A Buyer's Guide to Table Lamps

Table lamps are as important as the art on the walls and the rugs on the floor. When combined with the right lampshade, these accent pieces can be practical focal points- essential to any space where people tend to hang out. Don’t just pick the first table lamp at the yard sale. Consider the size of the room, the table, and the location of the lamp before choosing. Before you even start shopping, you should measure the room it’s going in and the table it’s going on, and consider the style of the rest of the decor in that room.

SIZE MATTERS - room size should dictate the size of the table lamp.

Find the height, shape, and overall size of your table lamp to keep it proportional to the size of your room. A lower ceiling should have a relatively shorter light, whereas - you guessed it - a tall ceiling can accommodate a taller table lamp.

Here's an example: 

Let's say you have a large room over 16' x 20' with 10' ceilings. This spacious room is best suited for a larger scale table lamp, likely above 30" high.

Smaller spaces, such as a den or lower-ceiling rec-rooms are better with conventional table lamps - usually 20-26" high.

Another height note to consider:

Keep the light bulb from shining in your eyes. Check other lamps you have to see if the bulb is in your sightline at a given height.


SIZE MATTERS - table dimensions dictate lamp size.

The size of the table may seem a bit more obvious, but there are some good rules of thumb that a certain Goldilocks would appreciate.

Be sure to pick a lamp that is not too large to take up all of the space on the table. On the other hand, do not choose a teeny lamp that will be dwarfed by a large table.


Table Lamps for the Bedroom:


A good rule of thumb for bedside table lamps is to have the shade width be from half to near the full edge width of the side table. It should never reach beyond the edge. This rule of thumb is an aesthetic concern as much as a risk of the lamp falling to the ground.

Another factor to consider is the height of the lamp. The bottom of the nightstand lamp’s shade should be above your eye line as you are sitting on the bed. You don’t want a bright light shining in your eyes as you get ready to sleep!

nightstand lamps for bedroom


Dresser lamp choices are made best with the dresser’s height in mind. Tall tables (greater than three feet) should have lamps no higher than 24”. Think small table lamps here. This concept is to accommodate the practical use of the lamp, the aesthetic proportion, and the balance of a fragile item that’s up high.


A short dresser doesn’t mean reach for the stars:

If the dresser is short (say 30”), keep the lamp at a similar measurement. You can go up to 36” if the lamp is stable when the dresser is inevitably bumped.

The word to remember with sizing is proportion. Measure twice, cut once is a good adage for wood, and perhaps measure twice, buy once is a great way to think about your lighting purchase.


End Table Lamps for the Living Room:

A lot of the rules of thumb indicated for bedside table lamps are applicable here. Being spatially aware and leveraging proportion is still critical. According to Decoist, The base of the lampshade should be about level with your eye line as you sit on the couch.

The highlight of table lamps for living room use is as they serve as conversational lighting. Nothing kills a good chat like the unfortunate light on your conversing partner (or adversary if politics get brought up, again).

Table lamps for living room traditional

Conversational lighting is a highly important consideration in living rooms:

According to Amy Bickers of Gabby, "A report on physical space and social interaction found that it is best to choose furnishings that do not convey status within a group. This concept will maximize social exchange so that it doesn’t seem as if one person is in charge or at the center of attention." Regarding side table lamp usage in the living room, keep the lighting balanced and equal among guests to keep the focal point neutral.

If the side table is too small for a side table lamp, but the need is still there for an adequate reading light, consider a floor lamp.


Table Lamps for the Office:

Desk lamps are a whole different beast. They start at practicality and live almost entirely there. If a desk lamp isn't practical, it isn't in a busy workspace. That said, there are plenty of ways to mix form and function when it comes to a desk lamp. Desk lamps should direct light downwards, to illuminate documents, keyboards, or artwork. Their bulbs should be bright enough to work from, and their bases shouldn’t take up too much precious workspace on the desk or tabletop.

Like dressers, wide or tall file cabinets often see a table lamp. Also like dressers, tall cabinets (greater than three feet) should have lamps no larger than 24”. Nothing kills productivity like an off-balance fragile lamp plummeting to the floor from a place up high.

Designer's note:

Put your best foot forward. Table lamps for the office should match the aesthetic, and the most impressive should be the first (and most often) seen by clients and customers.