Selection of proper table lamp depends on its purpose in the room

Table lamps come in all sizes and shapes. The question often arises as to the ideal height of a lamp. The most direct and accurate answer is “It depends.”

Is the lamp for reading? Is the lamp for atmosphere? Is the fixture a conversation piece that happens to shed light?

Let’s start with the reading lamp. More questions. Will you be sitting up to read or sort of lounging? Basically, a reading lamp height is best when between 26 inches and 32 inches. Higher than that, the light source will be seen from under the shade. If you are tall and sit rather erect to read, go for the taller 32-inch lamp. If lounging is more the reading style, then 26 inches should work.

When the lamp height gets down below 26 inches, it is hard to get enough light directly on the book or magazine.

What about a table lamp that is just for atmosphere? In this case, any height will do. How low can you go? All the way down to table height. As a matter of fact, there are tables that light up, shedding just enough of a glow to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere.

There also are very tall lamps that will sit on a table and extend 45 inches up. Usually these are sculpture-like and glow from within rather than having a light bulb sitting up top under a shade.

The latter is one that would certainly qualify as a conversation piece. There is also that elephant lamp or the brass lion or the intertwining dragons. These illuminate an area nicely, but are more for decoration and general lighting rather than for reading because their heights are often squatty.

Should a lamp be purchased only because it is perfect with the décor? What if a reading lamp is needed and the one that is just right for the room is too short? Go ahead. Buy it. Rather than putting that lamp on a standard-height end table, put it on a 36-inch or 42-inch pedestal. Now the lamp is better displayed so as to show off its beauty, plus the higher elevation puts the light at the right height for reading. Be careful, though, that the lamp isn’t too wide for the pedestal. The two must be proportionately attractive together or the beauty will be lost in the eye’s confusion.

Keep in mind that lamps should be attractive during the day as well as attractive when lit up at night. The piece should add to, complement or, at the very least, support the rest of the decoration in the room.

Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, an interior designer in Naples, Fla., is author of “Mystery of Color.”

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