Creating the Perfect Lamp Shade: Size, Shape, Color, Texture, and Finial

How to Design Your Own Lamp Shades

The right shade can transform a basic lamp into a show-stopping focal point. From smooth shades that say refined and contemporary to pleated styles that speak of tradition, the options are endless.

Ultimately, your choice should be dictated by the purpose of your lamp and the desired effect. A clear shade diffuses light and creates soft mood lighting while thick, opaque materials direct defined beams of illumination.


Choosing the right size lamp shade is all about fitting it to both your lamp base and the space where it will live. If the shade is too small, it will eat your base; too large and it’ll make the room look busy. For best results, take your lamp base with you to the store when you’re shopping for a shade, then try it on for perspective.

If a plain lampshade isn’t quite your style, add color by covering it in fabric. You can use a sewing machine or simply hot glue strips of fabric to the top and bottom rings. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, embroider a design for a personal touch. Decorative trim, like beads and fringe, is also available at craft stores.


If the lamp base has a design that features an angular shape, consider using a similarly shaped lampshade to create a coordinated finish. Alternatively, opt for a circular shade to balance the rounded furniture in a room.

Straight-sided shades usually have a bottom width 3-4 times larger than the top, but they can also come in a curved form such as a bell or pagoda shade. Drum and cylinder shapes are common, but each size has distinct characteristics: Drum shades are wider and taller than cylinders.

To add your own twist to a basic lampshade, drape muslin over the frame and use chalk or a pen to draw spokes on the fabric. Create a pattern that will fit each panel of the frame and allot 1/4 inch for seam allowances. When you’re ready to attach your strips, glue them in place with the long edges pressed in toward the inside of the shade.


The color of a lamp shade has more to do with the base it matches and the overall room decor than a hard-and-fast rule. However, there are some general guidelines when it comes to matching a shade with its base and environment.

Consider the color of the shade as it will be viewed from above or below, as well as when a light is on and off. Some shades have a more neutral, understated look so as not to overwhelm the lamp base, while others are designed to be the focal point of the fixture.

If you have an old or boring lampshade, try a paint job to give it a fresh new look. Adding striped, chevron or checkered patterning can give your lamp a whole new style.


The texture of a lamp shade can create harmony with the room or draw attention to the shape of the base. A smooth, silky shade says cool, refined and contemporary, while a pleated shade can add a more traditional touch and pair well with antiques.

The shape of the lampshade should ideally repeat the shape of the base. For example, if the lamp sits on a square table, a round shade can complement the shape of the base.

Translucent shades let light in with a soft diffusion, while opaque shades of silk or paper direct light in directional up-and-down beams. Glass and acrylic shades add a warm, decorative look while rattan and seagrass-like textures give a natural feel to a space. Metal shades are also available, and many feature a pattern or cutouts that cast an attractive glow.


The top of a lamp shade, called a finial, is usually capped with an ornament that can add to the design of the entire fixture. Finials can range from simple to elaborate and are available in a wide variety of shapes, styles and temperaments.

Choosing the right lampshade can be an artful and fun process. Having a few general rules to follow will help you create a cohesive and intentional look.

The width of a shade should be about twice the base of the lamp and its height should be about half of the total height of the base including the harp and bulb. Keeping these proportions in mind will ensure that your shade doesn’t end up looking top-heavy. However, it is also important to trust your eye and if an off-the-wall combination looks good then go for it.

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