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One time my boyfriend bought a lampshade online for an absolute steal. Proud of his thrifty find, he opened the box when it arrived a few days later, only to find that he’d actually purchased a lampshade—wait for it—for a dollhouse

But beyond his epic fail, buying the right size lamp topper online can be a tricky endeavor, no matter how much design experience you have. Scale is important, but so is shape and style. No one understands this more than housewares designer Matilda Goad, who has made a career of providing the world with her signature scalloped lampshades. 

As someone who swaps her shades out on a regular basis—“It’s an instant uplifter,” says Goad—she knows all the tricks for finding the right match for every kind of lamp base. “In general, the lampshade should be much bigger than the lamp,” she says, though she’s recently been experimenting with skinny lamps and narrow shades. 

Courtesy of Matilda Goad

Overall, Goad says another good rule of thumb is to buy a shade that’s wider than the height of your base. To make sure the measurements work, she uses a hack that involves a simple household material: newspaper. “I’m not that techy,” she admits. “I still design with paper and pens. So say I’ve seen a lampshade online; I just draw it out on paper and hold it up against the base.” That way you won’t be surprised when you’re opening up the box for a shade you bought online. 

When it comes to what style to buy, Goad prioritizes practicality. If you’re putting a reading lamp near your bed, for example, she recommends a pleated version for a soft glow as opposed to a raffia one that will give off more light. Consider the material of the base as well: If you’re working with a bright brass base, a neutral shade will even things out. 

And while she can’t completely save you from ordering the wrong size shade, she does have strong opinions on buying bulbs. “Go for warm, soft light, and avoid blue fluorescents, “ she says. “It kills the atmosphere.” Here are a few more things you might want to add to your shopping list, too. 

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