Lampshade covered in green animal print fabric from Thibaut add the right contrast to white walls.

Lampshades 101 – Choosing A Great Lampshade

Lampshades are one of my favorite “go to’s” for adding wonderful details of color and personal style to a room. There’s actually more to choosing a great lampshade than one might think. Truthfully, the vast majority of lampshades out there come off the shelf rather plain and unimpressive. . .

I’ve been trying to think of a good metaphor for what lampshades are to fashion? I’m frequently comparing hardware to jewelry, I’ve been known to say. . . “cabinet knobs are the earrings of home decor.”

Blue wallpapered game nook filled with personality. A great fabric wrapped pendant light, cozy built in seating and fun local art make the space inviting.

So then, what are lampshades? Maybe I’d say they’re the “hats of home decor,” except people really don’t wear hats these days, unless of course you’re a Royal or you’re headed to the Kentucky Derby. So hat’s can’t be a comparable fashion accessory to lampshades because, unlike hats, lampshades are an absolute essential home fashion accessory!

Where to get great pre-made shades

I can however recommend two great favorite sources where I go to get lampshade inspiration, and also my first stop when looking to purchase a ready made lampshade full of personalty and style – for myself or a client. Ballard Designs and The Shade Shop both offer beautiful, show stopping lampshades online, with lots of options for color, pattern and details.

The Shade Shop HERE and on Instagram at @cville-shadeshop

Ballard Designs HERE and on Instagram at @ballarddesigns

I happen to be a big fan of all things Ballard Designs. They offer such lovely and high quality designs in both furniture and home accessories. I have a lot of Ballard Designs things in my both of my homes, and so do many of my clients. They offer semi-custom lampshades made in a huge variety of styles and fabrics. Check out their selections to purchase, or just for some great lampshade inspiration. They aren’t paying me by the way 😂 They don’t even know I exist. I’m just a fan girl.

Tip #1

Just because the shade comes on the lamp, doesn’t mean the lamp actually wants it to stay there! Have you ever experienced this? You’ve found the perfect lamp for your room, but the shade . . . well, hmmm . . . not so much.

I’ve bought lamps with shades that looked something like high water pants on a pre-teen boy. The shade is just too short, or too small or simply shaped wrong for either the lamp or the style of the room. Funny, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a lamp where the shade was too big. I wonder why that is?

I digress, anyways. . . just 86 that awkward shade. . . You can get rid of it you know. Or, if you’re a hoarder like me, you’ll store it for that far away day when you might come across a lamp that’s a perfect fit for that particular shade. . . someday. . . maybe. . .?

What to Look For In Your Lampshade

Does the Shade “Fit?”

Contrary to instinct, the most important feature of the perfect lampshade is not a fashionable color, pattern or cool gimp (a fancy designer word for a certain kind of trim 😉). It’s actually how the shade fits the lamp. Again, kinda like pants. It doesn’t matter how fashionable and of the moment the pants are, if they don’t fit YOU and your body well, then its a bad purchase, don’t do it!

This takes me back to the days of low rise jeans, I mean really – only a stick thin super model with the figure of a pre-pubescent teenager could pull those off well, yet everyone ran around in them anyway, with bulges at the midline and constantly hiking them up to avoid showing too much crackage . Again, I digress. . . sorry ’bout that.


An ideal shade should be approximately 1/3 the hight of the lamp base, give or take. In design 1/3 is a good bet for so many measurements. When in doubt, go with 1/3 and you’re likely to get it right. In the case of lamps, it’s my opinion that it’s better for the shade to be on the slightly “too big” side than the slightly “too small” side.

Create your own custom lampshade with ribbon.


Shape matters. The shape needs to work with the style and design of the room, starting with the presumption that the lamp base already compliments the room. What is your rooms design genre? Mid-Century Modern or Modern, then an angular clean lined lampshade without a lot of curve is best. Grandmillennial or very traditional, then a shade with some curve to it will often suit the room well. Transitional, almost any shape can work here. Farmhouse or cottage, a cone shaped shade is always a good bet. Bottom line, select a shape that suits the decor style of the room.

However, with all that said; remember that when it comes to design, once you know, understand and have proper respect the rules of design; you can always make a deliberate, conscious choice to break them! The final, most important rule of design is for the space to be a mirror like reflection of the person who inhabits that space. So you should absolutely love each of your choices. That is much more important to good design than making sure it fits into a conscripted architectural or time period genre. Go with what makes your heart sing. Yes, even your lampshades should bring you joy!


When it comes to width, I prefer a lampshade that is generous. Unless I’m consciously going for a really paired, down sleek look in the room, or I have space limitations – such as for a sconce on a wall, I want my shades to extend at least a couple of inches beyond the base of the lamp on all sides. We want to avoid the shade looking too tight for the base.


