How To Choose The Best Size Table Top Lamps

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A guide for how to choose the best size table top lamps, plus a shopping guide for affordable white lamps.

Let’s talk about table top lamps today.  The subject came up in my mind while working on my master bedroom makeover.  If you saw my earlier post about the progress I’ve made, you may remember this shot of my new bed and bedding. Remember – this is mid-makeover!

bedroom with neutral walls and neutral beddingPin

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I’ve had multiple life interruptions lately, but I’ve finally gotten to the point in the makeover process where I’m ready to paint the nightstands, add their pretty new hardware and make a decision about lamps.  Since I’ve decided to paint the nightstands gray (I think!), I’ve decided to go with white table lamps.

Not only do I need to choose the lamps that I like, I also need to figure out how tall the lamps should be.  To help make that decision, I’ve put together this handy list of tips for choosing a lamp that’s the best size for any room in your home.

UPDATE: Here are the lamps that I chose and the painted nightstands.

king size bed with upholstered headboard and blue, white and gray bedding with a bench at the foot of the bed.Pin

This is one of those decorating details that you need to be familiar with or you’ll wind up with lamps that are either out of scale for the room, are too big or small, too tall or short for the table or that don’t give off the proper amount of light.  Kind of like how a room looks when you don’t hang artwork at the proper height or when it isn’t in proportion to where it’s hanging.


Where you intend to place a table lamp and the purpose it will serve will be the determining factors for the proper lamp height.  For example, will it be a reading lamp, a bedside lamp, a buffet lamp or a lamp tucked into a small corner for creating ambience?

  • A reading lamp located beside a sofa or chair:

Sit on the sofa or chair beside the table where the lamp will be located.  Measure the distance from the table surface to your eye level.  The bottom of the lamp shade should be even or slightly below that.

  • A bedside lamp on a nightstand:

Have the shortest person sit on the bed.  Take the same measurement as with a reading lamp beside a sofa or chair.  In this case the bottom of the lamp shade should be slightly below eye level.  This will prevent the light from shining directly into your eyes as you’re sitting in bed.

  • Buffet, sideboard or console table lamps:

In general, buffet lamps are tall.  They are meant to be a decorative room accent as well provide or supplement the light in the entire room.  They usually stand 32″ – 36″ tall, measuring from the base of the lamp to the top of the shade or finial.

  • Accent or ambience  lamps:

Accent lamps or lamps that used to add ambience are usually the smallest.  Generally speaking, they are 22″ tall or shorter.

white nightstand with wood lamp and gothic arch artPin


You also need to consider the overall size of lamp in comparison to the surface it will be sitting on.  An out of proportion lamp might function as light source, but it can ruin a tabletop vignette and throw off the balance of an otherwise pleasingly designed room.

  • A table lamp should not be any more than 1½ times taller than the surface it sits on.  Anything taller would overpower the table and appear top heavy.
  • When it comes to the diameter of the lamp base,  choose one that isn’t so large around that it takes up all or most of the space on the table.  But – on the other hand, don’t choose one that’s so small it will be lost on a table either.  It’s all about striking a happy medium.



  • The height of the lamp shade should equal to 65% – 80% of the lamp base height.  Or in other words, the shade should be about 1/3 of the total height.
  • This diameter of the shade should be within 2″ (+ or -) of the height of the lamp base.
  • The shade should completely cover the bulb and the attaching hardware at the top of the base.
  • The shade should not be wider than the table it sits on.  You don’t want it extending beyond the edges of the table.

Happy lamp shopping!

Worthing Court Blog
white nightstand with wood table top lampPin

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  1. Sooooooo helpful, thanks Suzy

    1. I’m really glad you found it helpful, Maureen!

  2. I always love your useful and on-point tips! This one is no different since I’ve been struggling with finding the right table top lamp, but couldn’t figure out the appropriate size. Table top lamps can add so much interest and personality to any room, giving it more character, so it’s worth it paying extra attention when picking one. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. This post could not have come at a better time. The information is so helpful. I have been struggling with choosing a shade. I will need to order them on line and want to avoid the return process. Can you suggest choosing the correct color shade ? My lamp bases are beautiful, however they are gilded gold with black. I have gold shades and would prefer to not use gold again.

    1. Thank you for letting me know that you found the info helpful! Generally speaking, I recommend using a white shade on a white lamp base. However; colored shades are popular right now, so that’s an option also if you’re looking for more of a design statement.

  4. Hi, I have a 4 poster king size bed. I am updating the accessories in the room and new lamps are on the list When I followed the eye level tip with the shades my lamps appear small and short with the height of my bed. I had thought I could get customized taller shades but I could have a new bed for that cost!!! I read in bed every night so I do want bedside lamps. Should I get lamps that are in proportion to the bed ???