Gone are the days of standard, factory-cut lampshades. If you’re into design, which is why you’re here, you want a shade that sets your space apart. So much of how we design is predicated on personal style and trends. But if you’re in need of some direction, we’ve tapped three seasoned designers to help shed light on how to decide which shade is right for you.
The Lamp Base
When choosing your lampshade, you must consider its better half—the lamp base. Like most partnerships, the relationship between a lamp and its shade should be symbiotic. The shade shines a light on its base, while the base acts as a pedestal for the shade. Each plays a part in complimenting one another. “You can’t fit a lampshade without a lamp,” says Atlanta-based interior designer John Bossard. “It’s like trying to buy a hat without a head.” This is the motto he’s lived by since he began his career more than thirty years ago.
Design Tip: When showcasing favorite books and objects in a vignette, remember to choose lighting that highlights the focal point. And when searching for an especially evocative piece to create visual interest, consider including antique replicas. See the collection of objects and sculptures at Currey & Company.
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From silk empire to metal dome to recycled paper coolie, there are countless combinations to pick from. To pleat or not to pleat? That is sometimes the question. So how do you choose what’s right for you? Stephanie Woodmansee of Henry & Co Design, an interior design studio based in New Canaan, Connecticut, says you should consider the material of the lamp base. “Is it ceramic? Alabaster? Brass?” According to John, selecting a lampshade is much like fashion: “One minute you’re ‘in,’ and the next you are ‘out.’” So what do you need to think about when you’re selecting material, shape, and size? “Every aspect of the lampshade purchasing requires overall consideration,” he says. “What’s the background? What’s it next to? Does it need to be the star, or does it need to fade into the background? Does it need to be a workhorse and give the most illumination, or should it be dramatic and dim?” Stephanie adds, “I love sometimes waiting to see what leftover fabrics we have from big upholstery pieces and reusing the scraps for smaller shades.”
Most Common Lampshade Styles
Of the various styles, there are predominately nine silhouettes to work with: empire, bell, coolie, square, rectangle, hexagon, dome, drum, and tapered drum. “I love a good empire shape, and from there, I often will add a scalloped edge,” says Suzanne Duin, Houston-based interior designer and owner of Maison Maison. “It just depends on the room I am placing the shade in, whether it requires a more formal look like a pleated silk or more playful like our seagrass scallop,” says Suzanne, who debuted her first lighting collection for Currey & Company at High Point Market in April 2023. Her ‘Annabelle’ line features handmade woven fixtures. “Like fashion, I like to stick to the classics,” says John, who gravitates toward Pembroke empire, tapered drum, and extreme coolie.
Function and Location
It should go without saying, but functionality is an important factor when selecting a shade. Stephanie says you need to determine how the lamp and shade will be used. “If for functional reasons, a shade that emits lots of light is key,” she says. “If it’s for a library or a space that will be used in the evenings and for ambiance, it can be a darker or printed fabric or silk.” Suzanne points out the need to think about the elements surrounding the shade. “First, I would consider the location, whether it’s being used in an area with a lot of humidity, which is where our wovens do well, like on a covered porch,” she says. John adds, “I normally choose a light cream, either pleated or tight, when a lot of illumination is necessary,” he says. “In a more dramatic setting, I like something that is a little bit more opaque. It could be a tight shade with a dark patterned fabric or a solid painted paper shade.”
When it comes to proportion, the size of the shade should coordinate with that of the base. “A good rule of thumb is that the shade should be twice as wide as the base of the lamp and one-third of the total height. And from there, I just go with what feels right to me,” says Suzanne. John adds, “Something that is often overlooked is the scale of the harp. I like the lampshade to rest just slightly above the top of the lamp, hiding all of the mechanics of the lamp.” Wondering how to determine the right fit? Have a measuring tape handy. “Always measure top, slope, and bottom, as well as the drop of the actual shade mechanism,” Stephanie advises. “Whether it’s a spider fitting, a candle clip, or a Euro ring.”
Picking the perfect lampshade is a matter of finding a piece that matches both the base of a lamp and the room it will reside. So don’t be afraid to try a few on for size. There’s no one size fits all.
By Ashley Hotham Cox