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How to Choose the Perfect Lampshade

By 10/29/2015November 5th, 201918 Comments

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The other day I was on the phone with my friend Penelope. She is a very busy woman. In addition to running her business, she also home schools her two boys.

Whenever I get her on the phone (which is not often), I always try to be as interesting as possible so that she’ll stay on the phone as long as possible. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

I tell her she is a total genius and I just love to listen to her talk about almost anything. She says she could listen to me talk all day about decorating.

Penelope has a lamp that needs a new shade.

In fact, she says, all the lamps in her house need new lamp shades.

I said, “Send me a picture, I’ll tell you what to do, better yet, take your lamps to a store, it’s easier if you can try out different shades”.

“I can’t, I live in the country, I do everything on-line.”


“Well the problem might not just be the size of the shade, it could be that the harp is an inch too long or an inch too short. It’s hard to figure that out without trying on shades.”

“Oh,” she says,” That is exactly what the problem is. I see it now, brilliant Maria.”

Then Penelope said, I love all these lamp shades at Anthropologie but I don’t know how to use them, how would you incorporate them into a room?



Well, first I think everyone should have a MINIMUM of 6 lamps in the living room, so then they should all be off-white.

White is too stark and generally looks cheap and anything darker than off-white draws too much attention. If you have 6 lamps in your living room and one is a burlap colour, one is white, one is black, and one is a pattern etc. then all you notice is the colour of the lampshades, it’s hard to notice the atmosphere that’s created with the lighting.

But for example, if you loved the Cockatoo lampshade, you might buy a tropical duvet cover and have them in your bedroom:


Pottery Barn Duvets | Anthropologie Lamp Shade

or how about this one. . .


West Elm Bedding | Anthropologie Lamp Shade

This combination is pretty too. . .


West Elm Bedding | Anthro Lamp shade

Or, maybe you have an entry that wouldn’t need more than one or two lamps, so then you could have a blank lampshade.

Or THREE. I’m just wondering if there would be enough room for me to walk through this one (below).


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Can you count how many lamps are in this photo (below)? Now THAT is more like it.


via pinterest

Another reason your lamp shade might be wrong is that you can see the mechanism above the base. See how it’s almost entirely covered by the shade below? That’s how your lamp should look.


But the easiest way to fix it is to take your lamp either to a lampshade shop or to any store that sells lampshades. I recommend checking your city for a store that specializes in lampshades, even if they have to make one custom to fit your base, they are not as expensive as you might think. I have paid anywhere from $30 to $90 for a really big lampshade.

My clients are always so delighted when their old and treasured lamp looks brand new again simply by updating the shade.

My cure for handling shorter winter days is to turn on more lamps! What’s yours?

Related posts:

The Enchanting World of Atmosphere

The One Thing you Cannot Buy

The Real Reason your Lighting Sucks

If you want your house to fill you with happiness when you walk in the door contact me about our design services.

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  • Liz says:

    Lamps! This is fantastic. I have been saving a question for you for such an occasion. With all the newfangled light bulbs out there, now that our old lovely ones are now illegal in the US, what to buy? I have tried several different types of the new light bulbs to unfortunate effect. You can have 6 lovely lamps in a room, but if the light bulb screams Vegas to you, it will just not be the same thing.

    • Maria Killam says:

      I stalked up on incandescent bulbs which I like the best. You can still buy them, it’s just that they aren’t sold en masse anymore. I can’t stand the new bulbs they are awful.

      • MaggieS says:

        Don’t know if you can get the Cree light bulbs that Kristie Barnett recommends in Canada? They sell them at Home Depot and they are quite nice.

        • Lorri says:

          Totally agree. LED is where it’s at, yet most designers haven’t caught on yet.

          If you need 3-way bulbs, you can order 3-way Cree bulbs online as they’re usually not available in the store.

          Also, try to get the Cree Full-Spectrum Soft White bulbs. The full-spectrum makes a real difference in how color appears.

    • SDC says:

      Liz – I’m extremely sensitive to and particular about the quality of my light as well. Here’s some guidance that hopefully will help you find a bulb that you’ll love.

      – First stay away from compact fluorescent bulbs (also know as CFLs). You’ll never be happy with the quality of the light.
      – When shopping for an LED light bulb the most important thing to pay attention to is what is called the color temperature of the bulb.
      – In the simplest terms, color temperature describes the color characteristics of light, usually either warm (yellowish like the familiar incandescent bulb) or cool (bluish like a fluorescent bulb).
      – Fortunately you don’t have to rely on a manufacturer’s verbal description of the light. There is something called the Kelvin Color Temperature Scale and is measured in degrees of Kelvin.
      – Most manufacturers have now taken to putting the Color Temperature in degrees of Kelvin directly on the package of their LED bulbs.
      – As a reference for you – Incandescent bulbs have a Color Temperature of around 2800K, Halogen bulbs around 3200K, and a Household Fluorescent in the 4300 to 4700K range.
      – To keep it really simple, look for an LED bulb that has a Color Temperature of around 2700K. Bulbs of around this color temperature will be indistinguishable from the incandescent bulbs you love.
      – Also, if it’s listed, pay attention to the Color Rendering Index. It is rated on a scale from 1 to 100. The higher the number the better. Typical LED bulbs are somewhere around 80.
      – The next thing to look for / decide is if you want an LED bulb that is dimmable. Again, that will be stated on the package. It’s important to note that some older dimmers don’t work well (if at all) with today’s modern LED bulbs. It may necessary to upgrade your dimmer to an LED compatible one.
      – Finally, if you will be putting the bulb in an enclosed fixture, be sure to read the package and make sure the bulb is recommended for enclosed fixtures. Some are not.

