Finding the perfect lampshade can seem impossible.
Lamps come in every possible shape and color, and so do their lampshades. Besides complementing a lamp base, the right lampshade must suit the room, the furniture and the theme. It must be balanced and draw enough attention to be noticed, but not enough to dominate.
While interior decorating is an art, choosing a lampshade is, in many ways, a science. At Oriental Lamp Shade Company, we have over 80 years of experience with lamps and lighting. Take a look at the following tips to help you pick out the right lamp and lampshade for your space — every time.
How to Choose the Right Lampshade
First, consider these components when choosing a new or replacement lampshade:
1. Type of Lamp
The first step to picking out a lampshade is to examine your lamp base. Designers group lamps into three basic shapes: round, square or angular, and candlestick.
As a starting point, round bases pair well with round or hexagonal shades. For square or angular bases, try square or rectangular shades for a cohesive effect. A candlestick base combines both round and angular elements, so it can take nearly any type of lampshade.
Consider the current balance of your lamp as well. For example, bottom-heavy lamps are lightened if paired with cone-shaped shades like coolies. As a general rule of thumb, the more basic the lamp body, the wider the variety of lampshades it can support.
Also, take into account the difference between table and floor lamps. Because of their tall height and thin width, floor lamps can typically handle larger shades. However, a table lampshade, at its widest, should only be roughly 1” wider than the base of the lamp to ensure a balanced appearance.
2. Location of the Lamp
When choosing a lampshade, examine the lamp’s location. Take note of the room’s décor. Is it proudly traditional or modern with masculine elements? What other lamps are already in place? Do you want your new shade to complement and blend in with what’s already present or to stand out as a statement piece?
The location of the lamp will also determine its use. Is this a bedside lamp used for reading? Maybe it sits on an office table or in a back room surrounded by antiques. For higher-traffic areas like bedrooms and hallways, smaller, flatter shades are best to avoid bumping them. In work-heavy settings, consider shades with wide bottoms to diffuse light and create a pleasing, productive workspace.
3. Surrounding Furniture
Take note of the furniture surrounding your lamp. At first, try complementing the shape of your furniture with the shape of your lampshade. If the lamp will sit on a rectangle table, try an angular lampshade. For sculpted, rounded furniture, especially pieces with rounded corners, consider a rounded shade.
Sometimes, choosing a shade to match the furniture instead of the lamp creates harmony within the room. For example, if you display a square lamp on a round table, try a round shade. The lampshade will balance the setting and add a coordinated look to the décor.
You can also try matching the proportions of your shade to those of your furniture. If a dresser is wide and flat, choose a shade that has a similar appearance.
4. Desired Lighting Effect
After taking note of the lamp’s location, decide what impact you want your lighting to have. One way to adjust the ambiance of your lamp is through lampshade material. When choosing lampshade material, decide between a translucent or opaque fabric.
Translucent shades allow light to filter out the sides of the lamp and are best suited for reading and ambient light. Opaque lampshades create up-and-down beams that set dramatic moods and highlight objects. Especially when in dark colors like black and gray, opaque shades are distinctively modern.
Beyond translucent and opaque, lampshades fall into two broad categories: hardback and softback.
Designed to keep light from escaping through the shade’s sides, hardback shades are lined with plastic materials. The shape is firm and held in place with a top and bottom wire ring and glued into a place behind a sophisticated outer material. Light from the bulb will reflect off the hard lining which is typically white or gold, creating a brighter output than soft shades.
Softback shades don’t have a firm lining, although they may be reinforced with a flexible material made of synthetic fabrics. Usually, manufacturers use rayon or polyester and we consider polyester the best material for lining for its durability. The lampshades also require additional vertical supports to maintain their shape which is made from a full metal frame with the fabric sewn onto the frame for custom lampshades or glued on the frame for ready-made lampshades. In softback shades, light comes through the sides. Typically, they are lighter in color than hardbacks, the closer the shade is to white the less it will absorb parts of the light and will allow more light to pass through.
For a more comprehensive list of lampshade fabrics, check out our guide to choosing the perfect lampshade material.
5. Types of Lampshades
Lampshades come in a wide variety of shapes and textures, below are the eight most common categories:
Also called straight empire shades, euro style lampshades have a wide top diameter and steep sides. They tend to be shorter than an empire shade, giving them a more modern edge.
Euro shades contribute elegance and sophistication to any space and are especially popular in urban themes.
When to use: Hardback euro shades add a contemporary look and fit well with modern décor themes. Pair them with a traditional candlestick lamp for an instant urbanizing effect. When covered in fabric, euros fit a more traditional style.
With a classic cylinder shape and a slight taper, drum lampshades will modernize and elongate any lamp. Drum shades are divided into two broad categories: shallow and deep. This refers to their height — shallow drums are typically shorter than 10 inches.
Drums bring an Art Deco, contemporary feel to a room. With a roughly equal distribution of light, they are suited for rooms where maximum light is better than soft ambiance. Drum shades are highly versatile and can be paired well with table lamps, floor lamps and even pendant light fixtures.
When to use: Drum shades are usually best with geometric bases. Because of their modern look, they can turn a simple lamp into a powerful statement piece. They work well on egg-shaped lamps or lamps with wide bases.
Empire shades are the classic "lamp" shape and give lamps a sense of symmetry. They're perfectly proportioned, and the top diameter of an empire shade is half the size of the bottom diameter. A well-paired empire shade brings timeless sophistication to a room and will last through decades of décor fads.
