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Lamps and Lampshades

Good lighting is essential to comfortable living. But lamps are more than sources of illumination; they are also sculptural objects in their own right, each one bringing its unique combination of form, color, and texture to an interior.

A great lamp begins with a striking base, and many can be found at flea markets and antiques shops. Look for appealing shapes and good-quality materials; some, like alabaster and mercury glass, are especially lovely when played upon by light. Don't be dismayed if you fall in love with a base that doesn't work -- you can probably rewire it yourself in far less time than it would take to find another you like as much. In fact, we show you how to do it in our feature, Rewiring a Lamp.

The next step is to choose -- or make -- the right shade, which will bring the whole piece into balance. Lamps and their shades should be compatible in three ways: style, shape, and size. Personal taste is your best guide, but a few rules do apply. First, the more formal the base, the richer the shade material should be. For bases made of brass or porcelain, for example, silk, fine linen, satin, and velvet are all good choices. As with bases, some shades take on new life when illuminated. Wood veneer, silk, and parchment create a warm, rich glow. Hold materials up to a bulb before making your selection.

A shade must be wide enough to allow the bulb at least an inch of space all around (two inches if the wattage is 100 or more) and long enough to cover the electrical fittings -- but no longer than that, or the shade will take on a comical look, like a hat pulled down too low over the ears.

It's worth the effort to find the perfect shade for every base. Lamps are always noticed: The eye, like the moth, is naturally drawn to their light.


The shape of a lampshade, like the cut of a skirt, often evokes a particular era or style. When choosing a shade for your lamp, keep in mind that any base shape should work well with up to three shade shapes. A few of our favorite shades are illustrated here.

1. Hexagon This unusual shape evokes an early-20th-century rustic feeling.

2. Bell Popular in the Victorian era, bells are well suited to traditional interiors.

3. Empire This classic shape looks right atop nearly any base.

4. Square Match a square shade with a square base, or contrast it with a round one for an unexpected twist.

5. Coolie This shape gives any base a contemporary look.

6. Drum At home in mid-century modern interiors, a drum shade is best paired with spherical or pure geometrical bases.


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