The Evolution of the Lamp Shade

18 Sep




I amazes me how something as simple as a lamp shade can date a room back several decades. Changing a lamp shade can also update an old lamp and change the look of a room in an instant. Lamp shade trends have changed so much over the years. In the 1960’s and 70’s drum shades were big. However, these weren’t the drum shades we are digging on today. Nope the style way back when was for the shade to actually be just as tall or taller than the lamp itself. I have clients come in with beautiful vintage lamps all the time, and the height of the original harps on these things scare me. Some customers even insist on getting the same size shade as was on the lamp before, not to maintain the original design of the lamp (because lets face it, this lamp has probably already been through several decades of shade changes before the latest one was left on it way to long), but because their eye is used to seeing this size shade on this lamp they want this size again (tip: a great way to adjust your eye to updated looks is to always pour over the latest design magazines).

So let me start off my saying, your lamp shade should no longer be taller than your lamp (this just ain’t cool anymore) and there is not a particular size lamp shade for your lamp. You can put several different sizes and shapes on the same lamp and they look equally as good (key: change your harp to fit lamp shades of different heights and always bring your lamp to the store when buying a new shade).























This shade is way to tall for this lamp (what used to be stylish just isn’t anymore). If your lamp shade resembles this, it is time for a change! The lamp itself can look really great with the right shade.


Again, this room has not been updated in several decades and the first tip off that it hasn’t is the lampshade! 


Now on to the 80’s. Oh boy, here we go. Of course the pendulum always swings the other direction for the next generation. In the 80’s people hated drum shades because that is what their parents had. They revolted with the “not to cool anymore” coolie shades. Coolie shades have a very large opening at the bottom and a very small opening at the top. They are extremely tapered, and to a fault I might add. These wide mouth shades require a huge table space and a very short harp. I have seen so many coolie shades with the lining busting out due to high heat from the lightbulb being too close to the shade. A very poor design I think. To put it gently, they remind me of a cheap beach hotel room in desperate need for renovation.














In the 90’s/ 2000’s we started to develop of love for a more classic lamp shade. The traditional bell shade resurfaced and with embellishments. There was fringe, beads, feathers, you name it. There was a flair for the overdone.



Of course, you can’t forget the dreaded “gathered pleated shades”, or should I call them dust collectors. They gather more dust and dirt than my swiffer and ignite allergies everywhere they go. Oh, and that golden glow you’ve grown so accustom to (you just can’t figure out why none of the new shades of that glow), thats not what the shade is supposed to look like. that is the vinyl lining yellowing from heat and age. Not a pretty look.



















I am not naive enough to think we have overcome all bad trends and are never doomed to repeat them, but I feel like the lamp shades of today have a certain classic appeal that I love. They aren’t extremely long, or extremely tapered, or extremely anything but beautiful.


Pleats have grown! I love pleated lamp shades, box pleated lamp shades that is. Boxpleat lamp shades are so classic and a perfect marriage of masculine and feminine. They seem to fit in any design style. It kills me to see a nose wrinkle at the word pleated. Pleats are good people, just not gathered pleats on lamp shades and pleat front slacks.


The new drum shade is much more in scale with the lamp. It is slightly shorter than the lamp yet has a wider girth.


The new taper on lamp shades is very slight. They are almost a drum shape. They feel much softer and more elegant than “coolies”.



Then there are the odd balls. They aren’t to odd anymore though. You are seeing a lot of square, rectangle, and oval shades. I love, love, love an oval shade!


Finally, one of my favorite shade shapes, resurfacing from centuries back. The shield shape is oh so French. I love my chicken wire shield lamp shade!

Generally I only like to show pretty rooms on my blog, but I thought this was a lesson worth teaching. I found a great site during my search called “Ugly House Photos”. If you are still digging your “coolies” you may want to check this site out. If your house in any way resembles the ones on this site, seek immediate help. I always like to end on a high note, so here goes. There are not really any set rules one must follow in design. Designers break the rules all the time. So if you just can’t break your “coolie” habit, don’t sweat it. Trends always come back around.

Pics via Ugly House Photos, Vintage Peddler,CotedeTexas, Bargain Hunter,Decorno, Phoebe Howard


4 Responses to “The Evolution of the Lamp Shade”

  1. shandells September 18, 2009 at 6:32 pm #

    I can’t agree with you more, a lampshade can make or break a lamp. I make custom shades for a living. I so love to see the transformation of an ugly lamp, with a great shade make all the difference. I love color and great trim for my shades. Take a look

  2. Jayne September 28, 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    Lamp shades evoke the mood totally.

  3. jaime Kerr-Healy January 4, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    I have to say lamps and shades have to be proper , there aint anything worse that a lovely lamp and a dodgy shade or visa versa , and i love antique lighting , as its so one off and yours , nothing worse than people who buy crappy cheapo lighting , makes me want to get sick .. I am in search of a victorian beaded standard lampshade hopefully one shall turn up soon that too expencive .. chao for now xx amour

  4. Victorian Lampshade June 26, 2010 at 3:56 am #

    Wow, you have a great blog! Good Job!

    Do you have site? So we can share insights too? Here’s mine Hope I could see you there. 

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