Even if we are going to do a makeover on the shade, the material of the shade is made of matters. Shades have a base material. Some are made of paper, some are fabric, some are a plastic material. The base material can be thick or thin, causing it to be opaque or transparent, or something in between. This actually matters A-LOT.

You’ll want to think ahead about where and how you plan to use this lamp, and how much light you want or need it to give off. Obviously the more opaque the shade material is, the less light it will give off. Some shades let almost no light through, causing the lamp to only cast light downward, directly below and just a bit above the lamp. Other shades are more translucent and allow more light to shine through to brighten the whole room. Keep your needs in mind when choosing the shade. If this lamp is the primary light in the room and the shade is very opaque, you’ll be left sitting in the shadows.

Where To Get Shades For a DIY Upgrade

If you’re so inclined, you can easily makeover your own lampshades. In this case primarily what you are looking for is size, shape and opacity.

Big Box Stores – I look in all my usual places and also some maybe not so usual places. Big box stores almost always have a selection. Although a word of caution, be sure to check out how the shade attaches to the lamp. I’ve discovered the hard way that often less expensive shades have some funky attachment mechanisms other than a traditional harp. Often this is so that the shades only work on their own proprietary brand lamp bases (looking at you Target). Home Depot and Lowes actually both have great selections with lots of sizes and shapes. PS – Don’t forget their websites, they have way more online than they even have in the stores, which is a lot.

I’m a HomeGoods girl, so just by the very nature of being in there a lot, I regularly find great shades for a great price there.

Thrifted – I’m also a big fan of thrifting. I say this often, but I don’t mind repeating myself on this one because it’s golden information. Thrifting is more than just about saving money or saving the planet. For me it’s admittedly less altruistic than that. . . most modern materials and products are cheaply made – period.

Most things in 2024 are made with inferior materials using cheap, foreign (read; unfairly treated) unskilled labor or made by a machine. Vendors and brands have incentive to produce products that need to be replaced often, causing consumers to re-buy and re-spend frequently.

Products made in past decades were made with pride and care, often by hand by skilled artisans. Furniture and home accessories used to be made from the best products, using the best methods so that they would last a lifetime and beyond. For this reason I thrift. I want the very finest products for a good price.

Lampshades are no exception. The material may be ugly, dirty and faded. But guess what, I’m planning to replace or recover it anyway. I’ve discovered the most amazingly unusual and wonderful lampshades, with solid metal hardware at thrift stores. I know you may be looking at me with a side eye right now, but I challenge you to give it a shot, you just might be surprised how fun and rewarding the hunt can be!

A Word About Harps

You know that curvy metal rod thingy inside the shade, the one that attaches the shade to the lamp base, it’s called a harp. Harps are actually more important than many people realize. And just like the shade that came on the lamp, the harp is also replaceable. In fact, its often desirable to replace the harp if you replace the shade for something larger or a different shape.

Again, the reason goes back to our pant analogy. We don’t want our lamps to be wearing either high waters OR have hems that are too long and drag on the ground. We don’t want the shade to be too low, covering too much of the lamp base; or to be to high and showing off it’s under parts (the socket or socket stem). Often this isn’t a shade size issue but rather a harp issue.

Harps come in different sizes/heights. Generally they are easy to replace. They slide right off by lifting the two couplings up the bar on each side and then squeezing the harps side bars together to release it from the notches in the base. Pickup or order a new one that is either shorter or taller, depending on what you need for your particular shade.

I find them at big box hardware stores (Lowes has a great one that is adjustable in height), Wayfair, Amazon, or if I have a unique need, a specialty lighting store. But first, I always look to see if I already have one on another lamp that also needs to be swapped out. After all – reduce, reuse, recycle are the words of they day and can save you some cash.

We’re coming to the end of this lesson. . . but it’s not “the end”

Clearly the “fashion is to lamps” metaphor I was seeking has revealed itself as I’ve written this article. “Lampshades are like pants. . . ” Often we don’t really notice them as much as other, more flashy aspects of an outfit – or room. Except for when they don’t fit right – or when they decide to come out of the shadows wearing something really fantastic, making their own stylish statement!

NOW. . . if you’re up for some DIY creative fun, gather your inspiration and join me at the table!
Lets play with lampshades!

There really is no end to the creative ways to embellish a lampshade. I’ve created three tutorials teaching the tried and true techniques I use regularly for upgrading my own lampshades, DIY style. You can see them each here. Give it a try, weather you’re a seasoned DIYer or still a beginner, these are easy and fun DIY projects!

Lampshade Tutorials –

  • Upscale a Lampshade – Basic DIY Lampshade Recovering HERE
  • Creating a Ribbon Striped Lampshade HERE
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