Throwing Shade: How to Pick the Perfect Lampshade for Any Room

Lampshades might not seem like a make-or-break element of your home’s look, but they’re actually a secret weapon in the decor world. Since you can swap them out with ease—and the options range from basic to wildly elaborate—lampshades are a great way to give a style boost to any room in your home.

But when it comes to actually choosing a lampshade, you might feel like you’re in the dark. With so many shapes, styles, and colors, shopping for this simple home accessory can quickly get overwhelming.

“The lighting you choose is like the jewelry in a room, so consider your options carefully and splurge, if you can, to make a statement with your lamp and shade,” suggests Karen Gray-Plaisted, owner of Design Solutions KGP.

The first step in picking the perfect shade is to learn the differences between each shape so you can match it to your room’s style—and then to think beyond big and round.

To light the way (#sorrynotsorry), here’s a primer on some of the most common shade styles, and savvy tips for using them.

Empire lampshade

The classically styled empire shade is the most universal shape, with a straight-edge design that looks good on just about any base and can be incorporated into most rooms.

As a task light, this shade is tops due to the flare that spreads the light in a nice, wide pool. Set this lampshade on a light near where you plan to read, such as a bedside or end table.

Bell lampshade

As the name indicates, a bell shade widens below with gently sloping, elegant sides that match curved bases nicely.

“This lamp topper works best in more traditional rooms, though I could also see it with shabby chic or French country decor,” says Drew Henry, founder of Design Dudes.

Drum lampshade

Here’s another shade that’s true to its name: Wider than it is long, a drum-shaped shade usually has straight sides.

“This look is much more up to date than the others—use it with contemporary home design or even Zen-styled rooms,” Henry says. Pick a spherical base with a drum shade for a very modern look.

Pagoda lampshade

This option is luxe, regal, and a bit on the formal side, Henry notes, so save it for a grown-up approach in your living room, dining area, or master bedroom.

And if you’re going for a full-on Asian influence with your decor, combine pagoda shades with chinoiserie wallpaper or lacquer pieces.

Rectangular or square lampshade

Rectangular and square shapes work well with angular bases in a modern or traditional room.


Looking for something with a little more oomph? Move beyond these common shapes and check out lampshades with pleats, decoupage, cutouts, and more. Stick with smooth shades if your look tends to skew more modern; pleats, on the other hand, are viewed as traditional, and mesh well with antiques or a cottage/country home.

Once you’ve picked a shade style, there are just a few other factors to consider. Read on for pro tips.

Think about proportions

Nothing looks goofier than a tiny shade attached to an enormous lamp—or the reverse. To avoid the fun-house vibe, gauge the topper you like and measure carefully.

A good rule of thumb: The shade should be about 40% of the lamp’s size and double the width, Gray-Plaisted says.

Another pro tip: “Don’t let the socket or switch peek out—make sure it’s tall enough to cover this hardware,” she says.

Consider the use

Is your shade the room’s focal point or do you want it to fade into the background? Will you do the crossword by it or flick it on for a bit of glow?

“If your shade is for task lighting, pick a translucent one; but for homeowners seeking ambiance, a colored shade is ideal,” Gray-Plaisted explains.

That’s because, of course, the fabric you choose will affect the amount of light you receive. Henry leans toward white shades because they retain the light’s pure color.

“Shades made from darker fabrics will reflect that color around the room, so be sure you’re OK with the different hue,” he says.

Opt for an embellished shade for extra flair

Scalloped edges, tiny pompoms, fringe trim, dangling crystal beads, and feathers can all be added to an otherwise plain shade.

And if the topper you have requires a finial (a decorative ornament that attaches the shade to the lamp base), these are available in myriad styles: Pick pineapple finials for lamp shades in guest rooms (it’s the symbol of friendship and hospitality). An antler finial makes sense in a man cave or den, while delicate glass or flower shapes are pretty in the living room or bedrooms. And have fun with kids’ finials (think boats, stars, and trucks). There’s no end to the finishing touches on lampshades!

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes