Design Lesson

Design lesson: Get the right light

Design lesson: Get the right light

Design lesson: Get the right light Author: Style At Home

Design Lesson

Design lesson: Get the right light

Imagine an ice cream sundae without the maraschino cherry; Fred Astaire without his top hat; café au lait without cinnamon; popcorn without butter. Boring, bland, unthinkable, you say? Like any perfect partnership, a lamp will fall far short of its potential without the right topping. In fact, the wrong shade and base, no matter how exquisite, will look as ridiculous as Roy Rogers in Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' pillbox hat.

Lamp with traditional vase base
Possibly the most interesting bases are those not originally designed for that purpose – candlesticks, mason jars, terra-cotta pots, ginger jars or, in this case, a porcelain vase with a truly classic design. (For the do-it-yourselfer, adapter kits allow you to turn just about anything into a lamp base.) The shade for this base should be wide enough to provide general illumination; a shade that's too small will not disperse light well, leaving the vase looking ungainly and awkward. Use this lamp for general illumination.

Lamp with wide translucent shade
The common conical translucent lampshade with a wide circumference is designed to disperse a pool of light over a wide surface area. As a result, it is perfect for casting light over seating areas. The narrower the top of the shade, the more light forced down onto the surface. If the lamp is not used for reading, consider a shade with a wider opening at the top for greater dispersement of light.

Bedside lamp
The perfect bedside lamp should only illuminate one side of the bed; a pair of candlestick lamps is a great choice, as are small adjustable lamps. The lampshade should be placed below eye level, about 40 inches above the floor.

Floor lamp
Floor lamps work well in rooms where table space is limited. Shades for floor lamps are usually conical. Choose square shapes for strong, angular bases and round shades for rounded or organic bases. Floor lamps with sleek, slim bases light up dark corners and make ceilings appear higher. They can also make excellent reading lamps.

Candlestick lamp
There are many shade choices available for candlestick lamps, which are often used on narrow or small tables. Shades are usually no more than 10 to 12 inches in diameter to keep the lamp from looking too heavy. Tall candlestick lamps offer a graceful, elegant silhouette and help draw the eye up; a pair of candlestick lamps provides instant symmetry and formality. Use for accent illumination on an occasional table, hall table or buffet.

Swing-arm adjustable lamp
Lamps with adjustable swing arms allow for flexibility in directing light. This floor lamp, featuring a generous conical shade, is perfect for reading in a living room or den.

Uplight with glass shade
Cut- or stained glass shades cast attractive coloured pools of light. The wide top of the torchère means that most of the lamp's light will be directed toward the ceiling. Use for general illumination where table space is limited.

Desk lamp
No matter what the task, desk lamps should offer easy-on-the-eyes illumination. The shade should be broad enough to wash an area with light.

Lamp with opaque shade
A black or opaque shade provides total opacity and directs light downward – great for showcasing a tablescape. The smaller the diameter of the shade, the more focused the light; for example, an 18-inch-diameter shade will illuminate a 36-inch round table with ease.

Kimberley Seldon is STYLE AT HOME's decorating editor. For more great decor and design ideas, visit


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Design Lesson

Design lesson: Get the right light