How To Choose the Fabric of a Lampshade

fabric lampshade style guide

Lamps come in almost every conceivable design, color, and size, adding warmth and character to our homes.

But no lamp is complete without its shade. Lampshades, like lamps, exist in endless shapes and styles, from bold geometric designs to traditional bell-shaped curves. However, even our favorite shades grow old — eventually, many of them yellow over time, or the décor of the room may have changed.

When you are choosing a new lampshade, one of the most significant decisions is the material of the new shade. To find the perfect material of shade to fit your lamp and your room, you need to consider many different points, including fabric color, light diffusion, and the surrounding decorations.

The Color Of The Shade

As you select a new lampshade, one of the first decisions you will face is the color of the shade. In many ways, this decision comes from a decorative, rather than a functional, point of view. For example, if you want your shades to be a focal point in your room, you should choose bold colors that will stand out from the rest of the decoration. On the other hand, if you want a subtler approach, try picking a lampshade with neutral tones.

To help you decide what color of shade best fits your lamp, room and existing home décor, consider these three factors — the type and location of the lamp, along with the surrounding furniture.

1. Type of Lamp

When you are selecting the right color of fabric for your lampshade, first consider the kind and style of your lamp.

There are three major lamp styles — round, candlestick and square/rectangular. Round bases are a traditional and timeless shape, while square or angular bases have more modest appeal and candlestick bases fall somewhere in between.

types of lamp bases

To determine the right hue for your new shade, examine the type of lamp underneath. Is it a bottom-heavy, round base? Or is it a classic and streamlined candlestick? Your choice of color will depend on both the style of the lamp base and your décor — do you want your lamp to look striking and trendy, or classic and traditional? 

If you have a traditional lamp, pair it with a traditional shade color for a cohesive effect. Neutrals like white and a warm beige go well with virtually any lamp base. To accompany a classic style of lamp, these shades add a gentle sophistication to the base, helping it blend effortlessly into the rest of the décor. A retro or modern color such as dark blue or a rich red goes well with a geometric or angular base, adding unexpected and stylish flair to a room.

Alternately, contrasting the style of the lamp with the color of the lampshade will add dimension and interest to any décor. If your base is in a traditional style, top it off with a deep blue shade (why only this color?). If you have a fun, unique lamp, try pairing it with a neutral-colored shade for a softening effect.

Here are a few general lampshade color recommendations based on the type of lamp base.

  • For brass lamps, try a color that makes the metallic base shine out in a room. White looks beautiful with polished brass, while antique brass goes best with off-white or cream. For an art deco feel, try pairing a black shade with a metal lamp.
  • For intricate porcelain lamps, the base design often features many colors and elaborate details. Pair a porcelain base with a white or taupe shade for a sophisticated look
  • For crystal lamps, almost any color of lampshade works well. Try a cream shade for a subtle look, or go with a bright color like red or gold for a pop of interest.

As you search for the perfect fabric, experiment with a few different shade colors. Ultimately, the most significant rule in selecting a lampshade is to go along with your sense of style.

2. Location of the Lamp

The position of the lamp also plays into the color of the shade. Note where you have placed your lamp. What is the current décor of the room? Is it timeless and traditional? Are the walls white and minimalistic, with plenty of greenery spilling out from pots on the floor? Is it a more masculine space, with rich woods and deep colors? Particularly, look at the colors threading through the decoration. Are they primarily light neutrals, or bright pops of pastels?

Also, examine what other lamps and lampshades are in the space. What are the dominant colors and styles of the other lamps? Would replacing one lampshade mean you have to replace all of them?

If you like the current decor in the room, choose a lampshade color that fits the theme. For example, if the room is full of traditional pieces and colors, choose a classic lampshade fabric to match. Light-colored satin and cotton add an understated elegance to a classic décor scheme, while bright, fun lampshades would flow effortlessly in a room brimming with vibrant accent colors and contemporary elements.

To easily upgrade your room's tone and theme, try adding choosing a lampshade hue that matches a subtle accent color. 

3. Surrounding Furniture

If your room has a blend of different themes, it can be difficult to choose which one to match with your lampshade. Do you pick a neutral shade to match a traditional sofa, or do you go with a funky color to fit the wall art?

If you are finding it difficult to narrow down your search, examine the furniture immediately surrounding the lamp. Is it next to a cherry wood dresser, a black bookcase or an end table next to an antique chair?

surrounding furniture can help you pick your lampshade fabric

The pieces immediately surrounding the lamp can help you determine the color & fabric of your new lampshade. Light, subtle colors can seamlessly blend with classic furniture or soften dramatic accent pieces. Striking colors such as black or navy might look beautiful on top of a wooden table or next to an abstract or attention-grabbing piece of art.

