation of my living room, I chose off white silk lampshades bordered with black braiding. The braiding balanced the bright orange of the lamp bases and it was a little flirtatious and Hollywood Regency. You can decorate your lampshade yourself with braiding, cover a plain paper lampshade with wallpaper to match your decor, or try stripes in a bright colored room for balance.

Remember Your Setting
One of the lamps will be going on the credenza near the TV, which is on the back wall, the first wall you see when you walk into my home, so it had to do more than just light up a corner, it had to distract the eye from the TV. The other lamp will be by the door. I wanted a little drama. Because of that I’m looking for shades that are on the bigger side of my measurements.

Consider Your Options
My lamp is urn-shaped but long — and I wanted to emphasize that. I decided on a drum shape because it’s simple and contemporary and fits well into a modern setting. My lamp is a little over 9 inches in diameter at its widest point and 24 inches tall so the highest I could go is about 16 inches tall and up to 18 inches wide. Since the base curves in and is not straight up and down, I could experiment with shades that were smaller in diameter. I wanted simple so I’ll be looking for a plain linen shade.

Now that I had the basic parameters for what style, size and shape shade I needed, I took my lamp base to Fantasy Lamps to see them in person to try them on. Here are my results:

Option 1: I filched this drum shade off my standing lamp. While it’s on the short end of my measurements, the wide shape balances the fat base of the lamp. Looking at it, I felt good about the proportions. The problem is that a shade this size is not a stock items. It will have to be fabricated. Fabrication is commitment and time — and money! Before I go this route, let’s see what’s available in the stock options.
Option 2: Tall shades are dramatic and very contemporary. This shade is at the very large end of my both my width and height measurements. It even pushes it a little. I really liked this shade but when I put it on my lamp’s base, I felt unsure. I liked the height but the width seemed to overpower the long elegant neck of my lamp. I’m getting the feeling that if I push on height, I have to compromise on width and vice versa.
Option 3: This shade’s on the small end of my measurements. It feels cramped. I could change the harp so the shade sits lower but I’m feeling sure there are better options.
Option 4: This shade is taller than my measurements. I like the height, it emphasizes the lamp’s neck and balances the base. It feels dramatic. It’s definitely narrower than I had in mind. But then the credenza’s narrow and you also have to pass by the lamp to get to the closet and I don’t want anyone knocking over the lamp accidentally.

In the end, I’ve decided to go with Option 4. It’s definitely not what I had in mind when I walked in — but it addresses all my needs. I feel happy that I picked the “right” shade.

Images: Abby Stone