Because they’re more work to turn on than flipping a switch like you do for ceiling lights.
An exception of course is if you connect your table lamp(s) to a light switch, in which case, that’s a different story.
Another reason I’m not too wild about them is they take up valuable table space.
Despite my not being a huge fan of table lamps (desk lamps included), here’s a thoroughly researched and extensive table lamp buying guide setting out the 15 different types.
Table of Contents
- The Table Lamp Buying Guide
- A. Types
- B. Table Lamp Styles
- C. Lamp Size
- D. Lamp Shade Styles and Shapes
- E. Softback and Hardback Shades
- F. Shade Materials
- G. Lampshade Fittings
- H. Mixing and Matching Bases and Shades
- I. Light Bulb Options
- J. Base Materials
- II. More Details
- A. Cost
- B. Height and Size
- C. Key Features
- D. Safety
- III. Where to Buy Table Lamps Online
The Table Lamp Buying Guide
From short, round lamps to tall, narrow lights, you have a lot to choose from when picking out a table lamp for any room including living room, bedroom, family room, home office, etc. Selecting a table lamp means more than just choosing one that matches your taste and style. You also want to think about where and how you’ll use the lamp.
Our guide to buying a table lamp will make finding the perfect lamp for every room in your home much easier.
The thing you want to think about first when picking out a new table lamp is where you’ll use the lamp. Some table lamps serve a purely decorative function while others are meant to help illuminate an area.
Depending on the size of the room, you might end up choosing a variety of different types of table lamps, each of which coordinates with each other.
1. Bedside Lamp
A bedside table lamp is one that sits on a nightstand. Usually, bedside lamps come in pairs, one for a nightstand on each side of the bed.
Although the lamps can match, you aren’t obligated to choose a matching pair. If you like one type of a lamp and your partner likes another, it is acceptable to have to coordinated but not perfectly matched lamps.
Ideally, the bedside lamps you choose will coordinate with the rest of the furniture in your bedroom. If you have large nightstands, the lamps should be large as well. If you have small nightstands, you want to choose small or miniature lamps.
Height also matters when selecting a bedside lamp, especially if you are going to read in bed by the light of the lamp. Generally speaking, the nightstand should be the same height as your mattress, and the lower edge of the lampshade should line up with your chin when you sit in bed with a book.
A lamp that is higher will create glare when you’re sitting next to it. A lamp that is too low won’t illuminate your book correctly.
While many types of table lamp are meant to help you see better, novelty lamps are just for fun. They add some light to a room, but you aren’t going to use them as task lighting.
Since these lamps are “just for fun,” you have a lot of choices when picking one out. If you are going for a modern industrial look with your decor, you can choose a lamp with a single Edison bulb on a wooden base.
If you are decorating a child’s room, you can pick out a lamp in the shape of one of your kid’s favorite cartoon characters or choose a lamp shaped like a butterfly or race car.
Some types of Tiffany lamp are meant to be novelty lamps. They feature lovely stained glass in the form of a teapot, a bird or a butterfly. You’re not going to sit and read a book by these lamps, but they will add a touch of beauty to a room.
If you have a home office, even if it’s just a small desk in the corner of a room, you need a desk lamp to shine a light on any projects or tasks you’re working on. How well lit your workspace is has a direct effect on how productive you are.
Often, desk lamps feature an adjustable arm, so that you can position the light directly over your task or adjust the angle of the light to better illuminate your work.
Like a bedside lamp, the size of your desk lamp should match the size of your desk. If you have a compact desk or workspace, choose a small light. A larger desk calls for a bigger lamp.
A banker’s lamp is a type of desk lamp. It’s usually short, with a half cylinder shade made of glass. Traditionally, the lampshade is green glass, but you can find banker lamps in some other colors as well.
Since the lamp shines downward, it’s also often used on the top of a piano, where it can help illuminate the music. You might see banker’s lamps lined on up on tables in large libraries such as the New York Public Library’s main branch.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Not just for hippies, a lava lamp, or motion lamp, features a glass bottle that contains wax and a liquid. The base of the lamp has a light bulb, which heats up the glass bottle, melting the wax inside, so that it moves throughout the liquid.
