Choosing a Lampshade: Don’t Hide Your Light Under a Bushel

She found my one weakness…that I’m weak!

– Homer Simpson

Everybody’s good at something, so it makes sense that everybody is also bad at something else.  I’m bad at many things, but what causes me the most trouble around the house is my inability to guesstimate sizes. I demonstrated this to the Kev once by showing him the screw I picked out of our Bin of Random Leftover Stuff to pin a plastic vent cover to the outside wall. It was a three-inch deck screw. YOU ARE GOING NOWHERE, VENT!

(Tangent: I read once that cows can’t tell how big anything is in comparison to themselves. I was looking for a reference to that when I found the Ben and Jerry’s Cow Cam. I no longer care about how large cows think things are; I just want ice cream.)

I told you that story (and the cow one) so I could tell you about lamp shades. My inability to judge spatial relations translates to some silly-ass lampshade choices. And a lot of time in returns lines. As an example, I have a lamp made from a vintage cologne bottle. I’ve had it for years, so I thought I remembered its size. The result?

That’s a whole lotta shade for that tiny lamp.

Fortunately, there are a few good guidelines for lamp shade proportions that can help you avoid my cow-like shade purchasing habits. For each method, start by measuring your lamp! Despite my known estimation weakness, I often neglect simple measuring. You want to know the overall height of the puppy, as well as the height of the base versus the height of the bulb fitting/harp part.

  1. Lamp Shade Selection Method 1:  Buy a shade with a height that is about 40% of the overall lamp height.  Note that lampshade sizing is by the shade’s bottom diameter.  Take that tape measure with you to the store!
  2. Lamp Shade Selection Method 2:  Use the height of the base as a rough estimate for the width (diameter) of the lower side of the shade.  Lampshade sizing helps you out here: if your base is 16” tall, you just need to look for a 16” shade. This rule will give you a nice, balanced look.
  3. Lamp Shade Selection Method 3:  If your lamp has a harp for holding up the shade, the shade should be about the same height as the harp, or a little taller.  Such a lampshade will cover the bulb but let the base show. And presumably you like how the base looks. (You can use this technique in conjunction with Method 2 as well.)

These are extremely useful guidelines, but as with anything design-y, feel free to chuck the rules out the window. If it looks good to you (and isn’t going to start a fire), go for it!

Measuring your lampshade also doesn’t do much for deciding on its style, but fortunately, there is a wealth of information out there on choosing and decorating lamp shades.  Thrifty Décor Chick in particular has a bunch of great entries. Check out how to stencil a lampshade or cover a shade with fabric on her blog.

Enjoy a more balanced home and fewer trips to Returns!

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