Helpful Facts About Lamps and Shades


Lamp Parts



Lampshades are an essential part of a lamps beauty and elegance.   No matter how great the lamp’s design, the wrong or poorly installed shade is certain to destroy its appearance.  Size, color, shape, and installation of the shade, along with your personal taste, all matter when choosing the right shade.  The shade should accent the lamp’s design and should not be the centerpiece or a distraction to its appearance.

Types of Shade Mountings

There are three basic shade mountings used on today’s lamps, these are:  harp, clip-on, and socket mount.  Before hunting for your next shade, it will be necessary to determine which mount you require.  For the most part, quality table lamps utilize the harp mounting system; therefore, the following refers to shades utilizing harps.

Shade Fitting

The most common mistake made in fitting a shade is not selecting the right sized harp to give the shade the appropriate vertical positioning.   All too often the right shade is chosen for the lamp, but when installed, the shade either dwarfs the lamp’s body or the lamp’s socket is in clear view from a horizontal viewing angle.  Regardless of the shade’s shape size or design, the bottom of the shade should be below the socket/switch assembly and above the lamps body.   When the lamp utilizes a neck, depending its length, the shade should appropriately hide the socket/switch assembly yet give view to the neck.   Harps are the least expensive part of the lamp, easy to change, and need to be appropriately sized for proper shade positioning.

Shade Sizing

While most lampshade retailers will give you the following “traditional tips” in choosing the right shade, it is important to understand there is not a true wrong or right way when it comes to personal preference or creative design ability.   Additionally, some shades can often exceed the price of the lamp itself, making it cost prohibitive to get your dream shade.  Never the less, size should be the priority when making a shade selection.  Here are few sound tips when choosing a shade’s size.

  • Larger lamps usually require larger shades and visa versa.
  • Shade height should generally be about 3/4 the height of the base.
  • The bottom of the shade should be wider than the widest part of the base.
  • Most often, shade width should approximately equal the lamp’s height from bottom of base to socket assembly.
  • Be sure to allow for proper ventilation and clearance between shade and bulbs to avoid excessive heat resulting in shade staining and or possible flammable conditions.  Compact fluorescent bulbs are recommended over traditional filament bulbs as they run far cooler and are great in reducing operating costs.

Shade Shapes

Generally the shape of the shade should match the shape of the lamp; round, square, hexagon, etc.  Additionally, the style of the lamp and shade should also be aligned appropriately.  As an example: a contemporary drum shade would generally not work on a Victorian lamp nor would a bell shaped Victorian shade work on a contemporary lamp. 

Shade Material and Color

When choosing the material and color of a shade it is important to consider the color and style of your room and the room’s furnishings, including other lamps.  A determination needs to be made whether the lamp is intended to complement or contrast its surroundings.  Mixing shade shape designs and colors within a single room can be a dicey proposition in achieving the optimal look and feel of the room’s environment.  As with other furnishings, choose a lamp with complementing shade that is in sync with its environment and the overall space design intent.

Where to Purchase / Alternatives

As previously mentioned, shades can sometimes exceed the cost of the lamp purchase.  A majority of the Alpha Resale Shop’s lamp offerings do not include shades.   The reason for this is that shade selection strongly considers room environment.  It is our opinion that in consideration of shipping costs and personal color preference, shades are best purchased locally by the buyer.  This allows for buyer experimentation and potentially lower out-of-pocket costs.  

Some sources for shades are the Internet, retail, resale, and consignment shops.  While the selection is far greater at retail stores, resale shops offer a great alternative at often a significant reduced cost.  However, resale shops can be a hit or miss in finding the right shade of choice.   There are several ways in which hidden shade treasures can be modified to fit your need, such as cutting off beads or painting.  Yes, some shades can be painted using traditional spray paint.  Painting a shade works best when the shade has a plastic lining surface and your preference is to have a non-transparent shade where light only flows out of the top and bottom openings.  This is a particularly popular technique used in renewing shades at low cost for traditional and contemporary designed lamps.

Brass Lamp Finish

Restoring a Brass lamp’s finish can be tricky.   The majority of brass lamps have a protective clear finish applied to give depth to the metals appearance, incorporate highlights and color and to protect it from oxidation.  The highest quality lamps will quite frequently develop oxidation on the body’s surface over time.  Affected spots can be small and minor or extend throughout the lamp's surface.   Spots can worsen with age due to factors such as lamp care, environmental humidity, and the overall integrity of its finish.

The best way to clean a metal lamp is by applying Windex to a soft cloth and softly wiping the surface then going over with a coat of wax or furniture polish for protection.   Do not use abrasive cleaners as you will risk scratching or breaking through the surface coating.   Do not use solvents to remove paint or stickers, as the solvent will likely tarnish, fog, or penetrate the surface.

In most cases, when spots are minor, it is sometimes best not to attempt a repair.  However, small spots can often be repaired by using extra-fine steel wool on the effected area and then using a brass cleaner to remove the spot.  Polyurethane can be wiped on the area or a spray lacquer can be used to coat the spot.  If the spot is on a ledge, rim, or base, it is often best to include the entire area in the repair as it can camouflage the repair.  If large areas are affected, it is possible to strip and refinish.   If refinished or repaired, it is more than likely the lamp will not maintain its original gold tone due to toner added into the initial finish.   Additionally, refinishing should only be considered by the experienced.  If it’s a matter of disposing of the lamp or refinishing it, if you are handy it may be worth a try.  The following is a brief, but not conclusive, method for refinishing a brass lamp.  There are various published methods for refinishing brass lamps producing varied results.

Resurfacing requires lamp disassembly and removing the old finish with a lacquer / polyurethane stripper or acetone depending on existing finish.  Once chemically stripped the metal can be polished using an abrasive metal polish such as Bar Keeper Friend™ or Brasso™ brand cleaners.   The polish on a wet sponge, along with some elbow grease, will remove most oxidation spots.  For tough spots the rough side of a Scotch-Brite™ Light / Medium Duty Scrub Sponge can be used and then re-polished with the sponge side to remove any fine scratches.  Caution: If your lamp is brass plated, which many are (versus solid), there is a likely hood you could penetrate the base metal that will turn the affected area silver damaging the lamp's appearance and leaving you with only one cost effective option… to paint it!  Once polished, and the surface properly prepared, the lamp can be sprayed with either lacquer or polyurethane to add a glossy or matte finish.  It is also possible to leave the surface unfinished, but leaving it unfinished will require future polishing to remove any oxidation.  Waxing the lamp will help, and in some cases the appearance of aging oxidation (patina) is favored.