The light also causes the lamp to glow, but not too brightly. Although lava lamps had their heyday in the 1960s, you can still purchase them today.
A Himalayan salt lamp does more than illuminate a room. It also has some health benefits, since the lamp produces negative ions, which are thought to help minimize the presence of mold, allergens, and bacteria in a room.
While most table lamps direct light downward, a torchiere lamp is a type of uplight. The bulb in the lamp points upward, and the shade or covering on the bulb opens at the top.
Source: Shades of Light
Although you might be able to purchase them individually, buffet lamps usually belong in pairs. You’ll find them on the ends of sideboards or buffet tables. They are meant to provide balance to a piece of furniture.
Buffet lamps tend to be taller than other types of table lamps. Many styles are at least 32 inches tall. The lamps are also usually thin or narrow with a wider lamp shade.
Tiffany lamps have an iconic and recognizable appearance that has remained popular over the years and features a lampshade made of glass that was first designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The name “Tiffany Lamp” is now synonymous with any lamps made with a stained glass shade, even those not made by the company of the designer. The design was first introduced around 1895 and remains popular today.
Although authentic antique Tiffany lamps are hard to come by, many imitations and Tiffany-influenced lamps have been developed over time, and they remain popular.
10. Piano Lamps
Piano lamps were initially used primarily to help musicians read sheet music on the piano, but over time have grown in their use.
Some people use these piano lamps to study with and use them on desks instead. These lights can serve as alternatives to conventional study lamps. Piano lamps can work in any type of situation where you may need a small and portable lamp.
B. Table Lamp Styles
Once you know what you’d like the table lamp to do and the type of lamp that best fits your needs, it’s time to think about the style of lamp that will work best with your decor and tastes.
There are as many styles of table lamp as there are furniture styles. Here are a few of the most popular styles you’re likely to come across.
When you think country or cottage styles, a rustic, but still warm and inviting look comes to mind. A country or cottage style table lamp will usually have a down-home look to it. Lamps in this style might have muted colors, such as sage green or ivory. They usually are made of stoneware or wood, and their lampshades are often a neutral color. If the shade does have a pattern, it usually soft stripes or large florals.
A Tiffany style lamp features a decorative, stained glass shade. The base of the lamp is usually an ornate or decorative column made of bronze or another type of dark brown metal.
Original Tiffany lamps, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, are collector’s items and often have the price tag to match. “Tiffany style” lamps are usually much more affordable copy-cat or inspired-by versions.
4. Mid-Century Modern
Source: Design Addict
Mid-century modern style first came about in the mid-20th century. It experienced a revival starting in the early 21st century and has a remained a popular style ever since.
Mid-century modern style can be difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. Think colorful, ceramic lamps or lamps with carved wooden bases. Natural materials are a large component of the style, as is accessibility.
The bubble lampshade, designed by George Nelson, is an iconic example of the mid-century modern style.
A contemporary or modern lamp looks like it belongs to your time. Modern lamps are often made of colorful glass or shiny metal. Usually, two hallmarks of contemporary style are curves and sleek lines.
6. Craftsman/Mission Style
One way to spot a craftsman or mission style table lamp is to look at the shade. Craftsman or Mission style lamps typically have a wide, pyramid shaped shade over top of a column shaped base. The shade is often made out of stained glass.
Two things set industrial style lamps apart from other styles: exposed bulbs (usually an Edison bulb) and rough materials, such as unstained wood or cast iron pipes.
C. Lamp Size
Size matters when choosing a table lamp. The height of the lamp will depend in part on where you’re using it and the size of the furniture you set the lamp on.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to make sure you aren’t looking up at the lamp. If you are using the lamp to read by, the edge of the lampshade should be at or near eye level when you are seated. If you are resting the lamp on a console or buffet table, the shades should be eye level or lower when you are standing.
The size of the lamp shade is also important. A shade that is too small will look out of place on a tall or wide lamp. A large shade will overwhelm a petite lamp. Choose a shade that is a between one-half and three-quarters of the size of the base for the best balance.
D. Lamp Shade Styles and Shapes
You have as many lampshade styles and shapes to choose from as you do lamp styles. Some table lamps come with a shade, which makes your job easier. But if you need to pick the shade separately, here’s a rundown of the most common shapes.
