I just found two of the most beautiful lamps at a consignment shop. The woman said that they had just come in, and so I snagged them.
Unfortunately, the lamps do not have lampshades, nor is there even a way to attach a lampshade. It’s just the base, a stem, a socket, and then a bulb of some sort.
I know that they make these clip-on lampshades, but I have one on a small lamp, which isn’t ideal. It’s always crooked, no matter how much I fuss with it.
I realize that lampshades are difficult. No, wait. That’s not right.
Lampshades are very difficult.
And one reason they are so tough is that sometimes the manufacturers don’t even get it right.
In their defense, it’s not a precise science because not all lamps are the same size and proportions. Plus, there are other things, such as the lampshades and fittings, to attach the lamps’ shades.
But, here’s the good news, at least when we’re talking lampshades for table lamps. Most of the time, there’s more than one shape or size that will work.
So, for today, we’re going to discuss all of the basics about lampshades.
- the different styles and shapes
- types of lampshades
- fabrics used for lampshades
- the most common and best way to attach a lampshade
- Plus, some real-life examples using my own lamps.
- We’ll talk some about pairing shades and lamps, but since there are so many lamp styles and lampshade styles, I could write an entire book on that topic.
We’ll also look at some of my favorite sources.
- And, I think I’ve decided on the shades and finials I’m getting for my new vintage lamps. You first saw these lovely lamps here.
Let’s dive in and look at the basic lampshade styles and their names.
The most common lampshade shape is called an Empire. It is the familiar cone that’s lopped off at the top.
Like most lampshades, there are two basic methods of construction.
A softback lampshade is made with a frame. You’ll see a flat trim applied to hide the frame. Usually, they are lined.
The other type of Empire shade shown above is a hardback Empire Shade.
There are many variations and sizes of the Empire lampshade.
One of the most well-known is the pleated Empire Shade.
Closely related to the Empire is one of my favorites, known as the Coolie Shade.
Someone once crapped all over for me for saying the word “coolie.” Please don’t crap on me. It isn’t nice. I didn’t make up the word. That’s what they are called. If it’s derogatory or insulting to some people, it is in no way meant to be. As you can see, the Coolie is so named after the hats that are worn in Asian countries by farmers in rice paddies.
Another popular shade is a Bell Shade. It’s like an empire except for the sides curve in like a bell. Duh.
A variation of the bell shade is a square cut corner bell shade.
And there is also a square bell shade. These look very nice with tall skinny lamps.
A contemporary shade that’s become popular in recent years is a rectangular or square shape.
The Pagoda shade is another that looks great with thinner plainer lamps. They were very popular about 15-20 years ago. However, I don’t see as many of them these days.
One of the most popular shades for the last 20 years or so is the drum shade. Drums are either the same width at the top and bottom, or there is sometimes a slight taper of an inch or two.
All of these lampshades are made out of silk, linen, cotton, or burlap. Softback shades are usually lined.
How to Measure a Lampshade
When measuring a lampshade, the way the measurements always go is the top, bottom, and side parallel to the side.
I bought this beautiful turquoise ginger jar lamp eight years ago on Etsy for 40 bucks! It did not come with a shade, but I had this coolie shade on a lamp I wasn’t using and stuck it on, and here we are!
Here’s the lamp in my old New York apartment. It’s still sitting on the same desk which is now in my bedroom.
Let’s talk lamp shade proportions.
The shade should be about 40% of the total height of the lamp. This one is pretty close to that.
However, I saw somewhere from a source that should know better than the height of the shade should be 50% of the lamp base height and two times the lamp base width.
In addition, they went on to say that the width of the shade is supposed to be double the width of the base.
That rule might hold if a lamp is seven or eight inches wide, but otherwise, that rule will not hold up.
Let’s take a deeper look into that.
Above is one of my beautiful Tole lamps I got shortly after I moved to Bronxville in 2013.
These lamps are 5.5″ wide. And, the base is almost 19″ high. Therefore, according to the formula I largely disagree with, the shade should be 9″ x 11″ x 8.5″ high. But, this lampshade measures 14″ x 16″ x 11.5.”
Below, I’ve superimposed the “correct” lampshade size according to the rule I read someplace that should know better.
Haha. I think it’s pretty clear that this size is too small. I think the shades are perfect as is. The shades are also roughly 40% of the total height.
The point is, don’t believe everything you see in print, even if it’s from a reliable source.
There’s a lot of common sense involved. And, frankly, the best judge is your own eyes.
However, I think it’s safe to say that the shade’s width should be at least double the lamp base’s width. However, if the lamp is super skinny, obviously, that rule is going to change.
