Mid-Century Lighting, Lampshade & Light Fixture Tips

Lampshade and Pendant Lamp Design

Selecting Shallow Drum Lampshades (table lamp)

dark brown (coffee) lampshade

Meteor Lights offers endless combinations of lampshade styles, sizes, fabric colors, patterns, and trim.

We stock a small but reasonably representative assortment of ready-to-ship sample lamp and pendant shades available for sale, but in most cases, we will have to make your shade to custom order.

Lampshade Shape and Size

First, we recommend selecting an appropriate lampshade style (i.e.shape). Examples are the drum, two-tier, or reverse two-tier shade styles. Often, more than one style will work, so it becomes a judgment call on your part. At other times, only one style will work, and this may be obvious. In some cases, with certain lamp styles, our retro/modern drum shades may not be suitable for your lamp. Ideally, the lampshade should help balance the mass of the base. This is why a low-profile drum shade works well on slender mid-century lamps, and sometimes not as well on bulky 60s and 70s era lamps. As a rough rule of thumb on a table lamp, the bottom of the lampshade should be approximate to the height of the lamp base (not including the socket and harp assembly). However, this rule does not apply to 3-tier and reverse 2-tier shades, where the bottom tier is smaller than the top or middle tier. In these cases, the larger tier should be approximate to the height of the base. If you have space limitations, you may have to consider a smaller diameter shade. However, the shade should never be closer to the bulb than the wattage permits. More information on allowable wattage and diameter on our FAQ page.

Often, the original lamp harp (the hoop-shaped piece that supports the lampshade) has been replaced with an over-sized harp in order to accommodate a deep drum lampshade. The harp is a two-piece assembly consisting of the harp saddle (the inverted u-shaped bracket immediately below the lamp socket) and the harp itself, which usually snaps into the saddle. In most cases, a smaller harp can be swapped in. A small percentage of harps use a heavy-duty harp saddle that requires a heavy-duty (heavier gauge) harp. If you have difficulty locating the proper height heavy-duty harp, let us know, and we can usually provide you with the correct one. Very rarely, and only on older lamps, a harp will be crimped onto the saddle, making for a one-piece harp. In these rare cases, the harp assembly may need to replaced, which typically involves rewiring the lamp.

picture of fiberglass lamp shade

Fiberglass Lamp Shade: Atomic 2-tier

Set the base at the approximate height of the surface that the lamp will be used on. Viewed straight-on at eye level, the lampshade should cover the lamp hardware (i.e. at least to the bottom of the harp). A shade hanging too low (too much of the base is covered) needs either a larger harp or the height of the shade shortened. A shade fitting too high (too much of the hardware is visible) needs either a smaller harp, or a taller shade. There are some limitations to how tall our retro-styled shades can be made; in some cases, your lamp will need the deep drum style of the mid 60s to 70s (i.e. at least 15″ on the bottom, and at least 15″ tall). We fabricate this style as a special order, and they do cost a bit more to fabricate and ship than our regular lampshades.

picture of retro atomic pendant lamp

XL Atomic 3-Tier Pendant Lamp – Retro Modern

Most table lamps have a transitional neck immediately below the harp. This piece can range in height from 1/2″ to 2″ or more. They are often made from brass or wood. The purpose of this piece is to enable the lampshade to cover up the lamp hardware, but not impinge on the base itself. Generally, the bottom of the shade is about level with the mid-range of the neck when viewed dead-on. The neck enables a little fudging when fitting a shade. On lamps without necks (this includes most homemade lamps, and “craft” lamps), a compromise must be made as to whether to hide the hardware and cover the top of the base, or to reveal the top of the base and expose the bottom of the hardware. The location of the lamp e.g. (low coffee table, medium end table, high bureau) will have bearing on what height shade works best. For example, reverse 2-tier lampshades (smaller diameter on the bottom) work well with lamps eye level and higher (the smaller tier helps hide the hardware, and reduces bulb glare). Regular 2-tiers work well at eye level and lower (the larger tier reveals more of the top end of the base).

If you are unsure what size best balances with your base, you might want to try making mock-ups from cardboard (e.g. side of a box) to simulate the size of the shade. For example, a 15″ diameter drum by 9″ tall shade can be reasonably approximated in two dimensions (flattened perspective) by holding over the lamp a rectangular piece of cardboard cut to 15″ x 9″. This technique seems to work better as you stand further back from the lamp. This is only an approximation, and because of the flattened perspective, the mock-up will look smaller than the corresponding shade.

Lampshade Colors

Consider the function of the lamp when choosing a color. A work or reading lamp should generally be warm or neutral. Deep blue, red, or purple may be hard to read by. With an accent lamp, however, choose any color you like to fit the room and ambience you wish to create. Sometimes a shade and lamp base look great when they are similar colors; at other times, this effect can overwhelm the base. While we can match colors to your couch, wall, etc., be careful when doing this, as the effect can be contrived if taken too far. In case of doubt, warm neutral colors are almost always a good choice.


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