A drum lampshade is round and has straight sides. It has a soft, contemporary look.
An oval lampshade is broad and flat and is often used on lamps that have distinct sides. An oval shade can make a dull lamp look more sophisticated or can update an older looking lamp.
Sometimes known as a tapered drum, an empire lampshade is narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. Empire shapes can help update an older lamp. They work well with both tall and slender lamps and with squat, rounded lamps. A straight empire is similar, but has slightly straighter sides.
A square lampshade has four straight sides. They look the most contemporary or most modern off all shade shapes. Visually, square shades work best with lamps that are rectangular or square themselves. They look out of place on curved or round lamps.
Bell shapes are common among lamp shades and as you may think, resembles a bell. The sides of the shade curve upwards into a smaller opening at the top with a bigger opening at the bottom, allowing for a significant amount of light distribution from the lower side of the lamp.
Cylindrical lamp shades are very similar to the drum shape. This shape has vertical sides, and it also has equally proportionate openings at the top and bottom of the lamp. Unlike the drum shape, however, the cylindrical lamp shades are taller.
This design allows them to release lights mostly upward and downward, with less of a spread outward in comparison to the drum shape.
Source: Brown’s Lampshades
The coolie shape is widely angled and has a large opening at the bottom, and only a small opening at the top of the shade. This design allows for soft ambient light at flowing upward with a large release of light coming from the bottom.
While slanted like the bell and empire shapes, the slant is much more extreme and is noticeably wide in appearance.
Rectangular and square-shaped lamp shades are angled and have a wider spread at the bottom than at the top of the light.
These shapes are often used for modern and contemporary light styles and also will usually be seen paired with a base that is also rectangular in nature. The shade shape has sharp and flat edges with highly pronounced corners.
E. Lampshade materials
E. Softback and Hardback Shades
One decision to make when choosing a table lamp is whether you want to have a softback or hardback shade. Both styles have their benefits and disadvantages.
A softback shade is very common and is made of soft lining that provides a lot of flexibility. Softback shades allow light to go through the shade as well as above and below the shade. These shades are usually lighter in color and allow light to pass through the shade itself. These shades can be ideal for ambient lighting.
Hardback shades feature a hard lining that usually doesn’t allow much light to pass through. These are also often darker than the softback alternatives. Instead of passing directly through the shade, hardback shades allow light to go through the top or bottom exclusively.
These shades maximize the output of light above and below and can appear brighter than softback shades. These sometimes have a gold lining which helps to reflect light.
F. Shade Materials
Whether you choose to purchase a softback or hardback shade, you will also want to consider the material that the shade is made out of. Below are some of the primary options you can choose from for shade material.
Many lamp shades are made of fabric and linens. Silk and cotton are often used for lamp shades and are soft and cozy. These can work great for a variety of shade shapes and can fit in well with many rooms.
Paper and parchment are also occasionally used for lamp shades. These offer a soft and warm look that allows light to pass through and diffuse easily.
Glass lamp shades can also be found, though not as popular as fabric or paper. The Tiffany style lamp is famous for its stained glass look, but many other styles of lamps exist as well which feature glass shades.
Some lamp shades are also made out of plastic materials. This material is popular for the hardback shades in particular since the plastic is more sturdy and can work better to block the light as compared to fabric or paper.
G. Lampshade Fittings
H. Mixing and Matching Bases and Shades
Matching the right bases to the right shades is important. While much of this is up to your choices and preferences, it is best only to mix bases and shades that have compatible sizes. If the shade is large, you will want to use it on a larger base.
You may also choose to mix the colors of bases and shades as well, and there are endless ways you can do this.
Mixing and matching bases and shades are ultimately up to you and what kind of room aesthetic you are going for. Much of this depends on your overall design and color scheme.
Additionally, sometimes shades get old and torn up. If this happens, you will need to buy a new shade. You need to measure to make sure you choose a shade that fits.
To start, measure the base at its widest point. The diameter of the shade should be about twice the widest point. The shade should also be able to cover the switch while letting a little of the neck peek out.
I. Light Bulb Options
Once upon a time, your big choice when picking out a lightbulb was what how many watts. Nowadays, you not only have to think about wattage, but also the type of bulb you want, whether you want a dimmable bulb, and the size of the bulb. Depending on the style of lamp, you might also need to look for a particular light bulb shape.