I came across this weirdness earlier today. This is like Aunt Jane, who’s put on a considerable amount of weight over the holidays trying to stuff herself into a mini skirt that’s way too small. I think this lamp base calls for a coolie shade.
In this case, the shade is about 50% of the total height and double the base’s width. But, this is for a relatively squat base.
So, when does one use a square lampshade?
Actually, square lamp shades look best with square bases.
Makes sense, huh? Logic rules.
What about those super skinny and tall buffet lamps?
Here’s a good example from lamps we did several years ago. I don’t have the answer.
This Gustavian Buffet Lamp is from Visual Comfort.
This lamp above is another one. I don’t know. But, now that I see both lamps, the shades seem to be about 1/4 of the total height for those skinny and super tall lamps.
Or what about this little lamp I found?
The shade is TALLER than the base. I’m not totally crazy about this lamp in any case. But it just goes to show that the rules very often don’t hold.
Let’s take a closer look at my ginger jar lamp. We have the base, then the black neck.
But not all lamps have such a long neck. More about that in a sec.
Then, there’s the saddle that the harp sits in and finally the nut and bolt that screws the finial on to keep the lampshade in place.
Sometimes the issue with the lampshade being the right size for the lamp isn’t the shade.
It’s the harp.
Most shades attach with a harp or a clip-on. There are some other situations, but since they are far less common, I’m going to uhhhh… leave them off the table. (sorry) :]
The most common type of structure for the shade is a washer and spider fitter.
This is a perfect example of my green and gold tole lamp that sits on my two demi-lune tables.
Then we have our harp that fits onto a thingy that goes on the neck of the lamp.
On the left is a seven-inch harp and on the right is a six-inch harp. I realize that it looks like more than an inch, but I double-checked, and the difference is one inch.
The two lamps on the top have the 7-inch harp on the left and the 6-inch harp on the right. Normally, I use the harp on the right. I prefer it to sit a little lower on the lamp. And one reason is because of a pet peeve of mine.
A lot of you know about this peeve, which is a lot of the stem showing. You can read about that here in this post about cheap table lamps.
However, here’s a good example of what I don’t like. Plus, I think the shades are too short.
With the 7 inch harp, you can see the black stem when sitting down, as shown in the bottom image. This bugs me tremendously, and it looks like the shade is the wrong size for the lamp. In some cases, the shade might be a little too small. But most likely, the problem is that the harp is too big.
Harps are very inexpensive, so if not sure and you can’t lug the lamp around, just order two or three different sizes. They come in 1/2″ increments. Do you need harps? Click here.
I have read that the harp is usually an inch or two less than the shade’s height.
That is not my experience. It’s more like 3 or 4 inches less!
In the case of my coolie shade, the side measures 12,” and the plumb line down the center measures 10″. Well, that blows that rule out of the water, because if so, then my harp would be 8 inches, which would be too big no matter if standing or sitting.
But a seven-inch harp does work for a lot of table lamps.
Image via Antique Lamp Supply is also an excellent source for more information and lighting supplies.
So, now, it’s time to select new lampshades for my table lamps.
The light was so beautiful this cold winter afternoon in my apartment.
I tried all three of these lampshades.
I had already tried the coolie lampshade weeks ago but wanted to double-check it.
Well, I still love it! However, I also put it on a lower table and sat down to ensure that the proportions still looked good.
I think they do!
I found a coolie shade that’s almost identical.
And, I think the middle finial from Vero Lampshades will be beautiful. They have dozens of gorgeous finials!
I also tried out the other two lampshades.
This modified drum is okay. I’d do a 1/2″ smaller harp, however.
The black drum is about an inch too long.
Over-all, I do love the coolie lampshade the best.
The sources for the lampshades in this post are as follows:
I’ve ordered the first one numerous times, and it is also in Laurel’s Rolodex is Oriental Lampshade.
And, there’s a new source in the new Etsy Guide I’m loving, as well, Royal Lampshades.
The finials are from VeroLampShades.
I hope this gave y’all a good foundation for choosing your lampshades when you don’t have a lamp that doesn’t come with one.
There are some cool vintage lamps in the vintage hot sales widget.
You might also enjoy 60+ High-Low Chinoiserie Lamps.
And, please check out the newly updated HOT SALES. One of the best sales is coming to an end soon.
This is helpful.
I’m in the Midwest so my hobby is buying lamps(and praying for spring). Three years ago I found an amazing Stiffel floor lamp. (Like this https://www.chairish.com/product/1138705/stiffel-mid-century-floor-lamps-a-pair). Apologies if not allowed to link. Annnyway it had a super frumpy I think
original shade. I paid like..$45. Last month I found it’s twin..but with a non-matching shade. So I need to replace both.
I do think
one lamp is slightly smaller but it could be the harp or shade making the difference. I’ll have to measure. Perhaps one is a fake.
Regardless I like both but have been wondering about a nice more streamlined shade for each of them.
I’ve come across an idea for you- a popular, former HGTV host is doing a day of zoom calls for $350 per half hour. You pay in advance thru PayPal before you submit your form of a few questions she asks about the space. If you did this, I would sign up! I have a few questions about my space and wanted to sign up but hubs didn’t seem as excited with the service as me.😉
Thanks so much, Lanie. It would be a great idea if I didn’t already have so much heaped on my plate.
Virginia, so sorry to hear about your mold! My parents live on Perdido Key in Lost Key!
I have been helping them decorate their new townhouse and just helped them buy some new lampshades. I love these from Lamps Plus: https://www.lampsplus.com/products/set-of-2-white-linen-drum-lamp-shade-10x12x8-spider__35h43.html
Best of luck getting it all cleaned out!
Laurel- First I want to thank you so very much for all the useful information you so freely dispense to all of us. I have learned more from your blog than any other design blog and enjoy yours immensely.
If you ever do a follow-up on lampshades, I would love it if you would include some parameters on what to consider when doing shades on an “armed” chandelier. I have such a chandelier and the shades just feel wrong and I suspect it is the size.
P.S. Have you done a “Lampshade Guide” for purchase ?
That’s a great idea. It’s actually quite a complex topic due to the variety of lamp fixtures as well as shades, shapes, sizes, materials, etc.
Frenchels is an online store that will custom make any shade. I have ordered twice from them and been very pleased both times.
I hate lamps. Most lamps. I don’t know why. I rarely see one’s I like. But I do like your happy, lemony lamp! My fav was the white drum shade, and I’m fully in agreement that it needs a shorter harp.
Oh, Laurel, I have been waiting since your move in day to see what lamp shade you were going to choose. I started housekeeping 49 years ago with two of these lamps. At the time my end tables were low and large, so the lamp shade that they had were perfect. Now I need a smaller shade, and I love the shape you have chosen! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this blog. We share similar tastes in color. Would you ever give out the name of the color of your walls? I would love to paint mine this color, but have always gone with yellow ivory, barely color. Thanks again for this lesson on shades.
I always enjoy your posts and love all of the useful information that you give to us! I could look at all of the pictures for hours if I could! I have had some trouble with finding the right shades for different styles of lamps in my family room. Are there suggestions or rules regarding selecting the same color or style of a shade in the same room? Any info would be appreciated as I’ve struggled with this.
Softback or hardback, that is the question.
Awesome, thank you! I just put a spider empire on an inexpensive base I got and I was unhappy not with the proportions, but how high it was sitting. Bingo! Ordered a shorter harp.
Love the new apartment!
What a USEFUL post! I’ve needed this for at least 5 years! Thank you!!!
Coolies on ginger jars are my favorite! Also agree about too much stem showing. Makes me anxious. Also love that you love yellow too. It’s such a great accent color !!
I have a vintage Frederick Cooper lamp on its way to me that will really benefit from your timely advice on this. Thanks, Laurel! I love the coolie shade on yours. It looks very sculptural and expensive.
I’m giggling because you always say you’re not a yellow loving person LOL! I beg to differ😉
Thanks for another great post!
Thank you for this great post as I update some of my favorite lamps. I’m wondering about the dark lampshades. Every time I try one or a pair they don’t look great with the light on. Maybe it’s because most of my bulbs are ~60 W, soft white. Do you have recommendations for this issue?
Also information for use and purchase of diffusers for top of the shade would be appreciated. I have a vaulted ceiling with an
open staircase so when coming down a lite lamp can be almost blinding.
Thanks for all the good info,
Laurel – I’m so happy you have left NYC. It’s my favorite city but you are in a safer place.
Thank you so much for a fabulous tutorial on lamps and lampshades.
So funny, as I was watching a design program on Sunday and the shade on the lamp was much too short. A little shorter harp would have done it. I talked out loud to tell them, but I guess they didn’t hear me.
Please stay safe and healthy.
This year I took a deep dive into lampshades. A great lamp can transform a room, and I could not find the perfect one.
I ended up stripping down a frame and recovering with a vintage Brunschwig fabric. It turned out so lovely, i made its twin for both nightstands. Quite possibly my favorite items in the house!
