Lamp Buying Guide

Lamps are our trusty sidekick. They’re our midnight companion as we finish off that book we couldn’t put down. They’re our study buddy during late-night cram sessions, and our early morning guide as we stumble around the house before sunrise. In this guide, we’ll help you understand the wheres, whens and hows of lamps. Use this guide to find a lamp to love for any room in your home.

There are plenty of good reasons to add a lamp to your home or space. They’re easy to install, portable, decorative and an excellent way to supplement fixed lighting. Lamps also fit in tight spaces, give a sense of scale to the space and act as part of a layered lighting plan. To help narrow your search, as lamps come in a variety of shapes and sizes, we’ll concentrate on four main lamp categories: desk lamps, table lamps, swing arm lamps and floor lamps.

Desk Lamps

These lamps work best in: Home/Office

In the family of lamps, this is your project companion. It’s the one you need when you’re filing your taxes, working on an art project with the kids or researching a project for work. While floor lamps and tables lamps are largely for ambient and accent lighting, a desk lamp is very task oriented.

Keep these factors in mind when choosing a desk lamp:

  1. A typical computer screen produces about 20-25 foot candles (FC). To keep your eyes from dilating as you look back and forth from screen to desk you’ll need at least a 3-to-1 contrast ratio of light. So if your screen is at 20-25 FC, your desk lamp should be 60-75 FC). This will reduce headaches too.
  2. Consider glare and shadowing. Pick a task lamp with an adjustable head and arm.
  3. Choose a lamp with various lamp wattage options that will last a lifetime, and accommodate your needs even as your eyes age. Ideally your lamp should last a lifetime so it should accommodate your eyes at any age.
  4. A task lamp is best when it has a dimmer or a high/low switch.
  5. Most likely you will need to adjust the area of illumination or focus on a particular spot as desk lamps are used for completing a task. Consider using an LED lamp as this will ensure that the lamp head will stay cool to the touch. As an added bonus, it will save you energy costs as well have a long bulb life time.
  6. Size. Ideally, your desk lamp will be proportionate to your desk – not overly large or small. There is no hard and fast rule of a certain height or size. If you have a large desk, a larger lamp is appropriate. If you have a small desk, consider scaling your lamp down as well. It is recommended to use a desk lamp with a 30 degree beam spread, optimally highlighting your work space.
    How Much Light do I Really Need?
    5-12 yrs Child's Desk 25-50 FC ≤ 40 watts ≤ 20 watts ≤ 9 watts 3-5 watts
    13-24 yrs Adolescent's Desk 20-75 FC ≥ 60 watts ≥ 50 watts ≤ 9 watts ≤ 5 watts
    25-55 yrs Home Office 35-75 FC ≥ 60 watts ≥ 50 watts or 37 watts IR lamp ≤ 9 watts 5-10 watts
    50-75 yrs Home Office 50-100 FC ≥ 100 watts ≥ 50 watts IR lamp ≤ 13 watts 5-10 watts
    Reading in Bed 100 FC - - - 3 watts
    Types of Desk Lamps

    Gooseneck Desk Lamp

    Like the name implies, the neck of this lamp has a certain flexibility that allows you to rotate and maneuver the lamp in a variety of positions. It looks nice and modern, plus it’s very functional.

    Adjustable Arm Desk Lamp

    If you’re working on a large project that spreads out across your desk, an adjustable arm desk lamp like can be manipulated to focus light closer in when necessary and then pulled away to provide more of a big-picture view when that’s required.

    Tree (Multi-arm) Desk Lamp

    This one looks a little like a tree, but the “branches” have three or more light sources that can be focused in multiple directions, or if need be, all the lights can be directed in one area.

    Magnified Desk Lamp

    If you’re reading or doing detailed work for an extended period of time, this light is designed to reduce eyestrain and fatigue.
    Organizer Desk Lamp

    As if the task lighting wasn’t useful enough, this kind of lamp offers storage compartments for all the things you might need at a work desk. Pens, pencils, rules, calculators.

    Banker or Piano Desk Lamp

    A banker’s lamp is an iconic Symbol of the desk lamp. It is characterized by a horizontal, green, glass lamp shade, a pull chain, and a single, brass stand.

    Clip-On Desk Lamp

    Just clamp this lamp to the edge of your desk or the table you’re working on. Small and lightweight, it saves space on your work surface and can save even more space when you’re not using it and can tuck it away in a drawer.

    Table Lamps

    These lamps work best in: Bedrooms and Living Rooms

    Table lamps are used for decoration and ambiance. While they do offer ambient light and can act as one of your lighting layers, these types of lamps are often chosen as a style statement. You want the table and floor lamps to be a near uniform height, in the range of 58-64 inches. This allows you eyes to scan across a room on an equal plain.

