Ask Maria: What’s the Right Scale for Bedroom Lamps?

More often than not, I see lamps in master bedrooms that are way too small. But, how do you know what the right size is for bedroom lamps? There’s a decorating trick to make sure your lamps are the right scale that involves your bedside table and some styling. 

Take a look at this reader’s bedroom.

I have been haunting 2 different HomeSense stores these last few months, and it seems like all the lamps are humongous—like 26” high or more.  These seem like living room lamps to me, not bedside table lamps….????  I have always had trouble choosing the proper scale (I end up with things that are too “bitty” and small).  I am consciously trying to “buy larger”…..

It’s that time of year when it’s dark so early in the evenings, it makes pulling out Christmas lights an emergency. 

I have been in many homes late into January (in my 20 years of being in design), where my clients still have the Christmas tree up and I always know the reason why:

Because most people don’t have enough lamps (the torch light in the corner does not count) to create the same atmosphere that holiday lights create in your home.

My tree in 2018 

Recently, I posted the living room makeover I helped my childhood friend create in her new home.

When I asked her what she learned from shopping and decorating with me for the week I was in town, here’s what was at the top of her list:

“I learned that $59.99 (the average price for a designer lamp at HomeSense in Canada) is a good price for a lamp (since everywhere else they were $100 – up) and I learned that a good lamp is worth. Every. Penny.

What’s the Right Scale for Bedroom Lamps?

When Nancy and I were at Walmart (I wish I had taken a photo), we stood there looking at the wall of lamps and almost every single one on rows and rows of shelves, was around 12-15″ tall and looked like this:

Walmart

Do you know how many times I have seen this very lamp in master bedrooms over the years? 

Standing there in the big box store where people pick up a lamp along with their groceries and laundry supplies.

It’s no wonder people assume that is what they should use.

But my lovelies, beauty is in the details. And lamps are SUCH an important detail. Good lamps are a splurge sure, but as Nancy said, worth every penny!

It also might seem intuitive that bedside lamps should not be taller than the headboard. It’s true that they can look oversized IF there is no interest above the headboard to give them context. 

Here is Tracey’s bedroom below with the new lamps she is trying. It’s clear she’s not committed to them, because if she was sure, the plastic would be off the shades 😉 

The lamps still look too small, but as we can see, part of the problem is the size of the end tables. They are much too small to hold your stack of bedtime reading, some styling objects AND full sized lamps. 

A good end table should be at least 28 inches wide, and that’s the minimum. The one she has is only 18 inches. It would feel like a wobbly pedestal with a proper lamp on it. Here is a well-scaled end table with a beautiful full scale lamp below. 

Pencil & Paper Co.

Notice in the next example below that in addition to this beautifully styled end table holding a full scale lamp, there is art and a well dressed window creating interest above the headboard. These decorating details create context so that the lamps shade is not just floating up in front of a blank wall. 

Southern Living

Let’s look at Tracey’s lamp dilemma again. Option 1 shows her existing lamps, option 2 shows the ones she’s considering that aren’t perfect yet. And, the last option shows what I would do.

Here is a better end table for Tracey’s room shown below. It is a practical and generous 32 inches wide.

Wayfair

And this end table is large enough to accommodate a pretty full-sized lamp that picks up the blue accents in her bedding.

Wayfair

Adding even a simple round mirror over the headboard gives the taller lamps context by creating interest above the bed. 

Wayfair

 

I would also layer in a crisp white quilt and shams to add freshness and balance.

Pottery Barn

And speaking of drawing the eye up, adding some pattern to the walls would take Tracey’s room to the next level.

Wallpaper from Anthropologie

How fun is that lovely wallpaper?

Don’t ignore your walls when decorating

Aside from the bold reason that good decor takes some hunting to find, and costs a bit more, the main reason many of us struggle with scale is because we haven’t pushed the context far enough. We haven’t considered how to decorate the walls above the furniture. And this is how we end up with expanses of blank walls and lamps, art and accessories that are floating and bitty. 

