Selecting a Lampshade for Your Floor Lamp

Select the Right Lampshade

for your Floor Lamp

The difference between a good lampshade and a great lampshade for your floor lamp can be a small one...but your choice can often have a tremendous impact on your decor - the lampshade you chose can make an ordinary floor lamp - and room - extra-ordinary. Many interior decorators will tell you that selecting the right lighting – accent, task and decorative – is the most difficult part of their work; at the same time, they are also quick to point out that it is the lighting selections that will make the difference between success or failure.
 
Lampshades come in numerous sizes, shapes and styles, colors and proportions. The choice of shade for any given lamp is almost always an individual one - what might look great to one individual, might not look right to another person. While different people have different style preferences, however, there are some basic guidelines to shade selection.

This article is organized around the following topics:

1.    Types of Lampshades
2.    Lampshade Luminance
3.    Measuring a Lampshade
4.    Lampshade Fitters
5.    Lampshade Shapes & Styles
6.    Selecting a Replacement Lampshade
7.    Fitting the Lampshade to the Lamp
8.    Light Bulbs & Lampshades

Types of lampshades

There are two types of lampshades: hardback and silk. Each type comes in a wide variety of shapes, styles, fabrics and colors, and sizes.

Hardback Shades

Hardback shades are made by laminating a fabric or paper onto a plastic liner. Each shade has a top ring and a bottom ring, and the laminated fabric is cut to a pattern and attached to each ring, and then glued on one or more sides, forming the seam. The inner plastic liner can be translucent or opaque, while the outer, visible fabric can be any type of woven fabric including linen, silk, satin, muslin, or one of many different types of parchments or paper. Hardback shades are not washable, and over time the plastic liner will yellow with age, distorting the quality of the light produced by the lamp. A hardback shade is often priced below a “silk” or fabric shade...though there are exceptions.

Silk Shades

The name “silk shade” is a little bit of a misnomer because these shades are not necessarily made from a silk fabric. Generally the term “silk shade” is used to refer to a shade whose liner is made from a fabric, while the outer fabric can be silk, satin, linen, or a variety of other fabrics.  Each of these fabrics may be stretched, shirred or pleated.  A silk shade has top and bottom rings that are connected by side wires, or struts. The placement and contour of the struts give the shade its shape and allow the material on the outside to follow the shape of the frame. Because a silk shade is built on a frame, it is possible to achieve a wide variety of shapes including bells, scallops, rounded corners, v-notches and gallery bottoms. Silk shades can be washed by immersing them in warm, soapy water, then washing with a cloth or very soft brush, drying immediately and evenly. While silk shades generally enjoy a fairly long life, in time, the constant heat generated by the bulb will begin to darken the shade and the lining may deteriorate. These shades may be re-lined. Because the manufacture of a silk shade is labor intensive, these shades tend to be more expensive than the hardback shades - though generally, they also enjoy a longer life.

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Lampshade Luminance

A lampshade may be either translucent or opaque. The translucent shade may be either a hardback shade or a silk shade. The translucent shade lets the light through with a gentle diffusion. There are many types of translucency. For example, silk is more translucent than coated papers or parchment. The inner surface of a translucent lampshade should be white or off-white for the best results.

There are two types of opaque lampshades. The fully opaque shade lets no light through the sides, but rather casts it upward and downward in a focal glow. The semi-opaque shade permits a small amount of light to come through its surface while casting the majority of the light through the top and bottom of the lampshade. The fully opaque shade is the better shade to use when the light source is being used for tasks such as reading, writing, sewing or other close work. The outer surface of an opaque lampshade can be any color, while the inner surface can be white, gold or silver.

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Measuring a Lampshade

Measuring a lampshade

Lampshades are measured and sized using the diameters of the top and bottom as well as a side measurement:

  • A - the width across the top of the shade
  • B -  the width across the bottom of the shade
  • C - the slant height down the side of the shade
  • the distance from the top of the shade to the washer in the center of the top ring (on most shades, this measurement is 3/4”; however, on larger shades the washer is often recessed several inches)

The width across the bottom is what is referred to as the size of the lampshade.  The top dimension is important to the shape of the shade, and to the strength of the incandescent light source; the larger the opening, the higher wattage incandescent light bult you can use.  The side dimension is important in fitting the shade to the lamp.  However, with the availability of harps in different heights, shades of varying heights can be adjusted / changed to allow for a proper fit to the lamp.

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Lampshade Fitters

 A fitter is the mechanism by which the lampshade “attaches” to the floor lamp.  The three most common types of fitters for floor lampshade are the washer, the clip, and the Uno,

 Lampshade Fitter - Washer

The washer fitter is the most common lampshade fitter.  It is used with a harp and finial and will work on a variety of lamps including table lamps, floor lamps and swing-arm bridge lamps – both table and floor.  The washer is designed to fit on top of a harp.  A harp consists of two wires that fit around the lamp socket and nest in a “harp saddle.”  The harp saddle is mounted directly below the light socket.    Once the harp is in place, the shade is mounted on top of the post, and then held in position by the finial.  Some floor lamps are designed with a reflective, white IES bowl.  The shade sits on top of the globe, held in place by crimps or notches in the wire to keep it from sliding on the bowl.  And, finally, some floor lamps (most particularly those designed with twin sockets) have a vertical rod coming up from the middle of the lamp.  The washer fitter is designed to fit over the rod, once again held in place by a finial.

 Lampshade Fitter - Edison Clip

The standard bulb clip is designed to snap onto the standard incandescent light bulb (called an Edison Clip).  It is used primarily on swing arm floor lamps - generally those requiring smaller shades -  8”, 9” and 10” shades. 

NOTE:  Any shade with a washer fitter can be modified to use a clip fitter.

 Lampshade Fitter - Uno

Uno fitters are 1” rings with inner threads which screw onto the end of a “uno” socket of the floor lamp, holding the uno lampshade in place.  Uno lampshades are used for bridge lamps in which the bulb hangs downward. 

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Lampshade Shapes and Styles

One of the wonderful things about floor lamps is that they are amenable to a wide variety of lampshade styles - hardback lampshades, as well as silk lampshades.  You can vary the type and the style dependent upon the theme of the setting - from casual, to contemporary to formal.

Hardback Lampshades

The styles available in hardback lampshades include drums (often shallow drums),empires, coolies, squares, rectangles and hexagons.  

Drum lampshades are typically one to two inches smaller in diameter at the top of the shade versus the bottom.  There are several types of drum shades including shallow drums (most often used on larger floor lamps) retro drums, drums and deep drums.

 Shallow Drum Floor Lampshade

           Shallow Drum Floor Lamp Lampshade

The classic and simple empire lampshade slopes gradually from the top to the bottom of the lampshade.  The empire lampshade is always an acceptable lampshade for your floor lamp.

 Empire - Hardback

     Empire Lampshade

Coolie shades slope severely outward from top to bottom; the bottom diameter is generally about three times the diameter of the top.  While coolie lampshades are a common choice for floor lamps, one does need to be careful of the relation of the opening at the top of the lampshade to the size of incandescent light bulb chosen – the smaller the opening, the lower wattage light bulb is required.

Coolie - Hardback 

       Coolie Lampshade

 

Hardback square and rectangular lampshades are also available as option for your floor lamp.   These shades are a particularly good option when the base of the floor lamp is either square or rectangular.

Square - Hardback

     Square Lampshade

Hexagonal hardback lampshades are a popular choice for many downbridge floor lamps.  These "uno" hex shades are available in many fabric options as well as "panel" shades.  The panel shades are colorful paintings of florals, wildlife, sea scenes and maps - different paintings on each side of the hex.

Hexagonal Panel Lampshade

     Hexagonal Panel Lampshade

 

Silk Lampshades

Silk lampshade styles include everything available as a hardback - as well as numerous variations on the same themes.  Any silk shade – round, square, rectangular, hexagonal or octagonal - can have curves, bells, scallops, v-notches and gallery bottoms – either individually, or in combination. 

The silk shallow drum floor lampshade is designed with a slight curve, and is most often selected for the larger floor lamp placed in a variety of decorative settings.

 Silk Shallow Drum Floor Lamp Lampshade

 

A corset drum lampshade is another example of a curved variation on the silk “drum” lampshade.

 Corset Drum - Silk

   Corset Drum Lampshade

 

 A round top scallop gallery lampshade combines a round lampshade with a bell, a scallop, and a gallery bottom.

Silk Bell with Eye Scallop Gallery

Round Top, Eye Scallop Gallery 

 

A unique square silk floor lampshade is the silk cube bell.  The cube bell combines a square lampshade with a curve and a bell. 

Silk Cube Bell Lampshade

      Silk Cube Bell Lampshade

Because the silk lampshades are built on frames, the range of styles is much greater than standard hardback lampshades.

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Selecting a Replacement Lampshade 

Ideally, when selecting a replacement lampshade, the floor lamp itself should be taken to a lampshade store with a trained professional to help you select the “extra-ordinary” shade for your lamp.   The following are some things to think about in the selection of your replacement lampshade:

  • What is the type of decor in the room in which the floor lamp resides?
  • How is the floor lamp used in the room - for general lighting, for reading, for decoration?
  • Is this an individual floor lamp, or one of a pair?
  • What other lamps are in the room, and what types and colors of shades are on those lamps?
  • What are the colors in the room?


In addition to the information gathered regarding the general location of the floor lamp, there are several other things to consider when selecting a replacement lampshade, such as:

  • The shape of the lamp base; for example a round, curved base may suggest a round, slightly sloped or curved shade whereas a square or rectangular base may lead to consideration of a square or rectangular shade or a variation on that same theme;
  • In general, the more elaborate the base, the more simple the lampshade;
  • The style of the lampshade should complement the lamp base, using “period” style lampshades, if appropriate.

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Fitting the Lampshade to the Lamp

The lampshade should sit just above the top of the floor lamp, but below the “lampworks” – the hardware including the harp saddle and the socket.  If the floor lamp has a neck, it is acceptable for the bottom of the shade to sit at any point along the neck.  Unless the lampshade clips onto the bulb, the height of the lampshade can be changed by adjusting the height of the harp that holds the lampshade.  Harps are the metal brackets that fit into a saddle located just under the socket.  Harps come in heights ranging from 5 1/2” to 13”.  The taller the harp, the higher the lampshade will sit on the lamp, necessitating a longer length lampshade in order to avoid exposing the “lampworks”.

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Light Bulbs & Lampshades


Most standard light sockets used in floor lamps can easily and safely accommodate incandescent light bulbs of up to 250 watts or more.  The determining factor for the size, or wattage, of the incandescent light bulb you use in your floor lamp is generally not the socket, but instead the diameter at the top of the lampshade...the heat produced by the light bulb needs an escape route!

The maximum recommended watts/diameter of the lampshade are as follows:

Top Diameter of Lampshade

Recommended Watts (incandescent)

3”

40

4”

60

5”

75

6”

100

7”+

150

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