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Lamp Shades Buying Guide

Without a shade, a lamp is a mere blinding, bulbed beast, just daring you to turn it on. With a shade, a lamp can provide the perfect light for just about any situation and make your decor glow. Picking a shade takes a lot of consideration and a little measuring, but our buying guide is here to help.

Matching Your Shade

Color The first, and most obvious, thing that a lamp shade must match is the base on which it's mounted. Some go for colors that coordinate, others choose shades that complement. Frankly, the most successful lamp shades are neutral – they'll most likely match both the base and the room.

Size The height and diameter of your shade are important, too. Go too big and it'll look like a gawky kid that hasn't grown into his head, go to small and it'll look just ... weird. Follow these rules of thumb to get it right:

  • The height of the shade should be about 3/4 the height of the base, and the width of the shade should be greater than that of the base.
  • You've got to cover the hardware. If the shade you like is sitting too high or too low on the base, don't despair – you should be able to raise or lower it by replacing the fitter or adding a riser. More about those later.
  • Now that incandescent bulbs are on the way out, safety is less of an issue. But it's not a non-issue. If you're still using incandescents, you'll need to leave a few inches between your bulb and shade. With CFLs and other cooler-burning bulbs, always leave at least 1.5 inches of space.
Laura Ashley Charlotte Black Lamp Shade
Black Lamp Shade
Light Diffusion

The idea behind a lamp shade is to shade the lamp. That means to direct the light somewhere than directly into your cornea. But where? Every shade does it differently, and the right results transform your room.

  • Coolie Shade
    A coolie is the widest cone, with a base diameter significantly larger than the top. Most of the light will come out of the bottom of the shade, keeping seating areas bright and ceilings dimmer.
  • Empire Shade
    The empire is cone-shaped but less dramatic than the coolie. More light is directed down than up, but uplight/downlight ratio is more like 2/1.
  • Cylinder Shade
    Equal light up and down means more diffusion to the high and low areas of your room. You'll get light for reading or conversing on the couch as well as notable ambient light for the room.
  • Square Shades & Other Shapes
    Not everything runs in a circle - artisan lamp shades come in all shapes and sizes. Be sure to consider the relative top and bottom openings of a square lamp shade and their implications on direct and ambient light.
Livex S513 Shantung Silk Square Cut corner Bell Lamp Shade in Off White
Livex Off White Lamp Shade
Lamp Shade Fitters

Outside, nothing but graceful lamp shade goodness. Inside, a bunch of hot glass and metal. The hardware that holds up your lampshade isn't particularly attractive, but it is important. The piece that connects the shade to the lamp is generally called a fitter.

Types of Fitters
Most fitters attach to the lamp via a harp. The harp is the metal bulb-shaped piece that surrounds the lightbulb socket. The most common fitters are called spider fitters, and they attach directly to the top of the harp and usually have a small finial that screws on to seal the deal.

Other significant styles of fitters include uno fitters that screw in down at the socket and clip-on fitters that clip directly to the bulb itself.

Drop and Risers
There's always some vertical distance between the top or bottom shade edge and the fitter – that's called the lamp shade's drop. When shopping for a shade, understanding the drop height can help you determine if it's large enough to cover all of your lamp hardware.

A riser is a metal cylinder that allows the shade to sit higher atop the harp. It's a simple way to make a lamp and shade play nice together without replacing the harp.

Crystorama Gold Beaded Mini Shade
Crystorama Gold Beaded Lamp Shade
Other Lamp Shade Elements
  • Hardback – Plastic backing inside the lamp shade that helps it hold its shape.
  • Lining – A lining inside the shade with aesthetic purpose. Most linings reflect light, directing it out the top and bottom instead of through the material. Some linings absorb or diffuse light in other ways.
  • Gallery – Decorative band around the bottom of the shade, often with decorations. A gimp is a notable type of decoration, typically a small rope or braid wrapped around the top and bottom.
  • Finial – Small decorative cap that screws the shade fitter onto the harp.
  • Piping – Also called ribbing, piping creates vertical lines and texture on the outside of the shade.
  • Trim – All of the decorative choices on the shade are referred to as the trim, including the material, gallery, piping, and finish.

Now that you're in the know about lamp shade types and parts, and are equipped with the proper terminology, you're all set to make the shade.

Livex S268 Periwinkle Damask Silk Bell Clip Chandelier Shade with Fancy Trim
Livex Bell-Shaped Lamp Shade