Lamps are one of the easiest ways to add ambiance and style to a room, no matter what personal interior aesthetic you prefer. Picking the perfect base and lamp shade combination can elevate your living space and add the finishing touch to any design project. Buying a lamp isn’t always the most straightforward process, however. Once you’ve picked the body for your lamp, you then have to choose the best lamp shade. There is a huge variety of shades, all with different styles and functions, so it’s not always an easy choice to make. If you don’t know the difference between an empire shade and a coolie shade and which one you should use, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn about all the different types of lamp shades and the styles they suit best.
What Is a Lamp Shade?
This might seem like a silly question, but it’s important to know the exact function of a lamp shade so that you can choose which one best suits your space. You might think that lamp shades and their different shapes are just for decoration, but their job is an important one.
Lamp shades diffuse the light that comes from your lightbulbs. Similar to how photographers and filmmakers use diffusers — usually large white panels or sheets — to bounce light around and soften shadows, a lamp shade softens the bright light of a naked lightbulb.
Not only does a lamp shade diffuse and soften harsh light, but it also redirects that light depending on its shape. Smaller shades focus light into smaller areas, like a desk, while large, wide shades bounce light all across a room, like floor lamps in living rooms.
These vital shades protect your eyes, your style, and help draw attention to the areas of your home you want in the spotlight.
Types of Lamp Shades
Since lamp shades perform important functions, there are a huge variety of shapes and styles to suit different living spaces. While there are many kinds of lamp shades, here are some of the most popular.
The empire shade is a round shape with a flared bottom and slanted sides. The opening at the top of the shade is much narrower than the opening at the bottom, which focuses the majority of the light downwards onto a surface.
They are a very traditional shape perfect for cozy, focused lighting. Empire shades are commonly used in table and desk lamps. You could also use an empire shade on a floor lamp situated beside a comfortable armchair to create the perfect spot for reading.
The bell shade is similar to the empire shade, but the sides curve inwards, rather than slanting in straight lines. It also features a wider bottom opening and a narrower top opening, also the top of a bell shade might be wider than that of an empire.
Bell shades are very elegant and would pair excellently with a curved or rounded lamp body. These are also well suited for desk and table lamps.
Coolie shades are like empire shades but flattened down. The top of the lamp is very narrow and the bottom is very wide, more so than empire shades. The slanted sides are also more extreme.
Since the bottom opening is so much wider than the top, coolie shades redirect most of the light downwards. They are another popular choice for desk and table lamps, as well as wall sconces.
Coolie lamp shades also offer a more contemporary look than the traditional empire shapes and provide a modern touch to any room.
Cylinder shades are, as the name suggests, cylindrical shapes. What this means is that the top opening and bottom opening are the same sizes, and they’re circular in shape but taller than they are wide. They are tube-shaped.
Since they’re so tall, and since both shade openings emit the same amount of light, these are a popular choice for tall floor lamps.
Drum shades are similar to cylinder shades but shorter than they are wide. They look a lot like their musical namesake and suit a variety of different lamp bodies, but especially complement wider lamp bodies.
Drum shades are very contemporary and stylish and pair well with a midcentury modern style. They also emit quite a bit of light due to their large openings and short shade, making them perfect for large floor and table lamps.
Bowl or Dome Shade
These shade shapes are very similar. They look like bowls, as the name suggests, and are often used with ceiling lights. They focus their light downwards.
Usually, bowl and dome shades have one opening covered by a finial — a decorative piece that covers the top opening of a lamp shade.
Rectangular or Square Shade
Rectangular and square shades can come in a variety of styles like empire, bell, and drum. The difference is that the openings of these lamp shades are square or rectangular, rather than round.
These styles work well with boxy, rectangular lamp bases. A popular rectangular shade is a rectangular bell shade.
Hardback or Softback?
While shopping for lamp shades, you might come across the terms hardback and softback. This refers to the way that the lamp shade is constructed.
Hardback lamp shades have a stiff lining, often made out of a plastic laminate. This hard backing (hence the name) gives the lamp a defined shape. Hardback lined lamp shades are very structural and give a striking, modern silhouette.
If you are a fan of a more contemporary style and like the look of drum, empire, and coolie lamp shades, a hardback lamp shade might be a perfect fit for you.
Softback lamp shades aren’t lined with a stiff backing. Instead, fabric is stretched over metal framing — think about how a painter’s canvas is stretched over a wooden frame to give it shape.
Softback lamp shades offer a more traditional look. They also tend to have more texture on the shade itself, like ruffling, ruching, tufting, or pleating.
Softback lamp shades can also be less opaque than hardback lamp shades, meaning that more light will show through.
Overall, they each have their stylistic and functional merits. If you like a structural and modern style, hardback shades would complete your look. If you prefer more texture and softer light, or more traditional furnishing, then softback lamp shades are just what you’re looking for.
Types of Lamp Shade Fittings
There are several different ways that the lamp shade attaches to the lamp itself. This varies depending on the size and function of your lamp base, so we’ll go over what each fitting is and what it’s used for.
The spider fitting is one of the most common lamp shade fittings, and odds are you’ve seen it before. If you look through one of the lamp shade’s openings, you’ll see that the spider fitting has three spokes, like a wheel.
It attaches to the harp — an oval or U-shaped metal frame that is attached to the light socket and fits above the lightbulb — to keep the shade in place. A finial is then screwed into the spider fitting to secure it.
Spider fittings are often found in table lamps and floor lamps.
Clip-on fittings are common with smaller lamps, like the tiny lamp shades used in chandeliers or accent lighting. Instead of attaching to the lamp harp or the light bulb socket, clip-on fittings fit directly over the light bulb itself.
Since these fittings come into direct contact with the bulb, they should only ever be used on light bulbs with low wattage.
Clip-on fittings come in two different sizes to suit different lamps: candelabra and regular. Candelabra-sized fittings are suited for the very small, often flame-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers.
UNO fittings attach directly to the socket, instead of to a harp or the light bulb. They have a ring that fits over the socket and is held into place when a light bulb is screwed into the socket.
UNO fittings require a specialized socket to work, so you can’t use them with just any lamp base.
Euro fittings are very similar to UNO fittings because they also attach directly to the socket. They are also called European Standard or Edison Screw fittings.
While they are similar to UNO fittings, they are less broad than a UNO fitting and would require an adapter to use with a UNO lamp base.
Ready to Renovate?
Now that you know the differences between all the different types of lamp shades, you can confidently shop for the perfect lamp to bring your space to life.
If you are looking for more decoration tips or inspiration for your next home project, check out our other home improvement articles.