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Transform a Light Fixture with New Glass Shades

A Victorian sconce takes on a completely different look depending on the shade: a plain opal ball (left), and art glass flame (center), and an etched glass globe (right). 

On many light fixtures, the glass shade is the star of the show. Whether it's a simple chain pendant with a painted drum or a Victorian chandelier with a cluster of cut-glass globes, the fixture itself plays only a supporting role. Therefore, a broken or missing shade can be both a tragedy and an opportunity! While you may want to replace it with something that closely matches the original, you can also update your fixture with something completely new. Given the wide range of exciting options available today, it's an easy endeavor to restore or transform your favorite light with glass shades.  

Finding a shade that fits your fixture size-wise is the first priority, but choosing the style, shape, and color of glass is where the fun begins! You can be guided by the design and finish of your light fixture (Victorian, Arts & Crafts, etc.), the style of your home (traditional vs. contemporary), or the decor of the room it will be installed in (take cues from fabrics, hardware, and molding). Choices run from plain to patterned, clear to colored, sculpted to streamlined, and more. Continue reading for everything you need to know about finding the perfect shade(s) for your remarkable fixture.

How Glass Shades are Measured

There are three important dimensions for glass shades: fitter size, height, and width. The fitter is the flared lip that is inserted into the fixture's shade holder. The outer lip and the inner diameter of the shade holder are referred to as the "fitter size". Common diameters for shade holders are 2¼", 3¼", 4", 6", 8”, 10" and 12". The fitter on a  shade will measure nominally smaller to fit into the correspondingly sized shade holder. 

The height of a glass shade is taken from the base of the lip to the bottom of the shade (the part visible when installed). The width is measured across the widest portion of the shade, which may be the top, middle, or bottom, depending on the shade type.

2 1/4" Fitter Shade Holder

4" Fitter Shade Holder

6" Fitter Shade Holder

Finding the Right Size Shade for Your Fixture

When choosing a new shade (or shades) for your fixture, first determine the fitter size by measuring either the existing shade or the shade holder. You don't want to fall in love with a shade that simply won't fit! Once you have narrowed your choice to a size category, you will have dozens of color, design, and period-style options to choose from.

2 1/4" Fitter Glass Shades

While the smallest of all shade sizes, these are also the most versatile in application. They can be found on sconces, desk lamps, pendants, flush mounts, and chandeliers from the late 1800s to the present day.

3 1/4" Fitter Glass Shades

Shades in this hard-to-find size are primarily for use on antique fixtures. They were most common on single pendants, chandeliers, and smaller flush mounts in the early 20th century. 

4" Fitter Glass Shades

Shades in this popular size are found on fixtures throughout the home. Commonly used on medium-sized pendants and single ceiling lights, they are also found on exterior wall lights. 

6" Fitter Glass Shades​​​​​​​

If you have a single pendant or flush mount with an oversized shade, chances are it has a 6" fitter. Due to their substantial scale, such shades are ideal for statement fixtures over a kitchen island or close-to-ceiling lights for larger rooms. 

8" and Larger Fitter Glass Shades

With fitters ranging from 8” - 12”, these large, bowl-shaped shades are almost exclusively used for three-rod (or chain) pendants and pan-light chandeliers, styles popular in the early 20th century. The shades may be suspended in a traditional shade fitter or attached with clips to three or more individual supports.  

Special Shade Types

Most glass light shades will work on any number of fixture types - a 2 1/4" bell shade might be found on a wall sconce, a pendant, or even a chandelier. Some shades, however, are designed exclusively for a specific type of light fixture. A Victorian gas light, for example, will only accept an open globe, while an Art Deco torchier requires a large bowl-like shade to reflect light upwards. Select an image below to shop shades guaranteed to suit that type of lighting. 

EARLY GASOLIER SHADES. The earliest gas-light fixtures (1850s - 1870s) supported globe shades with a 2 1/2” fitter. Gas shades were designed as an open bowl or globe with a circular cut out to allow heat from the flame to escape. 

GAS LIGHT SHADES.  Bowl or open globe shades with a 4” fitter became the standard for gas-light fixtures from the 1880s on. The wider opening at the base was developed to improve combustion. 

TORCHIERE LAMP SHADES.  Popular from the 1920s through the 1940s, torchier lamps added a touch of glamour and much-needed illumination to many living rooms. This unique shade features a deep stem that rests in the vase-like shade holder. 

CANDELABRA FIXTURE SHADES.  Made of cloth, paper, or mica, these clip-on shades are a wonderful way to dress up a candle-arm chandelier or sconce and to diffuse light from the otherwise exposed bulbs. 

Art Glass Shades

Popularized in the early 20th century by glass makers such as Steuben, Quezal, and Tiffany, handcrafted glass shades introduced a new level of artistry into home lighting. Blending organic shapes with lustrous colors and iridescent finishes, art glass shades will transform any fixture with period elegance. Shop reproduction art glass style shades here.

Shopping Shades by Period Style

 If you know the era of the light fixture you wish to update, then shopping for shades by period-style may be the way to go. By narrowing your search to "Victorian " or "Art Deco, " for example, you'll find all the shades in various sizes that suit that style to a T. Of course, there is nothing to stop you from taking an eclectic approach and marrying shades and fixtures of contrasting styles!  

Shop All Glass Shades & Fabric Chandelier Shades