I am a new subscriber to your blog. I have been following for about 6 months now. I just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your posts. I love your practical tips, paint color posts, furniture pictures, etc. I have just recently remodeled and moved back in after a house fire. Your posts have helped me tremendously by inspiring me with different design ideas. I look forward to your posts every week! Thanks so much!
I am mad about patterned lampshades – ikat, colored, pleated, etc. But they cost a fortune to have made. If you have any sources, would love to see them on here!
I have the same problem. I miss seeing in person, the color and whatever texture is on the shade.
Looking at your lamp without a shade, my first thought was “bell shade” to echo the curves in the base. I’m curious, did you consider that, or would that have been too much curve?
From a confirmed w/ papers “Lamp-o-maniac” – I love this post 🙂 FWIW – why don’t you try a Black Coolie w/ your lamp ?
I am so glad oyu inlcuded mention of the finial-often the final (and, fo me, critical) touch!
There is a wonderful lamp and shade store west of you, in Concord…for when you begin exploring outside the city limits.
Laurel, thank you for this great, useful post. Perfect timing too – we moved recently and it’s time to reconsider the shades. Most of our lamps are vintage or antique. The movers mixed up all the harps, so have to figure those out first. The shades are all over the place – silk lined, hardback, shaped. Many drums, a lot of bell shades and weird oval shapes. Most of the finials have gone missing, probably in some random moving box. I’d love to go to a shade store and get advice, but your guide will make it easier. Love the blog, and love your new place!
I miss my local lamp shade store. The owner of 30 years had the nerve to retire.
I had taken every lamp I had ever owned to her to get the right harp & shade.
It was a sad day when they closed.
Great detailed post. I’ve found amazing lamp bases for cheap at thrift shops with with no shade or a crappy one. I’ve had to figure it out by eye and know what works but this will help with trial and error lol. The wrong shades can throw off the room.
This post is so very helpful! It is very nice to see these rules-of-thumb spelled out and also to see that one’s own proclivities can be the deciding factor. The coolie shade on your lamp is a great example of that and I love it.
I second Catherine on the beauty of English silk sari lampshades. I think the English do lampshades best. Hard to find in the US though. Sometimes I see them on Etsy/Chairish and they are not cheap. UK sites have hundreds and very reasonably priced, but you have to get it over here. What is OKA, by the way (sorry if I should know this)? And Laurel, where is your pretty Gustavian round table from? You also have a Moroccan looking white ottoman I meant to ask about, if you don’t mind, where is that from? I also liked the Gustavian buffet lamp you posted above, but it seems it is no longer available. Sorry for many questions!
I’m SO glad you posted this about lampshades. Believe it or not, I found this beautiful, ceramic lamp base at our transfer station for free! Beautiful oxblood color and no shade. I, of course, looked up the correct correct size shade to buy and then decided to ignore that advice. I ended up with a large drum shade that hides that hideous stem and it looks absolutely perfect. Loved hearing that you too don’t like to see a lot of the stem!
What a timely post! I am in Perdido Key as we speak, sifting through what remains of our condo that had to be gutted as a result of Hurricane Sally. While all of our lamps survived, the shades were all victims of mildew. Luckily, I measured each and every one so I could order replacements. These sources are invaluable!! If anyone has other suggestions of places to order from, please let me know!!! I will be busy trying to source them!
THANK YOU LAUREL!!!!
Happy Sunday. I have looked forward to your posts for years however the ones I like best are those with practical tips. We moved to a small town on the east coast a year ago and I’ve found few nearby sources. I’ve been buying furnishing at a nice consignment shop but often the lamp shades need to be replaced. It’s intimidating to buy those online. Thank you for this very useful information.
Thank you for providing direction on this challenging topic. When trying to unify 3 different lamps in the same room would you recommend using the same shaped shade on all lamps if possible or using a combination of different shaped shades? Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.
I also love the subtly patterned silk shades the English employ so well in their homes. OKA now has an online website for US. Home and Garden magazine always has beautiful examples with resources.
Great post. There used to be quite a few shops where you could take your lamp and physically ‘“try on” shades. The employees/owners were magically helpful and could adjust harp height and recommend different shapes. The entire look of the lamp would change with each shade. I miss these shops but I’m afraid it has become too labor intensive and expensive to stock so many shades.
If you live near a shop which specializes in lamps and shades to order as well as stocked they can be an invaluable source. Our long-standing lamp shop closed doors last year but she at least reopened in a building in back of her home for shades and lamp repair. I needed to replace a shade on a floor lamp. I ordered a shade but once it arrived we needed a taller harp. I’ve had them fit shades to several lamps and it always involved adjustments to harps or extenders etc. I agree lamp shades are difficult to get right. I’m glad you chose the coolie…I am so very tired of the drum shade.
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