      I can’t say enough about the Cree light bulbs that Maggie references below. They are a terrific bulb. Their typical 60 Watt equivalent Soft White offering has a color temperature of 2700K and a CRI of 83. They also have TW series with a CRI of 93 and a color temperature of 2700K.

      I hope this helps!

    • Incandescent bulbs are still sold. They aren’t illegal. They have just lowered the wattage a little. There are no more 100-watt bulbs, and not quite 75. It’s more like 72 or something. At least in Texas, that’s the case. You can find 60-watt bulbs at the big box stores for sure. Maybe still at Target. Like Maria, I stock-piled so many that I haven’t had to buy regular bulbs in years. LOL

      Of the LEDs, if you must, get the warm white. I’ve only tried two brands: Cree is acceptable; Sylvania is horrible.

      • cammy says:

        Actually incandescents are not being manufactured anymore. It became illegal last year for them to be manufactured. Manufacturers and stores are permitted to sell off whatever they have in stock however.

  • Tara Dillard says:

    Have been lamp crazy for decades. To turn on more I would have to buy more. Not a bad thing ! Xotara

  • Mariko says:

    This is wonderful! After repainting, I’ve just started to reassess and update all my table lamps mostly by replacing the shades and sometimes replacing the whole lamp. Replacing the shades on my own has been a bit of a challenge. Now I understand much better why and I plan to pay a visit to my local lampshade store. This is very helpful as always! Oh, and I also stocked up on some incandescent bulbs. I don’t like any of those new light bulbs.

  • If you need to do a custom shade online, I have used Jack Of All Shades here in the States. Great job!

    • Laura says:

      Hi Nichole…what color shade from Jack of all shades is equivalent to an off white? They have so many linen colors…thank you.

  • Lucy Haines says:

    Good info! I have 4 black lampshades in my living room. I also have a small black lacquer chest and a black screen in one corner. With black I feel that the color is strong & should be repeated. Is that right or wrong?

  • Bette says:

    What fantastic info — would you consider adding a postscript (or another post!) on shades for standing lamps? I am floored (no pun intended 😉 trying to find a shade that seems right for my floor lamp — the same ratios don’t work and my lampshade looks lost, like a hat on a stick.

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Hi Maria,
    I just got home from a cross-country road trip last night. My first errand today was to run over to my daughter’s to pick up a lampshade that I had ordered just before I left on my trip. I had it delivered to her place since I wasn’t going to be home. So the timing of this post made me giggle.
    As soon as I opened the box I knew I didn’t care for the shade. I packed it back up & drove it over to my local UPS. They wanted to charge me $65 to ship back my $40 lampshade. I couldn’t believe it. I said “no thanks” and took it over to my local Goodwill & donated it.
    So lesson learned…take your lamps to the shade store. Don’t try to order on-line.

  • Chris says:

    I started replacing incandescent bulbs the summer of 2011. I am in Houston and we had not only drought but over 100 days in a row of over 100 degree days. It was so hot, especially in the kitchen, as there were 11 recessed flood lights. I started researching and learned about Cree LED light bulbs. So I emailed the company, asking questions, informing Cree of my hot kitchen, and my desire not to use CFL. I wanted the warm color and high CRI(color rendition index). Surprisingly, I received an email the next day. Following their suggestion I purchased the CREE LED replacement kit for recessed lights. I didn’t purchase all at once but gradually all are now LED. The temperature difference in the room is drastic. I can see and not melt. I am replacing all incandescents with LED as other bulbs burn out. My suggestion buy 1 bulb for 1 lamp, you may have to go through several to find the one that gives the light you want. As recommended by previous posters paying attention to the Kelvin and CRI on each bulb takes the guess work out of finding the correct bulb. Depending on the store, keep your receipt and return a bulb that looks bad. One last thought, I like lamps like Maria, and my AC electricity bill is a lot lower.

  • Maria, I’m a lamp fanatic too! I’ve probably told this story before, but I went on a road trip with a friend, and along the way we stayed with her daughter and family. They had a new custom built home that had ONLY CEILING LIGHTS, NO LAMPS WHATSOEVER. Not one in the entire house. I hated staying there, I couldn’t read or knit, or do anything. The experience made me more fanatic about good lighting. The atmosphere was sickly and creepy, and I was so happy to get out of there.

    Although I love incandescent lighting, I’ve changed all my can lights, and exterior lights to Cree bulbs for energy savings. They’re compatible with my lamps, which still have the old bulbs. All my lamps are 3 way, 50-100-150, and as far as I know, are still being manufactured. I also stock piled, but can still buy them all over anyway.

  • Jackie says:

    Maria, I love the post. Would it be best if all the lamp shades in the living room be the same shape?

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