Think of living-room lamps as one part light and one part sculpture. They should be lovely to look at whether on or off. Just make sure they don't block the view or get in the way of conversation.
Height: Most living rooms can handle a lamp that's 26 to 34 inches tall. "But you don't want to be looking up into the hardware," says Jamie Young, a Los Angeles lighting designer. To see if your lamp is right for a given table, sit on the sofa or the chair next to it, she says. "The bottom of the shade shouldn't fall higher than eye level."
Base: Even a skinny, candlestick-style base should be substantially weighted so those who talk with their hands don't rock the lamp if they bump it accidentally.
Positioning: Rooms should have a light source every 10 feet or so. If a lamp is on a table between a sofa and a chair, "consider a thin or transparent base," says Steven Sclaroff, an interior designer in New York, "so sight lines―and conversation―flow freely."
Shade: A fabric or semiopaque paper shade gives a warm, flattering glow. Near a TV, an opaque shade of any material can minimize glare. In general, drum shades look more modern; conical ones, more traditional. A shade should never extend past a table's perimeter.
Bulb: If you intend to use your lamp for reading, make sure the bulb is at least 60 watts; a three-way bulb or a dimmer will modulate the brightness.
Style: A living room is a great place for a lamp made from a favorite object, such as a vase. Most lighting-repair stores can help with the wiring.
A candlelight dinner is great, but you also need at least one lamp so you can see what's what without disrupting the romantic mood. A lamp (or two) on the sideboard also give the room a finished look.
Height: In dining rooms, table lamps help fill out light from chandeliers or other sources. On a sideboard or a surface other than the dining table, try a design with lots of height and drama. "The lamp can be about 20 to 36 inches tall," says Young. But keep in mind that a lamp shouldn't be so tall that it shines light in diners' eyes.
Base: A slim-based lamp takes up less room, freeing up space for flowers, platters of food, or stacks of tableware.
Positioning: When hosting a dinner, you'll probably want the table lamp or lamps placed at the ends of a sideboard to keep food, plates, and the like in the center.
Shade: Don't go jumbo size, since sideboards are usually slim, says Young. If you have a lamp that you'd like to fit with a narrower shade, bring the lamp to a store that specializes in lamp shades, says Marc Engelson, an owner of Just Shades, in New York City. It's the easiest way to get the best fit. An opaque shade with a metallic interior in shiny nickel or gold will cast a romantic glow, says Sclaroff.
Bulb: Generally, keep the wattage below 60 (plug-in dimmers are helpful). A silver-tipped bulb will cut glare.
Style: If you opt for a pair of lamps, they don't have to be twins, says Thomas O'Brien, a lighting designer and decorator in New York City, "as long as they have some visual element in common," like color or material.
First things first: The lamp should be pretty enough for your private sanctuary. Then check the angle and height of the light so they're just right for curling up in bed with your favorite book.
Height: The right size depends on the height of your night table, but most experts agree that to keep you from staring up into the shade, a bedside lamp shouldn't top 30 inches when it's next to a tall bed. If you like to read in bed, you'll want the light to fall on the page, not in your partner's eyes.
Base: A bedside lamp shouldn't be flimsy, but it shouldn't be hulking, either. "You'll need room on the table for an alarm clock, reading glasses, and your book," says Schuyler Samperton, an interior designer in Los Angeles and a co-owner of Broad Beach, a lighting company.
Positioning: Place the lamp close to the wall, says Sclaroff, to make space on the table for other essentials.
Shade: Keep the shade small so you won't bang into it when you're fumbling for the alarm clock. Metal shades can help direct light onto a book but can seem cold in a bedroom. Fabric and paper shades are best.
Bulb: A two-bulb cluster allows you to use different wattages: one bright for reading, one dim for relaxing.
Style: Consider the size of the bed. "You can handle a pretty big lamp if you have a large sleigh bed or a four-poster," says Young. "But if you have a low bed, you'll want something smaller." Also, try a lamp with a switch on the cord; you won't have to stretch far to turn it off when you find yourself starting to doze.
A child's bedroom calls for playful touches. (Why shouldn't a desk for homework look fun?) But, above all, make it safe: Table lamps should be steady and composed of tough stuff.
Height: Little kids require little lamps, whether the lamps sit on a desk or next to the bed. Keep your child's age and size in mind and choose accordingly.
Base: A sturdy, weighted base is a must to prevent tip-overs. Pick a material that can handle hard knocks, such as metal, plastic, or wood. A single-piece plastic lamp and shade, like the one pictured at right, will resist roughhousing.
Positioning: Put an inviting lamp on the desk to perk up the homework zone. Also, make sure the cord can be easily tucked out of the way.
Shade: Scale it down. An oversize shade will get knocked around. Avoid metal shades, which become hot, and fabric shades, which are hard to clean (and expensive to replace). Try a plain paper shade and let your budding Frida Kahlo embellish it with markers.
Bulb: Low wattage is the best bet (save the brighter bulbs for overhead). "And never put a halogen bulb in a child's lamp," warns Fred Adler, a project designer for Home Depot. "After five minutes, it's too hot to touch."
Style: Unlike in other areas of the house, "you don't need to be sophisticated or try to match the lamp with everything," says Young. You also don't need to spend a fortune: In no time, your child will want to exchange the lamp with a fighter-plane motif for a lava lamp.