How to Pick a Lamp Shade


The first thing you do when you’re trying to pick the perfect shade is to look at your lamp. What’s the silhouette tends to look better with a square shade. And, of course, there are always exceptions to any decorating rule – candlestick lamps, with their combination of curves and angles, can handle just about any shape. And, if your lamp is square and your table is round, a round shade can complement both.

Most shades fall into two categories: “hard backed,” in which paper or fabric is bonded to a stiff, styrene base, and “soft-sided,” in which fabric is stretched over a metal frame. Hardbacks offer a sleeker profile and tend to filter more light. Regardless of the construction, a shade looks best when slightly wider than its lamp, and about two-thirds as tall. The pieces should match stylistically as well, whether classic, contemporary, or eclectic.

There are exceptions to these rules, so don’t rely solely on measurements or style cues. Take your lamp to the lighting store, and try it with different shades. If your budget allows, consider visiting a custom-shade maker, who can tailor a shade specifically to fit your lamp. Whether you go it alone or work with a professional, be sure to take a look at the following pairings first. We are confident that they will help you see the light.

a – Top Diameter
b – Bottom Diameter
c – Side
d – Fitter Recess (drop)


a -Top Diameter
b – Bottom Diameter
c – Depth – (vertical height)
d – Fitter Recess (drop)


Four dimensions are important when measuring for shade replacement; top and bottom diameters, depth and drop. The following diagrams illustrate the necessary measurements.

How to Measure 2How to Measure 1

Perfect Height


 Now that you know your shape, it’s time to grab a tape measure. Your shade should be about two-thirds the height of your lamp base (give or take an inch). Proportion is the key – too tall and the effect will be top heavy, too short and your lamp will look out of balance. And just like a slip, you never want your harp to show. If your lamp sits on a mantel or close to eye level, this is especially important.

To figure out the right width for your shade, measure your lamp base and multiply by two. For a round base, measure straight across; measure diagonally for a square base. The widest part of your shade should be at least a half-inch wider than the widest part of your base on each side. And when you’re considering width, don’t forget location. If your lamp is going next to a bed or in a busy hallway, pick a narrower shade to avoid flying elbows.


 Now we’re talking fashion. Smooth shades say cool, refined and contemporary. Pleats are cozier, more traditional and tend to pair well with antiques. And custom details like embroidery, decoupage and paint can transform your lampshade from accessory into a show-stopping focal point.