If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you know that I’ve been looking at the various elements of design. The one I want to start the year off with is scale and proportion.
This element is the most important in terms of functionality in a space. It’s what makes a space flow well, feel comfortable and work for your lifestyle. When you get scale and proportion right, a room looks balanced.
The terms scale and proportion do have slightly different definitions, but they are often used interchangeably. A simple way to remember the difference is that scale is the size of something, and proportion is the size of something relative to something else.
I’ll give you an example. Several years ago my family rented a beach house for vacation. It was built by the owners and they were very tall so they had adjusted the cabinetry so the counters were raised up above the more common height of 3 feet.
It was scaled for the size of the homeowners, but our family is not as tall. We felt like we were navigating a space built for giants as we chopped vegetables at chest level and grabbed stools to reach the upper cabinets. Also, the higher cabinetry closed in the room making it feel much smaller. We felt a bit like hobbits who had left the shire.
When correct scale is observed a space works well and feel comfortable and un-cramped.
Proportion is less about comfort and more a tool for creating emphasis, variety and energy in a space. It’s also incredibly easy to get wrong and the best place to play around with it is with your decorative accents like art, lamps, mirrors, rugs and vases.
A formula that can be easily applied to determine the perfect proportions for one object in relation to another is the golden ratio of 1.62. Yes, it’s math. If one item is 1.62 times larger than another, they will look good together. It works.
However, don’t think that every object must be exactly proportional with the ones around it. This is a recipe for going crazy. Rather consider it a tool if you are stuck and need to decide what to do.
Here are some rules of thumb for getting scale and proportion right in your space:
>> use oversize accessories or accents to draw emphasis to an area like a table, hallway vignette or kitchen island
>> match the scale of your furnishings to one another, not necessarily the pieces, chunky sofas go with chunky accent chairs and delicate side tables need delicate lamps
>> match the scale of things that need to balance one another out like the sidetable and the lamp that sits on it, or the sofa and the accent chairs
>> mix it up a bit because when everything is the same size nothing stands out and that is what gives a space personality
>> too much variation starts to look like clutter, you can instantly improve a space by grouping items of like size or material together so they give the impression of being one object instead of many
>> a common trick to create more impact in a room is to hang the drapery at the height of the ceiling instead of the windows to give the illusion of height, or to run drapery all the way to the edge of the walls even if the window is not that large
>> when working with scale start with the largest item in the room and build out from there
I’ve created a pinterest board with a few examples of scale and proportion in action for you to check out. What do you like? What are your biggest design challenges when it comes to scale?
You can read my other posts on design elements here: