How to: Selecting a Lamp Shade

I've wanted to post about this topic for awhile, but I've not had the time to give it the proper focus.  In my opinion, selecting the proper lamp shade can be very tricky.  Now, understand, it's not a monumental mistake - like the financial ramifications of a bad sofa choice or a weak moment when selecting the tile of your bathroom.  But, it can kill the look of a room just as fast.

Why so tricky?  There are lots of the factors to consider - the shape of the lamp, the shape of the shade, the size of the shade as it relates to the lamp, the color of the lamp and shade, the material used in making the shade (paper or fabric), the size of the harp (which holds the shade above the light bulb), and the finial.
Just look at all these options for shapes:

Here a few things I think about when it comes to lamp shades:

1. Short, fat lamps are harder to get right.  Just like with fashion - everything looks great on the tall skinny girls.  So, you have to be careful with the fuller lamp bases.

I love the look of a drum shade with these thicker bases.  In this case a tapered drum in a super neutral color does the trick with this very over the top patterned wallpaper - love the results.

Here, is a straight drum with a larger base.

I also love a corseted drum shade for a more substantial lamp.  It gives you a very formal look.

2.  Use the Previous Shade (if you can) - It helps to use the previous shade as your guide.  This is truly the best way to select a shade.  Lamp manufactures spend lots of time and money designing the perfect shaped shade for their lamps.  So take note of their selected design.

If you feel the current shade is dated, at least take note of the height and greatest diameter to know how large you need to go with the new shade.  You will need to know the diameter of the top and bottom of the shade as well as the height of the shade (which is sometimes, but not always, measured on the angle from the bottom to the top of the shade).  

Here is a wonderful guide on measuring for your shade Steps for Selecting the Correct Shade.  These measurements can get you close to the proper shade, but you must try it on the shade (which leads me to my next point).

3. You've Gotta Try it on:  If at all possible - take the lamp with you to select the shade.  It is extremely difficult to purchase the correct lamp shade without seeing it on the lamp.

It may look like it will work based on the images and measurements but when you actually place it on the lamp, something is not quite right. So, if you can take the lamp with you and buy the shade locally.  

4. Take a que from similar lamps.  If you are interested in updating a lamp with a new shade, do some research on lamps with a similar shade.
Barbara Cosgrove

I love all the lamps by Barbara Barry, Robert Abbey, Arteriors, and Barbara Cosgrove.  So, go to their websites and look around for what might work with your lamp.  Take note of the actual measurements of lamps that are a similar size to your lamp and this will give you an idea on the proper scale of you shade.
Barbara Barry

5.  Take into consideration where you will place the lamp - Do you have room for a large drum shade?  I adore a layered look as in the example below.

Will it go on a taller console table or a low bedside table.  All these things will effect your decision.

One last mention, lamp shades can cost more than you paid for the lamp, so be conscious of this when buying lamps at consignment shops and Goodwill.  The price may seem like a bargain.  But once you purchase the shade for it, the price may not be what you expected. 

P.S. I'm working on a couple of design plans at the moment while juggling back to school errands.  So, this is it for me this week on the blog.  Happy weekend, everybody.  M.


  1. love all the pics! very helpful info too. enjoy the back to school prep. didn't summer just get here?!?!

  2. Great post and tips on lamp shades. Good luck with getting ready for school.

  3. This is a great post, Mandi ~ I'm always aware of which ones I like, but have never really picked apart the selection process. Thanks for sharing!
    xo Heidi

  4. Thank you for sharing the info sheets. I appreciate useful information on blogs just like this.

  5. Mel@georgicapondAug 10, 2012, 1:18:00 AM

    Very useful and helpful post-thanks for going to such trouble.

  6. Great post. I saw a Ralph Lauren lamp on sale today but with a bad shade...I think I should just buy it and replace the shade. Thanks for your helpful advice.

  7. I was just thinking about this the other day when I was at Home Goods. I was going through the lamps section and there were a few lamps that I liked but horrible lamp shades. These are great tips.


Thank you for thoughts on my post! M.