    Keep these factors in mind when choosing a table lamp:

    1. Line of sight: Sit on a chair or next to the table and measure the distance from the table surface to your eye level. Purchase a lamp whose base to the bottom of the shade length measurement doesn’t exceed the table-to-eye measurement. If the lamp is for your bedside, the light source should be at sitting eye level. The top of a floor lamp used with a sofa or side chair should be between 58 and 64 inches tall, with the bottom of the shade being at or above the eye level of a seated person. If you use a combination of floor and table lamps, the top edges of all the fixtures should be within a few inches of one another.
    2. For a table lamp, measure the table height and circumference. The lamp should be no more than 1½ times the height of whatever it sits on. The shade shouldn’t overlap the table either.
    3. Think about weight — lighter works where there isn’t a lot of traffic, but if it’s a busy area a heavier, more stable table lamp would be suggested.
    4. You don’t have to be all matchy-matchy. As long as a lamp works well with the object it’s placed on, you’re OK. A modern LED table lamp might look odd on a French Countryside buffet table.
    5. You need to know its primary purpose and space. Will the lamp be used on a nightstand, reading niche, entertainment room, living room or side table? Knowing how you need to use it will help define the requirements for size, shade type and wattage (brighter or dimmer).
    6. Overall scale is another huge consideration. A lamp should fit the space, relative to the room it’s in. A tall and large shaded table lamp on a delicate and small table will look awkward. Keep room size and scale in mind. Also, if your furniture is large and bold, pick a lamp that fits that profile. A small, thin lamp would get lost among the rest of the bold accessories.
    Types of Table Lamps

    Buffet Lamp

    These lamps often sit on serving tables at a party, hence the name. With long, narrow necks and smaller shades buffet lamps focus the light down, allowing guests enough light to serve themselves and see what they’re picking for their plate. Buffet lamps tend to be more elegant and traditional and offer low level lighting even when you don’t have guests over. The dining room or a console table, for added ambiance, is the ideal location for one of these lamps.

    Accent Lamp

    Bring light to dark spots in the home or simply draw attention to something you’re proud of with this kind of lamp. Perhaps it’s a family photo, a sculpture or even a trophy. While accent lamps aren’t bright enough to us as task lighting, they are an important piece of your interior design scheme and they can bring life to a room. Place one of these lamps in your living room to fill in the gaps and show off your art or family photos.

    Hurricane Lamp

    Inspired from a candle or oil wicked lamp, today’s hurricane lamp has a curvy glass shade that has a acts as a chimney. This shade originally was to prevent the flame from blowing out. Perfect for a Victorian or traditional styled home.

    Torchiere Lamp

    Think of a literal torch when considering a Torchier. The name is actually derived from the French word torche which means torch. The lamp, known to be part of the portable lamp family, has a bowl-shaped glass which diffuses the light and directs it upward.
    Cordless Lamp

    Just as the name implies, it is a lamp without a cord. Perfect for your wireless desk set- up or where there are no plugins.
    Swing Arm Lamps

    These lamps work best in: Bedrooms/Libraries

    A perfect source of light for tasks such as reading, this lamp is a wall sconce with a moveable arm that can be placed in different positions, making it extremely flexible. Use it in addition to general lighting.

    Keep these factors in mind when choosing a swing arm lamp

    • Do not install too low or too high. A good measurement is to install the lamp so that the shade is at eye level when seated. You can do this by sitting on a chair or bed (depending upon the application) and measure the distance from the floor to your eye level. The bottom of the shade should be at eye level when seated or if using in a bathroom, while standing.
    • Think about traffic flow — if the location of the swing arm will have a high traffic flow, make sure the room accommodates the lamp as it doesn’t fit snug to a wall light a traditional wall sconce.
    • Use where you need to preserve space. Examples could be between bookshelves, over dressing tables, or even bathrooms.
    Types of Swing Arm Lamps

    Hard wired

    These lamps are installed by connecting directly to your electrical wires or cables. You will want a licensed electrician to install for you.


    As the name implies, these lamps plug in directly to your wall socket. All you need to do is measure and hang.

    Floor Lamps

    These lamps work best in: Living Rooms

    For a simple touch that brightens a room and unifies your space, think about a floor lamp, which can handle many of your general illumination needs. While a floor lamp shouldn’t be your sole source of lighting, it does make a nice complement.

