How to choose a lampshade: the ultimate guide

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Never underestimate the power of good lighting. The right lamp can transform a forgotten corner into a cosy nook or a hallway into a work of art. Sometimes you get lucky and the perfect lamp (in the perfect size and perfect colour) pops up, then, as if by magic, its knight in shining armour reveals itself to you (in shade form, of course) and all your lighting dilemmas are sorted.

More often than not however, the quest for the perfect lampshade is a tricky but important one that should not be taken lightly. Knowing what size, style, shape and colour lampshade is best to choose, to suit both your lamp base and scheme, is key. Our tips – along with a few from Country Life’s Giles Kime – should help you get it right every time.

Choosing a colour or pattern

Neutral or colourful? Plain or patterned? These are the questions, and there are pros and cons to both. Plain shades are great if you have a very dynamic lamp and are worried about it being overshadowed by a showy shade (plus, they’ll complement almost every scheme). On the other hand, you can create a unique focal point – especially in the case of floor lamps, due to their size – with a patterned lamp and base by keeping prints simple and picking a thread of colour that unites each piece.

Giles advises: “If you opt for a colourful patterned lampshade, ensure that the dominant colour is echoed somewhere else in the scheme, such as on pillows, throws, drapes or rugs.” Also keep in mind that pattern isn’t simply about colour; textured designs can create a more subtle yet statement effect.

When it comes to colour, a key consideration is what you want to achieve with your lighting. If you’re creating a reading corner, where ambient light is a priority, more light will filter through a soft-coloured shade. If aesthetics are your sole concern, you have much more freedom to choose a darker hue. The colour of your lampshade can alter depending on the time of year, as well as your own personal taste and the room it will be living in. During spring and summer, you could opt for pale, neutral hues such as off-white and cream, then switch to darker colours when autumn arrives. 

How to choose your lampshade material

Most lampshades are made from linen, cotton or card – if you’re unlikely to update your lampshades seasonally then a simple design crafted from one of these materials would be a good choice. For a more luxurious look, silk shades are the epitome of elegance and add a tactile element.

If you’re struggling to decide, again consider what kind of atmosphere you want to create. Card lampshades have a clean façade and in white they instantly lighten a room, making it feel more spacious. Black-out linen lampshades are perfect if you want to achieve a bold look or a contrast using a statement lamp – a simple, block colour lampshade will always create a contemporary effect. Pleated fabric shades on the other hand are quite traditional and have that ‘French cottage’ appeal, ideal for creating more classic, whimsical scheme.

The style and material of the lamp itself can also influence the fabric used for the lampshade. A base with a smooth finish might call for a contrasting lampshade with lots of texture and detail; likewise, a lampshade with a similar feel as the base helps to unify the lamp.

Getting the shape right

As a rule, what’s considered most aesthetically pleasing is when the shape of the lamp and the base have a similar contour.

“Mirror the shape of the lamp in your lampshade,” says Giles Kime. “Bottle and urn-shaped lamps tend to work well with tapered shades, and square lamps with straight-sided shades. Column lamps go well with either.”

However, it all comes down to personal preference; if you’re trying to achieve eclecticism then mix and match a geometric lamp and curved lampshade – but bear in mind that if it’s not quite right then it might be because a cohesive look is more satisfying to the eye.

Here are some simple definitions and rules of thumb for each type of shade:

Drum shades

  • A drum shade is exactly what you might expect – shaped like a drum with vertical sides and cylindrical profile.
  • Drum lampshades add a contemporary element to a room and complement wider or rounder lamp bases, as well as floor lamps.

Oval shades

  • Oval shades look just like drum shades, but longer.
  • They are best suited to traditional schemes.
  • Due to their narrow proportions they are a good match for wall lights and small column lamps and are often used in bathrooms and hallways or windowsills.

Cone shades

  • Cone lampshades feature a tapered top and narrow base.
  • They work well paired with long or tall lamps as the sizes even out.
  • Due to their narrow proportions cone-shaped shades are a good choice if you’re trying to fit a lamp into a small space.

Empire shades

  • An empire lampshade is a classic ‘frustum’ shaped shade, a shape that is created by taking the top off a cone with the cut made parallel to the base.
  • The design of empire lampshades means that more light is cast down than up.
  • Often used to complement classic interiors or floor lamps.

Square shades

  • Square lampshades are similar in style to empires but have a square base.
  • They can complement both traditional and modern homes.

Rectangular shades

  • Rectangular lampshades have straight sides, some of which are tapered.
  • They work well with narrow lamps, those that are contemporary or geometric are ideal.

Sizing up your lampshade options

If there’s a situation when you could be sure that size really does matter, it’s when choosing a lampshade. Get one too small and you have yourself an unfortunate bottom-heavy situation. Too big and you really are throwing shade. Giles Kime’s advice is to “go for the largest shade that the space will allow” (even if your lamp is in-between lampshade sizes) because they allow more light to be distributed. Even in smaller rooms oversized items will provide the illusion of space. Below are some essential principles to follow when choosing the size of a lampshade.

Table lamps

There are three golden rules (a tape measure doesn’t go amiss either) to remember when it comes to choosing a lampshade for table lamps:

  1. The width of the lampshade should be equal to the height of the lamp base.
  2. The height of the lampshade should be two thirds of the height of the lamp base.
  3. The lampshade should be wider than the widest part of the lamp base.

Floor lamps

To determine what lampshade size you need for your floor lamp, measure the height of the lamp base from the bottom to the top of the bulb rod, then divide by four to get an approximate height for the shade. Don’t forget to take into account how much room you have around your shade – you can always go a size down if it’s too close to other pieces of furniture – and also trust your eye.

Bear in mind that for both table and floor lamps, the perfect shade should hide the fittings underneath it, without encroaching upon the lamp base itself.

Now you’re armed with all the technicalities, you can happily embrace the rollercoaster ride that is choosing the perfect lampshade. If you need a little help visualising your selection, our Lamp & Shade Matchmaker allows you to choose one of our lamp bases or shades,  then recommends a plethora of options that will go with it.

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