If you just can’t get your lamp to the store, buy an inexpensive paper shade that’s similar in size to the one you want to replace or purchase, then take that to the lamp-shade store as a model.
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.
If the shade accompanying a favorite lamp is showing its use with frays and tears, and combing flea markets, antique stores, and tag sales hasn’t turned up the right replacement, you still haven’t explored your best option. And once you’ve found a good source for supplies, such as The Lamp Shop in Concord, New Hampshire, it’s easy to make your own perfect shade.
Gauge the strength of your bulb by the size of the shade. Buy lower-wattage bulbs for smaller, narrower shades to help diffuse the heat and prolong the life of the shade’s fabric.
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.
6. Drum At home in mid-century modern interiors, a drum shade is best paired with spherical or pure geometrical bases.
4. Square Match a square shade with a square base, or contrast it with a round one for an unexpected twist.
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.
2. Bell Popular in the Victorian era, bells are well suited to traditional interiors.
Instead, clean your shades frequently so the dirt and dust doesn’t settle and stick. One of the best tools you can use to dust off your shades is a blow dryer. Make sure it’s on a cool setting, and never touch the shade directly. You can also try dusting your shades with a feather duster, a soft-bristle brush such as a paintbrush, or a cheesecloth. Use a gum eraser to get rid of any small marks. Whatever you use, make sure it’s soft and exceptionally clean — free of dust, oil, or sediment.
You should not use soap and water on your parchment lamp shade. Parchment shades are made of cardboard and are very sensitive. Water and even a mild soap will stain the shade. In fact, even fingerprints can leave permanent stains on a parchment shade.
Wrap the new rings or the rings from an old lamp shade tightly with seam binding, dabbing the glue every few inches to hold the binding in place. To determine the length of the adhesive styrene you’ll need, measure the ring’s circumference, and add an extra inch for seam allowance. To determine the width, measure the distance between the two rings.
Q: How do you measure a lamp shade to fit a lamp properly? — Marcia Joseph, Davison, Michigan
3. Empire This classic shape looks right atop nearly any base.
Q: Can I wash a parchment shade with mild soap and water? — Mrs. Frank Pallari, San Francisco
Lay the fabric flat on your work surface. Pull the ends together with a 1/2-inch seam overlap, and attach a bulldog clip on each end to hold it closed. Stand the shade up on the table with the back seam away from you, and position the ring inside the shade, making it even with the edge of the styrene. Affix the bulldog clips all the way around the ring so that the fabric is taut, and apply the glue to the fabric overhang, wrapping it over the edge of the wire. Tuck the excess fabric under the ring using the molding wand. Repeat this step for the other ring. After both rings are in place, glue the side seam, and allow the shade to dry.
1. Hexagon This unusual shape evokes an early-20th-century rustic feeling.
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.
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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.
Affix the bulldog clips all the way around the ring so that the fabric is taut, and apply the glue to the fabric overhang, wrapping it over the edge of the wire. Tuck the excess fabric under the ring using the molding wand. Repeat this step for the other ring. After both rings are in place, glue the side seam, and allow the shade to dry.
Cut the styrene to size, peel the backing off, and lay it onto the fabric. You can use almost any kind of natural fiber fabric, but make sure it’s easy to work with and allows light to show through.
BulbsWhen buying bulbs for your lamp, first decide where your lamp will sit. If the lamp is to go on a bedside or coffee table, the light it casts will most likely be coming from below; in this case, it’s best to use a frosted bulb to avoid glare.
FinialsThe finial is the knob that fastens the shade to the lamp harp, which is the supporting wire that extends vertically from the base tracing the shape of the bulb. Finials come in all shapes and sizes and are usually made of wood, glass, or brass. A finial’s shape may be simple and round, sculptural, or geometrically complex. Take the lamp with you when buying a finial, just as you would when buying a shade. If you’re still unsure about which finial is best for your lamp, or if you don’t have your lamp with you, it’s usually a good idea to stick to a round, solid-color one.
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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.
Since we’re on the subject of cleaning, you can also dust off your lamp base using a damp cloth. Never submerge your lamp base in water, as it will damage the wiring. Wipe off the light bulbs occasionally, to obtain maximum light from the bulb, but make sure the bulb is cool and that the lamp is disconnected before you do this.
Smooth the fabric out, making sure there are no wrinkles, and trim the fabric around the edges, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang on the two long sides and one of the short sides. Trim the fabric flush on the remaining short side. On the other short side, fold the overhang to the back side of the styrene, and glue it down.
The right lamp shade will enhance your lamp and the home it illuminates. But choosing a shade is a little like shopping for new clothes: Just as it’s not a good idea to buy a pair of pants without trying them on, the best way to fit your lamp for a shade is to take it to the store and try on various shades.
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Choose a lamp shade that allows for a small amount of empty space between the shade’s base and the contour of the base’s shoulder. The lamp’s shade and its base should complement each other.