Magazine article Sunset

Shades of Difference

Magazine article Sunset

Shades of Difference

Article excerpt

How to find the right shade for your lamp

With lampshades, the line between sophisticated and silly is a fine one. Shape, style, and proportion can make the difference between a room with the elegance of Jackie Onassis and one where Oliver Hardy might feel more at home.

According to lampshade designer Sue Johnson, selecting one is as personal as choosing a hat. "The choice of shade is an individual one. What might look good to me might not look good to someone else," she says. But no matter what your style, some rules apply. We outline the basics here.

Establish the function of the lamp. Of the four types of lighting--decorative, accent, task, and ambient--decorative and task lighting are most commonly accomplished with table and floor lamps. Recessed cans or track lights that emphasize objects in a room are accent lights. Ambient light is the gentle indirect light bounced off ceilings and walls, from such fixtures as cove lights or masked uplights.

Decorative lamps and their shades simply need to be beautiful and fit the space where they will sit. Task lighting calls for a shade broad enough to provide illumination to the entire work area. "The bottom of the shade should be at your shoulder height when you are seated," Johnson says. "That way, it casts a bright light on your book but doesn't throw glare in your eyes."

Reading lamps, a form of task lighting, demand large shades. "First, you will want a lot of directed light to come from the lamp. Second, you will want bright light, and that means a bigger shade. The higher the wattage, the bigger the shade needs to be," Johnson says. Take into account how many people will be reading by the lamp's light. Two people require a larger pool of light than one person. The broader the shade, the larger the light pool it creates. For detailed jobs, the spread should encompass the work area.

Choose a location. The size of the shade also depends on the lamp's placement. A lamp on a low table can wear a shorter shade than a lamp on a mantelpiece because you can't see underneath a shade below eye level. The same shade on a mantel, however, may not cover the bulb and harp (the piece that curves around the bulb and holds the shade). The character of the room may have an influence as well: A small room with delicate furniture might suggest a small, delicate shade.

Fit the shade to the size and shape of the lamp base. The basic purposes of a lampshade are to hide the hardware surrounding the bulb and to prevent glare. …

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