Lamp Shade Selection Ideas
article by Jim Hoyle
There are a few issues to consider when selecting a lamp shade. After 30 years
of helping dealers, designers and retail customers match their lamps and shades
we have developed some defining points which will allow you to answer this
sometimes daunting question for yourself.
Beauty is not the only thing in the eye of the beholder. Individuals may already
have preconceived ideas of the right size, shape, color, material, etc. for a
particular lamp shade. Further, after one has looked upon and lived with a
certain lamp and shade combination for years any deviation from that can very
likely be perceived as "wrong". So, how can you be sure that a particular shade is right ? Keep three basic considerations
foremost in your mind: 1) Portrayal Style, 2) Shade Size and 3) Shade Vertical
PORTRAYAL STYLE: First and foremost, what do you wish to portray with the lamp?
Look at your lamp base and decide what style it is such as contemporary,
traditional, antique, funky, etc. If you really cannot discern a specific style
then you must decide which style or look that you wish to portray with this lamp
and shade. You will want the basic look or style of your lamp shade to
compliment, not clash with the lamp base style itself. Generally, you do not
want a very ornate and detailed shade if you wish to portray the clean lines of
a very contemporary lamp. Likewise, you do not want a clean cut Chinese Coolee
(wide bottom compared to top) type shade for a lamp that you want to portray as
a traditional style. Think in terms of the lamp and shade being complimentary to
each other. This does not mean like colors, textures, size etc. but general
style. Once you have decided the general lamp style that you wish to portray,
then you can begin concentrating on other details.
SHADE SIZE: This characteristic of your lamp shade like all the others will of
course be subjective and will vary with the observer. But there are some
guidelines that will help you determine the boundaries within which you must
consider. You are basically looking for a balance in lamp and shade sizes that
will not make the lamp look top heavy or bottom heavy when viewed from a
distance of about 20 feet away. There are four (4) measurements to consider when
selecting a shade: top diameter (across), bottom diameter (across), side length
(slope), and drop. The drop is the vertical distance the shade fitter washer is
from the top edge of the shade. Do not be too concerned with the drop yet. The
shade drop combined with the harp size will determine the shade vertical
position which we will cover later. You just need to be aware that different
shades do have different drops. Small changes in the bottom diameter (1"-2")
will have a dramatic effect on the look of your lamp. The same applies to the
side length and top diameter. The numerous combinations of these various
measurements can be mind boggling. Below are some specific guidelines that you
can carry with you to the store when selecting a lamp shade.
Medium - small size traditional or antique style lamps that are 20" - 27" tall
to the top of the shade will likely require shades about 9" - 11" side length
and 16" - 19" bottom diameter.
Medium size traditional or antique style lamps that are 27" - 30" tall to the
top of the shade will likely require shades about 11" - 13" side length and 16"
- 19" bottom diameter.
Large size traditional or antique style lamps that are 30" - 36" tall to the top
of the shade will likely require shades about 12" - 19" side length and 18" -
20" bottom diameter.
For each of the above examples, contemporary lamp shades will generally have
larger bottom diameters and possibly side length as well. Larger diameter lamps
require larger diameter shades and more slender lamps require smaller diameter
Multiple socket lamps present special safety considerations that should be
addressed individually by an experienced lighting professional that you will
find in most reputable lamp and lighting showrooms.
SHADE VERTICAL POSITION: This characteristic of your lamp shade is fairly simple
to judge. It is the vertical location of the bottom edge of your lamp shade. On
a single socket lamp this will almost always be about 1-2" below the bottom of
the electrical socket. To determine the correct vertical location, first look
straight across the bottom edge of the lamp shade and visually line up the near
edge of the shade with the far edge of the shade. This line should then
intersect about 1-2" below the bottom of the electrical socket for most single
socket lamps. The way that you adjust this vertical location of the lamp shade
is with the HARP. This is the "U" shaped wire that attaches the lamp to the
shade and it comes in different lengths from about 4" on up. Shorter shades will
require shorter harps and longer shades will require longer harps. Multiple
socket lamps are a special consideration and I strongly recommend professional
guidance for these instances, especially for safety concerns as well as
SUMMARY: Use the above ideas as a general guideline and it should get you
started in the right direction. For further assistance I strongly recommend a
reputable lamp and lighting showroom as this type store will likely have
knowledgeable experienced professionals who are well equipped to help you with
the many subtle intricacies of lamp shade selection.
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