How Do I Choose A Lamp For A Sofa Table?

Lighting is the element of home décor that often gets the least thought, and yet it can transform the effect of any room.

How Do I Choose A Lamp For A Sofa Table

When you have a sofa, the option to use full-on overhead lighting exists, but it’s often too harsh and glaring. The idea of using lamps to create particular ‘pools’ of light is a popular one, but it’s not by any means as simple as some people think it should be.

The idea is analogous to water. Pools of water in the right, pond-like enclosure in the garden? Peaceful, restful, life-enhancing. Pools of water in the kitchen? Worrying, irritating, possible evidence of a plumbing emergency.

That means you have to get your lamp-borne pools of light right. And that in turn means knowing how to choose a lamp for your sofa table.


In terms of pure aesthetics, there’s very much a ‘You do you’ policy at work. Whatever the room is like, choose a lamp with a body and a shade that suits and enhances that décor.

If you have a high-energy wallpaper and pink and yellow-striped couch, choose a body and shade that can stand up to that energy and accentuate it with light.

If you have gentle, restful walls in pale pastels, go color-light and shape-neutral unless you want the lamp to make the biggest statement in the room, in which case, dark and bold is a better bet than bright and bold.

But if we’re talking about how big a lamp should be when it’s sitting on a sofa table, there’s a surprisingly effective rule of thumb to observe and understand.

Lamp Size

When comparing the lamp and the sofa table overall, you don’t want the lamp to be anything more than 1.5 times the height of the table. If you disobey this rule, the eye more or less perceives the lamp as out of place and unduly disproportioned.

While you’re choosing your sofa table lamp, you’re also going to want to look to the shade. The shade should ideally not stick out further than the width of the sofa table.

Why? Apart from the whole Handmaid’s Tale hood look, what you’re doing then is actually creating pools of shadow, like hiding a face under a huge-brimmed hat.

Ideally, go with a shade that’s within two inches of the lamp’s base length. If you have a base length of 15 inches, your shade should be between 13-17 inches to be perfect proportion.

If you’re thinking in terms of measuring the length of your shade, you should aim for a length anywhere between 65-90 percent of the lamp’s base length, again mostly so your lamp doesn’t look like its light is being hidden under a giant Stetson.

Example Of Scale

So say, for instance, you have a sofa table of say 24 inches in height. If we use the maximum figure of 1.5 times the table height, the lamp should be no more than 36 inches tall.

If our 36-inch tall lamp has a base length of, for example, 15 inches, then the shade should be somewhere between 13-17 inches wide (within two inches either way of the base length).

And the shade’s length should be anywhere from 9.75-13.5 inches (between 65-90% of the base length, 15 inches).

As it happens, we didn’t pluck the example of 24 inches out of thin air. Somewhere between 24-34 inches is more or less the perfect height for most sofa tables.

If you want to know whether you’ve got it right without all the math involved, when you’re sitting on your couch, your eye level should be in line with the base of the shade on your lamp.

How Tall Should A Lamp Be On A Sofa Table?

There are two equations here.

Firstly, how tall should the sofa table be compared to the sofa?

While the absolute value of this will depend both on the height of the sofa and the height of the person who sits on it, you should probably be looking for a sofa table somewhere between 24-34 inches in height.

A lamp on a sofa table, to be sure of offering the best illumination to the area, should be anything up to – but not exceeding – 1.5 times the height of the table itself – including any shade that’s one it.

If you have a 24-inch sofa table, and, for instance, a 24-inch lamp on top of it, the chances are high that you’re getting good solid illumination, even with some of the more fancy shades.

But if you’re a taller person who carries a lot of length in your upper body, you might find that length of lamp to be more intrusive than illuminating. In that case, you have the option to go up to the full 1.5 times the sofa table’s height.

That would give you 36 inches of lamp and shade, on top of a 24-inch table, which should be enough to give you the lighting you need without being obtrusive.

The issue of the length of the shade comes into play here too, because if the shade is too big, there’s every chance it will contain and direct the light you want, rather than allowing it to be spread in a pool over you or the area you want to have illuminated.

Remember, the length of the shade should be between 65-90% of the length of the lamp’s base to give you the results you want.

The precise application of these formuli will differ depending on the height and nature of the sofa and the person sitting on it, but in general, they hold good.

If you’re aiming to create pools of useful and atmospheric light, to create a mood, to help someone see what’s near them in an otherwise shaded room, a lamp of anything up to 1.5 times the height of the table on which it sits is your key statistic.

Using a shade within two inches either way of the lamp’s base length, and certainly smaller than the width of the table itself, will help you have a lamp that sheds its light well, and neither dazzles nor hides its light too much to be effective.