When it comes to bedroom lamps, go big! And make sure your end tables are substantial enough to hold them along with everything else you need. The extra effort and expense are more than worth it, I promise!

Over to you. How tall are your bedside lamps? And I want to know if my assumption is correct. Do you have a small bedside lamp because your end table is small? Or perhaps your bed does not have a headboard yet (since the master bedroom is THE most neglected room in the house).

Why do so many people assume that a 28″ lamp is way too tall for a bedroom?

If you’d like your home to fill you with happiness when you walk in the door, check out my eDesign packages here.

If you have a question for my Ask Maria column, take some photos in good natural light and email them  here. Please note, if the room is tidy, it will have a higher chance of being featured.

Related posts:

5 Lamps Everyone Should Have in Their Home

Holiday Mood Lighting Lessons from Twilight

How to Choose the Perfect Lampshade

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  1. Hi Maria, thank you for this post. What do you do when you have a small bedroom? I live in the UK and our master bedrooms are not very generously proportioned. I am thinking about a wall sconce or pendants to save space on the smaller end table?

  2. We are just in the process of redoing our bedroom and the first thing I bought were replacement lamps. I had just told my husband that it might take me a year to find the right pair of ones at Home Sense. Then I opened up our local Buy & Sell and someone was selling a set of Home Sense lamps with the right shades and size for $50 It was like hitting the jackpot. In the time I took to ask the height 28” and go up stairs to measure they were gone. Imagine how exited I was the next day when she told me the sale had fallen through and they were mine. It turned out to be the first thing for the room and I love them so much. The shades are larger and more substantial and they produce way more light in a dark bedroom then my old sticks with the small shades. Your advice is perfect as always – I’m just glad I got this one right this time. It does make a difference.

    Last night I was on the site looking for your articles on blue ceilings as I was considering it for this room. The best one I found was in 2012. Is the idea of blue ceilings out of date?

    • We’re thinking of painting our ceiling blue too! Pinterest is a great resource for classic examples of a painted ceiling.

    • No I think a blue ceiling is always in, the ceiling in my living room is blue and people rarely notice because it feels normal, like the sky! Choose from the baby blue section of the fan deck. This is one place where a muted grey blue starts looking like a cloudy day instead of a lovely blue ceiling. Hope that helps! Maria

      • Maria, What would you think about a dark navy blue ceiling in a bedroom? I like the idea of it feeling cozy at night in bed, but am wondering if such a drastic color would need to directly related to something else in the room or if it can almost be a “neutral”. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Thanks Maria! That gives me the confidence to try it 🙂 I found a reference in your post to Cloverdale 7388 which when I looked it up on line is close to the Ocean Air I was thinking of so wish me luck!

    • You might want to check out Laurel Bern’s blog and type “blue ceiling” in the search box. Here, I did it for you: https://laurelberninteriors.com/?s=blue+ceiling. She has several posts that address the subject with lots of photos for inspiration. I know that Maria won’t mind me directing you to Laurel’s blog. As a matter of fact, it was through Laurel’s blog that I found Maria’s! I think they mutually admire each other. 🙂 These are my two favorite blogs EVER!

      • Thanks for the links Sheree – I had already read Laurel’s advice too after Maria’s on blue ceilings trying to get the confidence to try it. I’m always a bit nervous as I made some horrendous choices when I was younger and had to live with them for 10 years. I knew it was undertones but now thanks to Maria I can clearly articulate why things are an issue. Also if I tell my husband “this is what Maria says” he goes along with the choices. He knows why our kitchen looks so good and classic.

  3. Sometimes we just make do with what we have. I have put large coffee table books under my lamp to make it taller! Seems to work for me in a pinch.

  4. Great post! Especially the third and fourth options.
    I would love to buy an edesign package for styling. After the paint is done.
    Would you consider adding that? I’m thinking rugs,art,bedding, lamps, decor, window treatments, etc.

