Lampshades – What Size and Shape Should You Get?

Dear Laurel,

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.

Bouillotte Harper


Hey Guys,

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.



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.

Softback Empire ShadeA softback lampshade is made with a frame. You’ll see a flat trim applied to hide the frame. Usually, they are lined.

Royal Designs hardback lampshade

The other type of Empire shade shown above is a hardback Empire Shade.

There are many variations and sizes of the Empire lampshade.


pleated empire lampshade - Oriental 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.


coolie lampshade royallamshades etsySomeone 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.


Farmer in Asia wearing a coolie hat

bell lamp shade

Another popular shade is a Bell Shade. It’s like an empire except for the sides curve in like a bell. Duh.

royal designs square cut corner bell shadeA variation of the bell shade is a square cut corner bell shade.


square bell lampshade

And there is also a square bell shade. These look very nice with tall skinny lamps.


Oriental Lampshade - rectangular lampshade

A contemporary shade that’s become popular in recent years is a rectangular or square shape.

Pagoda shade

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.


drum lamp shade white


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


how to measure a lamp shade


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.


table lamp with black lampshade


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.


lampshade is too small
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.


yellow lamp with coolie lampshade


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.


shadeless ginger jar - no lamp shade
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.


lamp shade harps
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.


fabric shade parts - Antique Lamp Supply

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.



new lamp needs a lampshade

The light was so beautiful this cold winter afternoon in my apartment.


3 lampshadesI tried all three of these lampshades.


coolie lampshade - vintage Chinoiserie yellow lamps

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.


yellow lamp vignette coolie lampshadeI think they do!


lamp vignette with coolie shadeI found a coolie shade that’s almost identical.


vero lampshades marble finialAnd, 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.


winter afternoon sunshine new drum lampshade
This modified drum is okay. I’d do a 1/2″ smaller harp, however.


 black drum shade, yellow lamp


The black drum is about an inch too long.


Over-all, I do love the coolie lampshade the best.


coolie lampshade - with marble finialvintage Chinoiserie yellow lamps


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.




Welcome To Laurel Home!


Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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