    Keep these factors in mind when choosing a floor lamp

    • Get the size right for your room. You don’t want a lamp with a huge base or a big shade on a tiny table or a small room. Big spaces need big things. Small spaces need smaller things.
    • Watch for obstructions. Though many floor lamps are placed in the corner, if you do have one out in the middle of a space, make sure you maintain a line of sight between spots where people might gather and sit. This is true for all lighting, but it comes into play more with something like a floor lamp because of its commonality in a living room, a gathering area. You want your guests to see the lamp of course, but it’s even better when they can see each other.
    • Mixing lighting styles. Again, try a little variety. Some styles look great together. You can decide which ones for yourself, but you have to try.
    Types of Floor Lamps

    Console Lamp

    This traditional floor lamp style includes a pole extending from a base casts light down from the bulb.

    Torchiere Lamp

    This traditional floor lamp style includes a pole extending from a base casts light up from the bulb.

    Arc Floor Lamp

    These lamps use a curving arm to send light down and away from the base.

    Multiple Light Source or Track Tree Floor Lamp

    This kind of lamp has a base on the floor and a long pole reaching up. But instead of the single point of illumination, this one has a few, extending from arms on the pole like a tree, sending light in multiple directions.

    Illumination Facts to Keep in Mind

    When selecting a lamp, knowing how much light you need in the room will be helpful. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:


    The higher number of lumens, the brighter the light bulb. If you want to illuminate a large space, you want to use a light bulb with a high number of lumens (above 1000). So a floor lamp would probably need more lumens, while a small table lamp does not require a bulb with a high number of lumens.

    Color Temperature:

    Color temperature or Kelvin – reference this on the back of the package of the light bulb. The higher K, the “coolor” the illumination, and the cooler the light temperature the more blue it will appear.

    Desk lamps in homes are generally 2700K–3000K. Those used in offices are 3000K-3500K. However, some prefer a task lamp slightly cooler – around 3200K for detail work.


    Beam Spread

    The amount of light that radiates from the point of a light source cast out in a triangular fashion illuminating the surrounding space. S=(2)(d)tan(1/2*A)

    Foot Candles (FC)

    A measurement of intensity of light falling on a surface, equaling one lumen per square foot.

    Lighting Layers

    Illumination in from a variety of sources, creating the right mood and composition of a space. At a minimum, three “layers” of light are needed to maximize both the livability and the beautification of a space. The layers are defined as 1. Ambient, 2. Task and 3. Accent.

    Kelvin or K

    The measurement of color temperature.

    Find Your Style

    We’ve already talked about the versatility of a good lamp. It can go almost anywhere you want, anytime you want. Well, shades add flexibility to that versatility. A shade can be swapped out to fit your décor. It can help change the mood of a room.

    Shades are used to cover the light bulb and diffuse the light it emits. But they’re so much more important than that. Lamp shades also add character and personality, and can complete your design, creating a cohesive and beautiful space.

    From hardback to softback shades, no matter the size there are some general rules to keep in mind. For instance, the base and the shade should be of similar contour. If the base is curved, you should probably go with a curved shade. With a straight base, go with a shade with straight edges.

    Proportionally, the shade should be 2-3 inches shorter than the base. You only want about a half inch of the neck to show. Calculate the shade length as 65- 80 percent of the base length. So if the base length is 16 inches, the shade should be 10-14 inches. That gives you a fixture of 24 inches tall.

    Also, if the shade is very ornate or decorative, go with a plain shade. If your base is fairly plain, you have more room to add a shade with more panache.

    Keep in mind that the darker the color of the shade, the less light will show through. If you have a thicker material, it will affect light output. Here is a rule of thumb for shade brightness: For general illumination for your rooms that have rich, darker colors, the shade should indicate no more than 50 footcandles on the meter. For the same application only with lighter colored walls, the shade should indicate no more than 150 footcandles. If the intent of the light is for specific tasks, the shade should indicate between 250 and 400 footcandles.


    Proper maintenance can help make your lamp more efficient, saving you more money in the long run. Light levels decrease because the lamp ages or even because it’s dirty.

    Here are some simple ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of your lighting.

    • Wipe off the dust every 6–12 months. Don’t clean an incandescent bulb while it’s turned on. Also, cool water can shatter the hot bulb.
    • Replace your bulbs at the same time. Bulbs such as incandescent and fluorescents will lose 20–30% of light output over their lifetime. If you replace all bulbs in a system, you’ll save yourself time, saves labor, keeps illumination high, and avoids stressing any ballasts (devices that control electric currents) with deteriorating lamps.
    • Dispose of properly. Check with your local government office or trash company to be see what your area recommends.

    Recently Viewed