Sometimes, you want a room to be bright. Sometimes you want to lower the lights and help set the mood. Dimmable bulbs let you do that, by adjusting the brightness with the turn of a knob or the flip of a switch.
Although some lamps come with a built-in dimmer switch, you can also purchase dimmer packs separately that allow you to adjust the brightness of the lamp.
Most table lamps will work with compact fluorescent (CFL), incandescent or LED light bulbs. For the most part, it’s up to you to decide which bulb you prefer. CFL and LED bulbs both use considerably less energy than incandescent bulbs and tend to have longer lives.
The tradeoff is their price. CFLs and LEDs cost more up front than incandescents. But since they use less electricity and last for so long, they often are the most budget-friendly choice.
Incandescent light bulbs often produce a warmer light than CFLs and work with a dimmer switch. LEDs can also create a warm glow and some models also work with dimmers.
Once upon a time, LED bulbs were jaw-droppingly expensive, with some bulbs costing $50 or $100. These days, you can get a bulb that costs less than $10 and that can last for decades.
3. Bulb Shape
There are a lot of different bulb shapes out there. While many lamps take a standard shape, some need long, thin bulbs and others need petite candelabra shaped bulbs. When buying a table lamp, here is a quick list of the bulb shapes you’re most likely to come across:
- Arbitrary (A19) – The A19 is your classic light bulb shape. It’s round on top with a little nub at the base.
- Spiral/Twist – The rise of CFL bulbs brought with them the rise of the twisted or spiral shaped light bulb. Instead of a round glass shape with a filament inside, the twist bulb features a long, thin fluorescent light spun into a coil.
- Candle – Also known as candelabra bulbs, candle light bulbs are small and most commonly used in accent lamps. They are the light bulbs you’d use if you put electric candles in your windows during the holidays.
4. Base Size
The base of a light bulb is the part that twists into the lamp itself. Bases that screw into a socket are usually called Edison bases or labeled as “E,” plus a number indicating their size.
The three base sizes you are likely to come across when buying a table lamp are:
- E26 – The E26 size is the most common for table lamp bulbs. It measures 26 mm in diameter and is often known as the standard base.
- E17 – The E17 base isn’t that common, but you might come across a desk lamp that needs a bulb with an E17 base. It’s also known as an intermediate base.
- E12 – Small bulbs, such as candle bulbs often has E12 bases. You’re most likely to see this size needed in decorative lamps or night lights.
If you need to replace a bulb in a table lamp but aren’t sure of the name of the bulb or its size, the easiest option is to bring the lamp’s old bulb with you when you go to buy a new one.
J. Base Materials
What the base of a table lamp is made of not only influences how it looks. It also influences the cost of the lamp and whether it works with your decor style or not.
Some lamps look like one type of material but are made from something else, which can lower their price or overall quality.
Source: World Market
Although you might associate a wooden lamp with a more rustic style, wooden lamps are available in a range of types and styles. Laser cut lamps look like they came out of the future, while rough-hewn lamps look right at home in a hunting lodge or cabin.
Wood is a super flexible material for a lamp since the designer can stain it and finish it in any number of ways.
Source: Home Depot
Metal table lamp bases tend to be sturdy and durable. Like wood, they can take on a variety of styles, from sleek and contemporary to warm and traditional. The type of metal used influences the style of the lamp.
For example, Tiffany style lamps usually have bronze or brass bases while contemporary lamps often have shiny chrome or stainless steel bases.
A ceramic base can turn a table lamp into a work of art. You can find ceramic bases that are big and round, that are angular and square, and that are sculptures in miniature. Ceramic lamps come in a rainbow of colors and often feature bright and bold patterns or designed in their glazes.
If you want a table lamp that won’t shatter or break and a lamp that’s eye-catching, you want a resin base. Resin is a substance that’s easy to mold into shapes. It can be dyed a variety of colors as well.
Glass might be fragile, but it sure does make beautiful lamps. When the base is made of glass, the light from the lamp tends to seem brighter as well.
