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Lampshades for Every Shape

Martha Stewart Living, September 2007

Finding the perfect shade for your favorite lamp can be tricky. We've put together eight successful pairings to help guide you through the process. "They're not the only combinations, but they're the ones we find to be consistently pleasing and appropriate," says Kevin Sharkey, decorating editorial director at Martha Stewart Living.

Most shades fall into two categories: "hardbacked," in which paper or fabric is bonded to a stiff, styrene base, and "soft-sided," in which fabric is stretched over a metal frame. Hardbacks offer a sleeker profile and tend to filter more light. Regardless of the construction, a shade looks best when slightly wider than its lamp, and about two-thirds as tall. The pieces should match stylistically as well, whether classic, contemporary, or eclectic.

There are exceptions to these rules, so don't rely solely on measurements or style cues. Take your lamp to the lighting store, and try it with different shades. If your budget allows, consider visiting a custom-shade maker, who can tailor a shade specifically to fit your lamp. Whether you go it alone or work with a professional, be sure to take a look at the following pairings first. We are confident that they will help you see the light.


Bell + Ginger Jar
Shade
The curves on bell shades give them a graceful, feminine form. Round bells, including the one above, are the most common variety, but the shades also can be oval in shape. All bells are soft-sided (silk, linen, and taffeta are popular fabric options) because their arching frames don't allow for hardback construction.

Lamp
Lamp bases often derive from other sculptural objects. Ginger jars have been around for centuries; they were used to store fresh spices, including, of course, ginger. They're one of the most common bases, and they run the gamut stylistically from traditional crackled ceramic to contemporary glass versions.

Why It Works
The angled shape of the bell shade mirrors that of the ginger jar below it. The base's reflective silvered glass bounces light outward, compensating for the shade's dark taffeta fabric. A lamp like this would work best in a room with another source of light, where its decorative presence would serve to anchor (if not brighten) the space.

 
Octagonal + Baluster
Shade
You may also hear octagonal shades referred to as "cut corner squares." Not surprisingly, a lamp that comes with a square shade will look good with an eight-sided one, too. But octagonal shades aren't strictly modern, as this rustic hardback version makes evident. The shades can also be soft-sided.

Lamp
Baluster lamps get their name from the vertical supports that hold up porch railings. It's easy to see why these architectural details with their vaselike quality were adapted to lamps. Antique balusters, such as the one above, may be carved from stone or wood, while modern versions also come in metal or plastic.

Why It Works
Both the lamp and the shade celebrate simple forms and natural materials. The lichen-covered baluster is made from stone, while the hardback shade consists of heavy brown paper laminated to a styrene base. The trim matches the color of the base. Rough yet refined, the lamp will hold its own in a room with strong architectural details.

 
Drum + Egg
Shade
Like the noisy instruments they're named after, drum shades command a lot of attention. They fall into two categories: shallow (pictured) and deep. Shallow drums are generally shorter than 10 inches and have an Art Deco feel. Although shallow drums are contemporary, they can be used in rooms that combine old and new.

Lamp
Egg-shaped lamps often resemble ginger jars, minus the well-defined neck. Given their similar forms, the two lamps are fairly interchangeable, though eggs will not always adapt to traditional settings as readily as ginger jars. The modern version above features dozens of glass disks fused to a crystal base. The bolder the lamp, the more dramatic its companion shade should be. Drums usually fit the bill, especially when they're made from an opaque fabric, such as this gray linen (in general, the more decorative a lamp is, the less light it gives off). This fourteen-inch lamp would serve as a strong focal point on, for instance, a living room console table.

 
Empire + Urn
Shade
Empire shades embody the elegance and sophistication that defined the early-nineteenth-century French Empire movement (sometimes they receive the French pronunciation "ahm-peer"). They resemble bell shades, except their sides are straight. The bottom diameter is usually at least two times greater than the top.

Lamp
Urn-shaped lamps are steeped in tradition. The ornamental vessels are as old as civilization itself and have been used to hold everything from hot beverages to sacred ashes. Urn-shaped lamps are found the world over and often take on characteristics of their respective culture, whether European or Chinese.

Why It Works
The graceful swans and stepped brass pedestal base of the porcelain urn evoke sophistication, a quality matched by the fern-green silk shade. The shade's piping serves two purposes: It adds a decorative flourish and conceals the metal wiring of the frame. Standing twelve inches tall, this lamp would look attractive in a library or on a bedside table.


Barrel + Column
Shade
Barrel shades are cylindrical in shape. They resemble drum shades, though their sides have a gentle slope. Stylistically, barrel shades fall somewhere between drums and empires. The former are often contemporary and the latter are usually traditional, but barrels can be an appropriate element in both settings.

Lamp
Column lamps, like baluster lamps, are typically tall and narrow. When they are carved from wood, such as the one above, they often feature intricate turned details. Columns can also be made from materials such as metal, Lucite, or glass, in which case their shape is likely to be more tubular, contemporary, and sleek.

Why It Works
Barrel shades and column lamps have strong vertical lines, which are accentuated by the string shade (a cross between hardbacked and soft-sided). The shade’s eight panels echo the octagonal shape of the pedestal. When you coordinate forms, you can vary the finishes, hence the beige-on-black contrast that makes this light fixture stand out.


Square + Square
Shade
Square shades are the most contemporary of all the styles, even more so than drum shades. The one shown here is referred to as a "sharp corner" because its sides meet at ninety-degree angles. Square shades also come with slightly tapered corners, which will often make them feel less austere.

Lamp
Square lamps also have a contemporary feel. Although some are truly square in shape, others may actually be rectangular, like the "square" shades they're often partnered with. The model above is a riff on a lamp made popular in the 1920s, when streamlined forms and synthetic materials were in fashion.

Why It Works
Repetition of form is effective in modern contexts. Applying the same gray book cloth to the lamp and shade adds to the coordination. The shade is self-trimmed (meaning the trim material matches the shade's), adding a hint of visual contrast. This compact lamp would be appropriate on a bedside table, where it might play off a headboard with geometric lines.

Comments (2)

  • TamaraGirl 6 Oct, 2008

    If you need an exact size or fabric type for a lamp shade, check out fenchelshades.com. You can build your own lamp shade online, and they're the manufacturer, so the prices are really good. I do a lot of home staging for people selling their homes, and this is a great way to add accent colors without spending a lot of money.

  • marthaguy 5 Nov, 2007

    This is outstanding information. One of the greatest ways to change the 'look' is to change the lampshade.