The short answer is that the combined height of the end table and lamp should be the same height as any floor lamps in the living room; or the bottom of the shade should be eye level when you’re seated on the couch. The long answer is not so straight forward.
What if I don’t have any floor lamps? What about the dimensions of my end table? Does the lamp shade make a difference? Table lamps can be expensive, and you may need two. They are also likely to be with you for many years. I actually inherited two Capodimonte lamps from my grandmother and designed my living room around them. So, the right choices will serve you well.
What Exactly is the Right Height for My Table Lamp?
If you’re like me, then hunting down a tape measure for precision measurements is not an option. But if you are a stickler for detail, a typical table lamp ranges from 24 to 34 inches in height (including the shade). I prefer the eyeball method: if it looks right from different angles, then it’s right.
So, when it comes to determining the proper height of an end table lamp, I default to the afore-mentioned short answers: the bottom of the lampshade should be at eye level when seated or approximately the same height as the floor lamp (if there is one). If I haven’t yet purchased a lamp, then I rely on the vendor’s specifications or photos of the lamp in the showcased living room.
The Right End Table for the Lamp or the Right Lamp for the Table?
So, which comes first, the end table or the lamp? If you already have the end table, then its dimensions should indicate the lamp size. The lamp shouldn’t take up all the space on the end table or what’s the point of having a table?
A floor lamp might do better in this situation. Conversely, the lamp shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the table or what’s the point of having a lamp? An artful candle grouping might look better.
Does the Size of the Living Room Matter?
Although it may seem obvious, the dimensions of your living room are also a factor in determining lamp and end table sizes. Large rooms and high ceilings require tall lamps (30 inches or more), while smaller spaces need shorter lamps (between 20-26” high). It’s a matter of proportionality and what pleases the eye.
What About Lamp Shade Size and Shape?
In my opinion, the lamp shade is more important than the lamp. It’s what gives the lamp personality and style, in the same way, that the right accessories make the outfit. I have re-purposed many a lamp by changing the shade. Remember my grandmother’s Capodimonte lamps? By the time I inherited them, the original shades were (thankfully) long gone.
The lamps weren’t really my style (too ornate) but had sentimental value. So, getting new shades was my opportunity to give them a new look that was more modern and consistent with my eclectic taste.
“Be faithful to your own taste, because nothing you really like is ever out of style.” – Billy Baldwin
I quickly learned that picking a suitable lampshade is not so simple. First, the bottom diameter should be twice the size of the lamp base, or it will look like your lamp is wearing a silly hat; and the bottom of the shade should barely cover the switch for easy access.
Shape and color choices are also factors: a basic drum shape in a neutral tone is a good default if you are overwhelmed by the number of choices (and there are many). And if you’re really into design principles, there are more considerations, such as matching the color schemes of accessories like pillows or throws; and shade translucency if the room is dark.
Another interesting idea is using the same shape on varying lamp bases to unify the room.
And let’s not forget the hardware (a lesson I learned the hard way). Shades attach to lamps in different ways. Some require a harp or spider fitting while some sit on the base of the bulb. Others clip directly on the bulb. My experience has been that the more expensive shades and lamps use the harp fitting, and the least expensive use the clip-on method.
Source: Lamps Plus
After digesting this information, you may be wondering what shades I chose for my grandmother’s lamps. After intensive Google-browsing, I chose the Imperial Creme Square Cut Corner Shade. I loved the simple lines and crème color that complemented my ornate green and gold ceramic lamps. And the harp was polished brass which matched the lamp base.
Can I Break the Rules and Still End Up with the Perfect Table Lamp?
“The best rooms have something to say about the people who live in them.”- David Hicks
I’m certainly not a design expert, but I know what I like, and what fits my lifestyle and sense of aesthetics (not to mention, budget). My intention has been to give you a few design basics for choosing the right table lamp, as well as ideas for what will work with your furnishings and space.
They are not fixed rules but rather a foundation on which to incorporate your own unique ideas. So have fun and ditch the rules if they stifle your creativity.
“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali