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How To Choose the Perfect Lampshade

How To Choose the Perfect Lampshade

Buying a lampshade can be a daunting task. It seems simple enough until you find yourself among aisles of shades at your local discount store. How do you know what size, shape and color will be best for your lamp? There are thousands of shapes, styles, colors and shade materials on the market today. These easy steps will help you determine what shade will work best for your lamp base; you may get so good at it, you will want to search out flea market lamp bases to refurbish!

First, and most importantly, determine the proper size of the shade.  Measure your lamp from the very bottom of the base, up to the bottom of the socket. The socket is the part your bulb screws into. Note this as Measurement #1 on your paper.  Next, measure the width of the widest part of the lamp base. Note this as Measurement #2 on your paper.

parts of a lamp

Diagram courtesy Ballard Designs

Your shade, as a rule of thumb, should be just about as wide (at its widest point) as the first measurement you noted. It should also be approximately the same height as ¾ of your base’s height. So, the equation looks like this: Lamp base height (measurement #1 above) x .75 = Shade height. The shade also needs to be slightly wider than the widest part of your lamp base. Take the second measurement you made above and add 2″ to that number; this is the minimum width of your shade. All of these measurements are approximations; don’t fret if your shade options aren’t EXACTLY the size these measurements say they should be. Use them as guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Take these measurements with you to the store.

Before you begin shopping, pay attention to the way the shade fastens to your lamp. Some lamp bases require harps to attach them, while others have a fitter that sits underneath your bulb. Be sure you select a shade that will attach to the base properly. Also, make sure you test the shade before leaving the store, so you can be sure the height of your harp or fitter works with the base. You want to make sure the shade will not sit too close to the light bulb, or it may cause a fire or damage the shade. Give the bulb 2-3″ for best results with higher wattages.

lamp and shade

Now, determine the shape of your shade. Your lamp base will determine this, as well. If your base is square or rectangular in shape, a shade with a similar shape will work well on your base. If your lamp base is a very traditional vase shape, a bell-shaped shade will be great on your lamp. Drum shades (which have the same diameter on the top as they do on the bottom) work great on contemporary styles, and very simple base shapes.

Next, decide on the color and fabric of the shade. Look at the colors in your lamp base, and use them as a starting point. If your lamp is mainly dark bronze, but also has a few brass highlights here and there, perhaps a gold-toned shade would work well. However, you could also select a deep, rich red shade, to really stand out and make a statement with your dark bronze lamp. Use the colors in your lamp as a starting point, but don’t forget the colors in your room! A lampshade is a great place to repeat your accent color, add a fun pattern to the room, or bring a new texture to the space. Don’t forget, however, that the darker your shade, and the heavier the fabric, the less light it will allow through it. If your lamp is simply used as an accent in the room, this may be fine. If you plan to use your lamp for reading or task lighting, however, be sure that your shade will allow adequate light to fall onto your workspace.

Test your shade on your lamp’s base, to be sure you have all the parts and pieces you need to secure it, and to make sure you like the result before you buy.

More Tips:

  • Try your local discount, craft or home improvement store for some great shade options. If you can’t find just what you are looking for, check out your local lighting store for more options. You may even have a store specializing in lamps near you; check your local listings!
  • If you are looking to have a custom shade made for your lamp, these artisans are available, as well. Try an internet search, or your local phone directory, for some options nearby. I have seen some fantastic shades made from scarves, old quilts, vintage fabrics – just about anything you can imagine!
  • Be sure you allow enough space between the light bulb and the sides of the shade for adequate ventilation. For a 150 watt bulb, leave 3-4″ of space all around the bulb. For a 50 watt bulb, you only need 1-2″ as they don’t get quite as hot. Using a compact fluorescent bulb will keep the heat down, but they may be too tall for the shade; be sure to test accordingly when shopping!
  • Make sure your shade covers the switch on your lamp, if it is located near the socket. This isn’t something you want to see!

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