Amount of Light Diffusion

When you are choosing a replacement lampshade, the second decision to make is the desired lighting effect. Various lampshade shapes and styles have different spreads of light around a room — knowing your desired effect will help narrow your search.

Both the color and the material of the lampshade influence how it diffuses light. Historically, most lampshades have been white or other light neutrals because these colors diffuse the most light. A white shade will be the most effective at spreading light through a room, while colored or dark shades direct light down the base of the lamp. Alternately, dark-colored shades tend to add a touch of drama by creating pools of light in a room.

Lampshade fabrics can be either translucent or opaque. Translucent lampshades allow light to escape through the sides of the shade, diffusing light evenly across a space. Opaque shades are made from materials that prevent light from diffusing from the sides. Instead, light emits from the lamp through the top and bottom of the shade, creating a unique lighting experience.

When you are choosing between translucent and opaque fabric for your lampshade, think about the purpose of the lamp. If it is for reading or to shed ambient light, you should choose a translucent shade. If you're using the lamp only as an accent light and don't need a lot of light in the room, you can use an opaque shade.

While the color of the lampshade comes down to décor and design preference, the lamp's function will determine whether to buy an opaque or translucent fabric.

Types of Lampshade Fabrics 

When you choose the material of your shade, you need to consider the look you want for your lamp and your room, as well as the purpose of the lamp. There are four broad categories of lampshade materials: silks, synthetics, linens, and cotton.

1. Silks

Silk is the fabric of luxury. For thousands of years, silk has been a coveted export, bringing a sense of elegance and sophistication to everything from scarves to curtains.

silk lampshade fabric

On a lampshade, silk tends to create an air of romance and opulence — the smooth fabric reflects light and can create an iridescent effect. There are many different types of silk fabrics, including the following:

 

  • Shantung — As a popular material for making bridal gowns, shantung silk is thinner and more delicate than dupioni silk. Shantung silk has few to no slubs, and it is known for its light, flowing feel.
  • Dupioni — More textured than shantung, dupioni has prominent slubs. Slightly thicker and heavier than shantung silk, dupioni has a more rustic look, but it has a beautiful sheen when lit.
  • Pongee — Originating in the forests of Asia, pongee silk is crisp, sturdy and has no noticeable slubs. The thin, tight weave of the fabric has made it a favorite for centuries, and clothing makers first used it to line kimonos in ancient China.
  • Taffeta — Taffeta silk is a fine fabric with a smooth touch. Considered a high-end fabric, taffeta looks like pongee silk, but it is thicker and has a more polished appearance.
  • Habutai — Also known as "china silk," this classic fabric has no slubs and a thin, lightweight and lustrous feeling. Because of its thin and delicate texture, habutai silk is a good option for shades with fine details or pleating.

When to use: Choose a silk lampshade for rooms where the fabric's romance, luxuriousness, and elegance will be a perfect fit.

2. Synthetics

While authentic silk comes from the cocoons of silkworms, synthetic fabric is man-made. A manufactured fusion of various fibers, synthetic materials are typically durable and often more affordable than some silks.

Two common types of synthetic lampshade material include Anna and Supreme Satin.

  • Anna synthetic — The synthetic version of pongee silk, Anna fabric is not quite as fine as real silk. With a tight and thin weave and a durable texture, Anna synthetic fabric is a popular choice for lampshades.
  • Supreme Satin — Supreme Satin is the synthetic version of shantung silk. Glossy and glamorous, satin lampshades bring a luxurious sophistication to any room.

When to use: Pick a synthetic lampshade for retro or sophisticated décor themes. 

3. Linens

Derived from the flax plant, linen has been a prized fabric for centuries, found everywhere from ancient Egypt to household dishcloths. It is also one of the best fabrics for a lampshade.

Linen is two to three times stronger than cotton fabric. Porous and lightweight, linen easily wicks away both heat and moisture, and it is a naturally antibacterial material.

linen lampshade fabric

Other members of the linen family include fine, flax and handkerchief linen.

  • Linen — With a light, consistent weave, linen fabric has a natural, more relaxed texture than other materials.
  • Fine linen — Fine linen has an even more consistent weave than plain linen. With a tighter warp and weft, fine linen is delicate and airy.
  • Flax linen — More textured than other linens, flax has plenty of slubs and conveys a relaxed, less formal look.
  • Handkerchief linen — Handkerchief linen is 100 percent natural, pure linen fibers, and it is often harder to acquire than other types of linen fabric.

