This is a post about a decorating detail that may seem small, but actually is not. Lamp shades, a seemingly innocuous subject, is one I feel strongly about.  Great lamp shades can make a room, while ignoring their significance can leave a room boring and bland.

The problem is that good, let alone great, lamp shades are very difficult to find, particularly at a reasonable price. I adore a colored, patterned or trimmed lamp shade, especially one that does not “match” the room it is in. A perfect balance between complementing and contrasting is hard to find – both in terms of the lamp to the room and the lamp to its shade. Proportion and size requirements only add to the complexity. Custom making shades is one solution, but finding a craftsperson can be difficult. Vintage shades are another, as those from earlier eras have unusual shapes and lots of detail, but condition can be tricky.

It seems to me that the British have always had the hang of this better than any other nationality, just open any World of Interiors and you’ll agree. Robert Kime has some of the most beautiful shades around anywhere, softly gathered fabric ones made from his fabric line, ikats and antique textiles. Unfortunately, they run about £350 and if that was in my budget I wouldn’t need to write this post.

His shades are positively dreamy.

Soane, the UK design firm, which recently had a pop-up shop in New York City I would have loved to have visited, also makes beautiful but pricey ikat shades.

While visiting the UK last year I stopped into Soane and Robert Kime, but my favorite spot was a wonderful romantic antiques shop in Bath, Antique Textiles and Lighting. Filled with vintage chandeliers and gorgeous antique fabrics, the owner made bespoke shades from her antique textiles. I have a deep and lasting purchasing regret from that trip and wish I had bought some, even without any idea of where I would use them.

This all brings me to my personal conundrum. I have purchased many charming vintage lamps for the beach house in New Jersey, but almost none of them have come with shades. While they are all fabulous and absolute bargains, coming up with shades is proving to be a daunting task. The lamp stores seem to be full of nothing other than mass-produced low quality dull white and cream shades. Searching the web, eBay and Etsy has not yielded anywhere near as many options as I might have expected.

I have been scoping out two different ikat shades at Anthropologie, reminiscent of the Kime and Soane shades. I can’t quite figure out which lamps they might look good on, but as they have gone on sale, I am tempted to buy them anyway. I often do that, although regretfully not last year in Bath, so I am loath to let them sell out and slip away.

The first is the Pleated Ikat Shade

…and the next is the Wandering Ikat Shade.

One of my lamps that needs a shade is this alabaster beauty. While quite tall, it has a short harp and would look best with a wider shallower shade.

I recently bought this dark grey pleated shade on mega-sale at Laura Ashley (the Japanese love Laura Ashley!), thinking it might be perfect for the alabaster lamp. It is wider and shorter than it appears in the photo, so it has the right proportions. But perhaps it is too formal for the beach? Maybe instead of carrying the shade home this summer, I should carry the lamp back to Tokyo. It would look great with its little sisters somewhere in my bedroom here. I would also definitely consider the two Anthro shades for this lamp and I think the dark ikat one would look beautiful, but unfortunately I belive it to be too big.

Not all the lamps need fabric shades. I’d also like some casual paper ones too. I had been hoping to find time to visit Susan Schneider’s shop Shandell’s in the Hudson Valley this summer. Having first read about her custom lamp and shade shop on Eddie Ross‘ blog and then visited her own, I knew she is a master of the lamp/shade combo, like this pair of flea-market mid-century lamps she topped with wallpaper covered shades.

She makes tons of charming covered paper shades from vintage wallpapers.

Continuing my search, I’ve turned to the other major catalog brands and actually had a bit of luck. For the upstairs guest room I have a pair of twisted milk glass lamps and was hoping for a shade covered in a Kathryn Ireland/Carolina Irving/Lisa Fine type pattern. All the shades in Kathryn’s One Kings Lane sale were too big as are the ones in her online shop. Surprisingly, I got extremely lucky with these Indian block print shades from Pottery Barn, on sale to boot!!

Here is one, in situ. Maybe a little too big? It will have to do for now.

Another lamp in my daughter’s room was purchased entirely for its lavender gingham shade. I wasn’t sure I would even use the lamp, but ended up liking it. It is sitting on the floor because I don’t as yet have a night table. One of the many things the house is missing…

In the last few weeks I have been doing a lot of antiquing with friends moving away from Tokyo and looking to take away decorative objects that will remind them of their time here. Personally, I have made some fantastic finds in the lighting department along the way. I mentioned vintage shades with their charming quirkiness earlier in the post – here are a few examples.

First, I finally visited Yamamoto Syoten. Friends on the other side of town had raved about this shop, crammed to the brim with a wide range of merchandise, from fine tansu to vintage bric brac. I’ll be doing a full “Shop Talk” post on it soon, but I thought I’d show you what I got there. I had to have this wonderfully shaped green shade, as I have just the right lamp for it, a converted Chinese famille rose vase. I have searched my files for a photo to show you but can’t find one, so it will have to wait for the summer. I did not actually want the lamp it was on, so it took a bit of persuading to get them to sell me just the shade.

Days later I walked into Kanarusha to pick up the ceiling fixture I wrote about here and this was staring right at me.

How had I missed it the week before? I don’t know, but it caused me to do a jig of joy. I have been looking for a tiny jewel of a lamp to place atop a bookcase in the upstairs hall, lit at night as the hallway night-light. This was one of those shopping fantasies come to life.

My takeaway from this post? Custom lamp shades are a business to get into! And I plan on doing some more DIY lamp shade posts this summer, including covering a pair of sconce shades with this gorgeous washi paper.

Not traditional washi design at all, the tiny print resembles an Indonesian batik made for the Japanese market.

I have posted many photos of rooms with wonderful lamp shades, but rather than trot them all out I prefer this quick litmus test. A glance through the current House Beautiful demonstrates the importance of lamp shades with examples on almost every page. Here for instance, Anne Wolf uses shades covered in a tiny Lisa Fine print to update glass lamps in a cheery dining room.

Another example is this Carrier and Company living room, where a pair of vintage lamps are activated with bright shades. Many other examples can be found throughout the issue.

Image credits: 1-3. Robert Kime, 4. Elle Decor June 2010, 5. Antique Textiles and Lighting, 6-7. Anthropologie, 8-9, 12, 14-18. me, 10-11. Shandell’s, 13. Pottery Barn, 19-20. House Beautiful June 2011