Empires have a larger spread of light from the bottom of the shade, which diffuses light throughout a room. The narrow top vents heat from the bulb, keeping the shade from overheating. Empires are ideal for reading and are popular choices for table lamps.
When to use: Empire shades are classics for a reason. They fit well with virtually any base and style. Try pairing an empire with an urn-shaped base, or placing it in a well-visited room to add a soft atmosphere.
Square and rectangular lampshades have flat sides and corners. They come in a variety of styles, from the bold pyramid style to the elegant, Asian-inspired pagoda. If the bottom and top have equal diameters, the shade is categorized as a “drum” square or rectangle. If the shade has a smaller diameter on the top, it is an “empire” or “coolie” type.
The clean lines of square and rectangular shades give them a modern and masculine element. They can add formality to a space and are often considered to be statement pieces. These shades have either “sharp corners” of 90 degrees or slightly tapered corners for a less rigid effect.
When to use: Usually, square or rectangle shades match well with square or rectangle bases. However, for contrast, try pairing one with a round base — it’s an unexpected twist and an easy way to update traditional styles.
Sophisticated and retro, oval shades are wider than they are deep. These lampshades are considered to be oval as long as their profile appears oval when viewed from above. The shades themselves can be “oval” combinations with many other shapes, such as an oval bell, an oval drum or an oval empire.
A common variation is the French oval shade. This elegant hybrid combines rectangle and oval elements and features softened corners with rounded ends.
When to use: Because oval shades are flatter than other lampshades, they go well in smaller rooms or areas with high traffic. Consider them on bedside tables or with lamps in a hallway. Try pairing an oval lampshade with a flatter-style of lamp base for a pleasingly retro look.
Reminiscent of Chinese coolie hats, coolie lampshades have large, wide bottoms and narrow tops. Coolie shades give a modern and oriental atmosphere to a room. Because of their wide bottom diameter, these shades have a large light spread and diffuse light softly and evenly across a room.
Coolie shades tend to be shorter than other shades, so they generally won’t work with tall bases.
When to use: Coolie shades can be either traditional or contemporary based on the style of base, so they fit well in either category. Coolies can be especially useful in work or office settings.
A classic décor choice, bell lampshades have sides that curve inward, giving them a soft, graceful appearance. A bell shade flares at the bottom and emits a balanced, ambient spread of light.
A bell’s curves give it an elegant, feminine form, while its flare adds an element of drama. All bells are soft-sided, increasing the light that passes through the sides. Bells are ideal for rooms where soft light is optimal, such as living rooms.
When to use: Because bell shades are a traditional shape, they fit well with traditional home décor. Bell shades also pair well with Asian style lamps. They are especially effective when complementing a curvy, rounded lamp base. Bells also go well with petite bases like table lamps, and many designers have historically paired them with ginger jars.
Hexagon shades, as well as the less-common octagon shade, have equal-length edges along the top and bottom rim. Hexagon lampshades are strikingly angular and have unique visual appeal.
Some designers will choose a bold pattern to complement the shade’s symmetrical panels. The “hex bell” is a classic variation, taking an unexpected twist on traditional style elements.
When to use: Hexagon shades bring a geometric feeling to a room, so contrast them with rounder bases for a dramatic effect. They also pair well with angular bases, but make sure not to overwhelm the lamp with too many edges and angles.
6. Size of the Lampshade
Now that you’ve determined what type of lampshade works best with your décor style and lamp base, it’s time to choose a size. But before we jump into measurements, take a moment to refresh on lamp anatomy.
Parts of a Lamp
The lamp base is the segment of the lamp that is designed for display. The base ends at the neck, the sudden tapering of the lamp body. In a traditional lamp shape, the neck ends at the harp, the wire frame that surrounds the socket and supports the finial. The finial is the top point of the lamp, which may or may not show depending on your shade.
To determine the width of your shade, measure the lamp base and multiply by two. For round bases, measure straight across. For square bases, measure diagonally between two corners.
If you're unsure about your measurements, remember that the widest part of the lampshade should be at least a half-inch wider than the widest part of the base on each side – ideally, the lampshade should be 2x wider than the widest part of the base.
For shade height, measure the height of your lamp base. Start measuring from the bottom of the base to the bottom of the electrical socket attached on top of the lamp base.
For table lamps, the height of the shade should be approximately 60% to 80% of the height of the lamp base. For floor lamps, the height of the shade should be around 20% of the height of the lamp base.
If the shade is too tall, the lamp will be top-heavy — if it’s too short, the lamp will look unbalanced. When debating between two shades, go with the larger of the two.
While the lampshade can reveal the lamp neck, it should never show the harp. An appropriate shade should hide all hardware.
For more specific information, check out our guide on how to measure your lampshade.
Let us take the stress and uncertainty out of finding the perfect lampshade. Oriental Lamp Shade Company has provided premier lamps and lampshades for over 80 years. Our reputation shows that we are experts at what we do, and through decades of consistent quality and service, we have become trusted providers of excellent products and craftsmanship.
In addition to helping you find a new shade, we specialize in lamp repair and customization. We can create a shade to match your exact specifications, and we’ll even use your own fabric. Don’t settle for less than perfection — browse our wide selection of ready-made lampshades or order a custom-designed shade today!