When to use: Linens carry a charming, simple feel, and are perfect additions to traditional and comfortable rooms such as living rooms or cozy dens.

4. Cotton

Known for its versatility and durability, cotton fabric is one of the most commonly used materials around the world.

Cotton is a popular lampshade fabric that is easy to clean, and it drapes and gathers well, lending itself to pleated and decorative lampshades. Cotton fabrics come in an almost endless variety, but one of the best choices for lampshades is soft-touch cotton.

  • Soft touch — With a uniform appearance and smooth texture, soft-touch cotton is a lightweight and durable fabric. Soft touch has a tighter weave than both linen and fine linen, making it a lovely alternative to linen lampshades.

When to use: Cotton lampshades bring a rustic and understated beauty to any décor scheme. Choose a cotton shade for a laid-back living room or bedroom, or a space that tends to accumulate dust — because it is easy to clean, cotton is the perfect choice for locations that tend to get dirty. 

 

Silks Synthetics Linens Cotton

Shantung

Light slubs.
Thinner and more delicate than Dupioni.

Dupioni
More texture. Prominent slubs.
It is similar to shantung, but slightly thicker and heavier.

Pongee
No slubs.
Thin tight weave fabric.

Taffeta
Fine silk with a smooth touch.
Considered a high end fabric.
Looks like Pongee Silk but thicker.
Available only for custom shades.

Habutai
No slubs.
Thin light weight silk.
Available only for custom shades.
Good option for shades with fine details and pleating.

Anna

Not quite as fine as real silk.
Synthetic version of the Pongee Silk.

Supreme Satin
Slubs.
Synthetic version of Shantung.

Linen

Consistent weave.
Natural, more relaxed texture.

Fine Linen
Consistent weave.
Tighter warp and weft.

Flax Linen
Slubs.
More textured.
Relaxed and less formal look.

Handkerchief Linen
100% natural pure linen.
Available only for custom shades.

Soft touch.
Uniform appearance.
Tighter weave than Linen and Fine Linen.

 

Other Lampshade Materials

Lampshades are available in more than only the fabric choices above. There are many other non-flammable and safe materials for lampshades, including unique options such as canvas, stained glass, punched tin and seashells.

Burlap, in particular, is a trendy fabric for lampshades. If you choose a burlap lampshade for your home, try pairing it with a farmhouse or rustic-themed room for a charming, pastoral look.

When determining what fabric to choose, consider the maintenance levels of different materials. While cotton and glass are easy to clean, more delicate fabrics such as silk and satin require extra care and attention.

Some bulbs will make certain fabrics yellow over time. If your lampshade is white, cream or another light neutral, pay attention to the wattage of lightbulb you put in your lamp to keep the lampshade in premier condition.

Custom Lampshades

If you can't find the lampshade you're looking for, you could consider ordering a custom lampshade. While it's possible to customize a lampshade yourself, for the best results, work with a professional lampshade designer. Many fabrics are finicky and difficult to work with for people who don't have years of experience working with shades.

custom lampshade options

A custom lampshade with fabric allows you to have complete control over the look of your lamp and your room. You can design a shade to fit the individual needs of your space. If you have a favorite print or pattern, you can order fabric to your specifications, ensuring a one-of-a-kind shade tailored to your taste.

An experienced artisan can create a custom lampshade from almost any fabric — if you want to save a favorite lace dress your mother passed down to you, you could turn it into a lovely, unique lampshade. Customized lampshades give you the opportunity to breathe new life into family heirlooms. Maybe your family has passed down a hand-stitched blanket or intricately embroidered silk handkerchiefs. Turning beautiful heirlooms into custom lampshades lets you continue the tradition, passing down your new lamp from generation to generation.

New York City's Premier Lampshade Company

Let us help you find the perfect lampshade. At Oriental Lamp Shade Company, we have provided the New York area with the finest lamps and lampshades for over 80 years.

We take pride in our reputation of providing the highest-quality products and service. We are an authorized lamp repair shop and can help you bring new life to a worn or broken piece. In addition to helping you find, repair or recover a lampshade, we specialize in lampshade customization. Our experts know how to make a lampshade out of anything, and can build shades to fit your lamp's unique specifications.

Look through our extensive selection of premier lampshades, or contact us to choose your own fabric for a custom shade today!