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Ask Mr. Williams

Posted on: September 18th, 2015 by halewilliams No Comments

Ask Mr. Williams Lamp Shades
Dear Mr. Williams,
I am looking for new table lamps for my living room and family room. Everything I see has shades that I will describe as boring. Or, the shade is so outlandish with feathers and such I am unable to actually appreciate the lamp beneath. What should I do? What is the best way to buy lamps and shades? How tall should a lamp be beside a chair or sofa?
Thank you, Karen Parkinson
Dear Mrs. Parkinson,
How and where the lamp will be used is the first question you should ask. You will also want to define how many lamps will be in the space. Smaller accent lamps need not have a bright bulb and usually support a 25 to 60 watt bulbs. These lamps are used around the room for ambient lighting on small sideboards and tables. Depending on the size of the space you might also want one or two larger lamps with wattage in the 100 to 150 range. The height will be defined by the height of the table on which it will sit and whether or not it is next to a chair or sofa. You don’t want a bare bulb shining into your eyes. A lamp that is too tall may have to have what is called a diffuser at the bottom of the shade to spread the light evenly.
There is a plethora of lamps with shades available and finding one that will work for you can be daunting. You will probably want to take a few home to try in the space. Scale and proportion are important. If you decide to purchase a base without a shade make sure you understand how to size the shade. Generally a shade that is half as tall as the lamp from base to socket will be pleasing. The base of the shade will be at least 2 times the diameter of the lamp base if not more. Trends have changed over the years and what was fashionable in 1950 is dated and heavy looking today. Although there is a huge selection of off-the-shelf shades, I am always amazed at lighting retailers not offering the choice of a custom shade for their clients. In this way you can match fabric colors in your room and add trim or accessories that work perfectly with your interior. Professional interior designers have, for years, worked with the few remaining custom shade houses left in America. These companies create a shade by first making the wire frame and applying the fabric, lining and trim selected by the designer and their clients.
Most often the shade is attached to a wire structure called a harp which is, in turn, attached to the lamp base at or near the bulb. The harp is available in a number of sizes which corresponds to the number of inches from the bulb base to the top of the harp. At the top of the harp is the finial which attaches the shade to the lamp. Don’t forget finial selection when choosing your lighting. Many good lighting retailers and interior designers have access to beautiful and interesting finials which act just like a little piece of jewelry on your lamp. The right choice will complete your lighting selection and, at the same time, create a lamp that is a very personal expression of your style and sense of design.
Tom Williams


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