Technically, crystal is a type of glass. The big difference between crystal table lamps and glass lamps is the amount of lead in the glass. Crystal needs to contain lead to be real crystal.
That’s not to say that you won’t occasionally see plain old glass lamps described as crystal to make them sound fancier.
Some people might think that plastic lamps look a little cheap, but a table lamp made from plastic has its uses. It’s a good option for a kid’s room, for example. It’s also a good material for novelty lamps, which rely on fun shapes and bright colors.
8. Manufactured Wood
Sometimes known as MDF, plywood or particleboard, manufactured wood often consists of small fragments of wood that are glued together. It usually costs less than solid wood.
Although it can look very authentic, manufactured wood can’t be stained like real wood. It’s usually painted when used as the base for a lamp. Manufactured wood is an excellent choice for use in a child’s bedroom, since it’s durable but also not very expensive.
9. Other Materials
Source: World Market
You might come across table lamps made from a variety of other materials. For example, marble is occasionally used as the base for a lamp, creating a heavy, durable piece of lighting. Some lamps have a porcelain base while others might have an acrylic base, which looks like glass but is shatter-resistant.
II. More Details
Here are a few more things to think about when choosing a table lamp for a room in your home.
Everyone’s got a different budget. The good news is that table lamps are available at a range of price points. You can go into IKEA, for example, and purchase a table lamp for just $2.99.
Meanwhile, the most expensive table lamp ever sold was a Tiffany Lotus Lamp. At an auction in 1997, it went for $2.8 million.
Most table lamps fall closer in price to $2.99 than to $2.8 million. Many factors influence what you’ll pay for your lamp, including the materials, the style, and the brand. The type of light bulb you use and whether you want a lamp with a dimmer switch also influences the total price.
If you’re feeling crafty and want to cut costs, you can always try making your own lamp, using materials you can easily find at a local store.
B. Height and Size
Lamps can easily overwhelm a space. A lamp that’s too small will be easily dwarfed by everything in the room. The height of the lamp also influences how well it illuminates a particular area.
If you need a lamp to read by or to use your phone or laptop by, you’ll want what that isn’t super tall. Since the bottom of edge of the lampshade should be eye level when you’re sitting, it’s a good idea to measure how high the lamp should be before you start shopping.
Regarding overall height, the lamp shouldn’t be too much taller than the surface it is on. If you place a table lamp on a dress that’s 30 inches tall, the lamp should be between 30 and 36 inches.
You also want the height of the table lamp to match the height of other lights in the same room. That means if you have several 58-inch floor lamps, a table lamp on top of a table or other surface should also be 58 inches high.
The width of the lamp also matters. To keep things looking balanced and even, make sure the lamp shade isn’t any wider than the width of the surface you’re resting the lamp on.
C. Key Features
In addition to the basic types of table lamps, many will come with additional features and technological advances that improve upon this basic functionality and make the light easier to use.
1. Switch Type
You may choose to buy a 3-way or 4-way lamp. These lights come with a 3 or 4 level light system that can control the amount of light released on a bulb in a low-medium-high configuration.
You can choose from a simple on/off switch. You may also pick a lamp with a dimmer switch. You can also choose a lamp that has a dimmer switch for extreme flexibility. You may also choose a pull-switch lamp in order to have easy access to turning the light on and off.
2. Other Settings
- Height Adjustable
- Built-in Outlets or USB
- Battery Operated
- Swing Arm
Despite the many benefits of table lamps, there are some disadvantages. Table lamps can become a safety hazard in your home if not used correctly.
It is important not to plug too many items into an overloaded socket. Also be sure to keep any combustible or flammable materials away from a table lamp as much as possible.
Be wary of overheating and if a table lamp overheats then turn it off and let it cool down. Turn off when leaving the room.
You should also be sure that you are using the right wattage light bulb with your lamp. Occasionally check your table lamp for wiring to make sure nothing is broken or frayed.
Also, remember that bulbs can be hot to the touch, so be careful of letting children be too close to table lamps while they are on, but also be wary at all times.
You may wish to choose a bulb that tends to overheat less often and typically stays cool
III. Where to Buy Table Lamps Online
Now that you know what to look for in a table lamp, here is a list of reputable online retailers that offer an excellent selection of lamps.
Our recommended retailers include: