Lamp-Shady Business

Q: I found two great mid-century modern lamps in an antiques store, and now I need shades. The lamps are crackle-glazed porcelain, shaped like elongated, fluted funnels. The flared shades and other choices in the big-box stores don’t look right. Any suggestions? — Antonio Castillo, Mohegan Lake

A: Those shades in the big-box stores are standard issue for mass-produced lamps, says Chris Nichols, who owns Bedford Lighting in Bedford Hills (, 914-666-0680). Even though your lamps may have been mass-produced 50 or 60 years ago, they’re probably not a size and shape being churned out today in China, where most lamps come from, and where most shades are manufactured, too. (Surprise!)

But there are a couple of American manufacturers still in business. “One that we work with does recovering,” Nichols notes. “Often people buy a lamp in an antiques store with a shade that’s torn, and we can recover the original frame in a choice of fabrics. I just did one in Dupioni shantung that looks gorgeous.” For most antique lamps, a soft shade, in silk or tissue shantung, is appropriate, especially if it’s going into a more formal room, she says.

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For your mid-century lamps, though, Nichols suggests that a drum-shaped, less-expensive hardback frame in vellum might work well. (A hardback frame has fabric glued to styrene to keep it rigid, with a wire frame at the top and bottom.) “I’m seeing a lot of designers using vellum, even on high-end lamps,” she says. “It’s an interesting contrast that works in a house with a lot of linens or organic materials.” Hardback shades come in a wide choice of papers, too—“maybe imported from France, or even common craft papers, or sagebrush, with little petals embedded in it.”

Bedford Lighting is one of the few showrooms with a room devoted to shades, Nichols says. You can takes your lamps in and let them try shades on, and if nothing in stock works, they’ll order what you need, or you can get a custom job. Anyone who needs to replace a shade should bring the lamp along, too. “If there’s nothing the same size as the old shade, we can often adjust the harp [the metal bit that holds the shade up] but we need the lamp to see if it looks right.” If you’re recovering a lamp in fabric, she suggests you bring a pillow or fabric swatch from the room to get the colors right. “Even if it’s silk,” she says. “Silks come in a range of creams and whites—some are dark, some are more tan or yellowy. And think about the color on the wall, too.”

Another thing to consider when you’re marrying a vintage lamp to a new shade is that the fitter—how the shade mounts to the lamp—is likely to be different, Nichols says. “With antique lamps, typically you need a washer fitter and you won’t find that at a big-box store. Target doesn’t even offer harps and finials. It gets me crazy—how can a store sell a lamp and a shade and not have the components to hold them together?” Good question.

Bedford Lighting also does repairs and rewiring, with five different wire colors: brown, silver, gold, black, and ivory. “You want the wire to complement the lamp as well as the surface it’s going on—you don’t want a white wire running across a wood table, for example,” Nichols remarks, making me notice all my lamp wires for the first time. New sockets come in silver, bright brass or bronze. “Or we can keep the original shell and just replace the guts,” she says. “One antique lamp we did recently came back with the top spider replaced—bright shiny brass! We had to antique it to make it look aged.”

Shade prices are all over the map, of course, but as a guide, a silk A-line shade that’s nine inches wide at the bottom and 12 inches tall runs about $59.

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