  5. When we moved out of our traveling RV home in 2011 into a house with a huge primary bedroom and our first king-sized bed, I knew I had to go big. Our end tables are about 30” wide with three drawers to hold extra clothing and clutter, and the lamps are tall with big shades. Three moves later, they still work, even in smaller bedrooms, and I’m still happy with the choice.

    I think setting the lamps on a stack of books for height is a great idea, as Susan mentioned. In a small bedroom I would definitely go with wall-mounted lamps to leave room on the end table, as Alexis asked. But as Maria said, I agree we don’t have to be afraid to go big when it’s possible.

  6. Hi Maria, Nothing more frustrating than a bedside lamp not tall enough to shed light on the book being read in bed. Go big!

  7. Lighting is ALWAYS the first thing I correct when Staging a home for sale. That Master zoned room shot has to look like a new hotel-you are spot on ( though wallpaper in a home for sale is too specific). Great post!!!!

  8. How about a pair of swing arm sconces?
    They free up the space on the side table, add onterest rigt where rhe big boring shade usually is, and offer good, flexible light for reading. With a great (patterened?) lampshade and an interesting finial, they could be a work of art on their own.

    You can now “style” the surface of the side table AND have some room for a cup of tea, a book, your reading glasses and maybe, just maybe, a box of tissue paper.

  9. Boy, you sure have great timing, Maria! No, I don’t have a headboard. Yes, my master is neglected. And I LOVE the wallpaper! Maybe a jumping off point?

  10. Absolutely agree. Makes a large bedroom look out of scale to have small nightstands. You add bow windows or some window feature, you better balance that.

  11. Maria, I thought that Tracy’s headboard was too spindly and small for the space UNTIL you styled the room with properly sized lamps and nightstands and added the mirror! What a difference! I love your advice, Maria!! Thank you for this wonderful post!

  12. Agree with the advice that money spent on good quality lamps is money well spent.

    Never hang a mirror over a bed in earthquake country.

    • You took the words right out of my mouth Mike! I always cringe when I see heavy and/or breakable items hung over a bed in earthquake country. We have a very large but light canvas print stretched onto a frame over our bed. It would wake us up but it wouldn’t hurt us if it fell. Even without an earthquake, a painting of ours fell when the picture wire broke. Fortunately it didn’t wreck our TV, and now I never hang anything heavy over our TV. Live and learn.

  13. Hi, I have a question about the beautifully styled vignette with the blue and white lamp, the blue-grey nightstand, and the blue and white rug: how would you turn the lamp on and off from your bed? You couldn’t, could you? I would consider that a big negative…

  14. I like how you changed the color of the bedside tables so they didn’t match the bed. My husband just wants to order the whole bed set because it’s easy. I want to get something that doesn’t match but adds to the interest of the room. Now we old black Ikea side tables (the ones that are $10) beside an American Drew chevron walnut bed with rolled steel accents. It’s been almost a year and I’m having a making a decision!

  15. Maria, thank you for this great post! Since I discovered your blog, I’ve learned so much from you! Your explanations and reasoning, supported by before and after pictures, and your knowledge of current styles and trends are, and have been, SO helpful to me!
    I have one question about lamps: When I’m reading at night (either when lying in bed, or sitting in a chair) I don’t like for the shade to be at a height where I can see the bare bulb in my side vision. Is there some kind of “formula” about the height that lampshades should be?

  16. Love the info and showing options – just looked at an earlier post where you did the same about pillows and a blue living room. SO helpful!

    And this post made me laugh too. When we got two kittens many years ago, they were so rambunctious we had to remove full sized lamps from our bedside tables because they’d crash into them during their wild gallops.

    Despite heavy lamp weight the tiny beasties almost knocked them over more than once despite our trying museum putty, putting things around the lamps, etc. So we installed pretty swing arm lamps. Since we didn’t want the cords to show, that meant making holes in the walls and drywall repair, so now we’re stuck with them. But I do like them. The kittens grew up and lived to 17 and 18 years old, but still when I look at bedside table lamps I think about them. R.I.P. Katya and Luka. And thank you, Maria. Your posts have impact beyond decorating.

    • That’s a hilarious kitten story, Beth. I could just picture Katya and Luka playing tag across your nightstand. 🙂 And how lovely that you adapted your lamps, and that they lived so long. I guess it’s obvious I’m a cat lover.

  17. I always felt like the base of the lamp should be eye level when sitting up in bed. That’s the measure I always have used.

  18. Your bedside table should be the same height as your mattress, or within an inch or two. Too low or too high looks off. Your lamp should be roughly the same height as your headboard. 28” – 30”seems to be the standard size. And, as Maria said, go big!

  19. Our bedside lamps are a whopping 34″ tall. But we do have a tall headboard (the lamp height is just under the headboard height) and very tall ceilings, so the proportions look just right (at least to my eye)! I love the tweaks you made to your friend’s bedroom both with and without the wallpaper. We recently purchased a large oil painting to go over our bed, and I’m so excited to get it put on the wall, but first I’m going to build a wood frame for it. I know it will complete the recent bedroom transformation that we did! I adore your blog, Maria! Thank you for generously sharing your knowledge with us!

  20. The lamp recommendations are spot on! Maria, I love it when your posts show how to stye with lamps. The wallpaper is lovely for a personal esthetic, but for resale it’s super bossy and would have to go. I can’t tell you how many homes we’ve toured with loud wallpaper that really turns off buyers. I’ve found that for many people, wallpaper is almost considered a “hard” finish that can take considerable time and effort to remove. It can actually lower resale value if every room is papered. Also, do you find wallpaper to be limiting even for the homeowner who plans to stay for years, but wants to change up their colors on a seasonal basis?

  21. Yes, love the wall paper. Before that option I was thinking the shades got lost on the wall and need a band of blue ribbon or something to make them stand out a little.

  22. You are So right! Just tried a larger bedside lamp for a week and what a difference! I went ahead and ordered two new ones to compliment our new decor. Now I have to locate the bedside tables, because yes many of us have too small lamps on too small tables. Just experimenting with what I had to get the feel of the look was a huge “ahh” moment. Thank you!

  23. I bet you didn’t expect this as the first question….end tables? Aren’t they “side” tables? Is this why I find it impossible to find anything the right size when searching Wayfair?

  24. A good lamp can be an investment and a little complicated. That awful generic “minimalist” one pictured is too ugly to be in a prison cell!
    My friend, whose design instincts are beyond reproach, will only use vintage lamps and chandy’s, all of which she finds at estate sales. They’re often a little funky and always fabulous. I love small lamps and have no problem elevating them on a stack of attractive books, if necessary. I also find wall-mounted sconces..especially the swing arm type..to be attractive and useful. They take up no room on a nightstand or end table and can be easily moved to just the right spot. I’ve also had interesting vases made into lamps..a good shade and pretty finial and ..voilà!

  25. Wonderful article on this subject! Thank you so much for the tips! My bedroom is on it’s way to looking better, however, what would a person do if there is just not the room for larger side tables? Also, Maria, please, please, please do an article on Aqua, turquoise and teal…what exactly is the difference between them and how would you use the colorwheel when using each one of these colors?

  26. I just did a Master bedroom redo top to bottom and purchased the most beautiful lamps … 28 inches tall to sit on top of new beautiful bedside tables next to the new king bed. I wish I could post a pic because I feel like I got this one right and I LOVE the look. Actually love the bedroom where I spend more time now…..funny how that works. I have learned so much from your blog and ebooks….thanks for helping me make my master bedroom a place I love.

  27. I’m assuming sconces and lamps together are a no go! I have sconces over my bed so curious as to your thoughts on adding table lamps to side tables.

  28. Wonderful post from a true expert!!! Maria you never fail to impress me with your knowledge and professionalism. You really are the best of the best. Thank you for all you do 🙂