I’ve been doing a short series on a few of the main principles of design - as a quick refresher they are Emphasis (focal point), Harmony (when all elements work together for a pleasing space), Balance (symmetrical or asymmetrical), Rhythm/Repetition (repeating a shape or motif throughout a space for continuity) and wrapping up today defining Scale and Proportion.
What Exactly is Scale?
And, why is it important? The easiest way to think about scale is to equate it with size – but with a little twist. Scale is usually described as large scale or small scale but that implies in comparison to something else.
A large scale sofa might be 10′ long and extra deep, but in a large open room it would feel right at home because the scale of the room complemented the scale of the sofa. So in comparison to the size of the room, the sofa isn’t necessarily “large scale” but in comparison to a standard sofa, it would be. Cover that large 10′ sofa with a tiny delicate floral print and it feels out of place because the print is too “small scale” for such a big piece but put on an accent chair and it would be perfect.
The large scale damask pattern of this wallpaper and the oversized headboard are examples of playing with a large scale to make a statement.
Here is a case of bad use of scale. The art in the room (while in the right proportion) is the wrong scale - it’s much too small for the size of the bed or the wall. Always look at what you hang on the wall and how it relates to the furnishings near it to make sure it’s in scale with its surroundings.
This very large room is filled with low, sleek furnishings. The large scale of the tree is important because it visually fills some of that huge amount of vertical space. The placement of the tree within the seating area is an illustration of one of Cindy’s room arrangement tips – don’t just place a plant in every empty corner, rather, pull them into the room and integrate them in the furniture groupings (read all her room arrangement tips here).
How is Proportion Different?
Proportion is a little more challenging to describe. You might be familiar with the phrase Golden Mean or Golden Rectangle (or section). It’s basically the idea that shapes, spaces, art, whatever, are more pleasing in a 2:3 ratio (that’s what the Greeks said and that’s what we rely on today). Proportion is constant regardless of the size - whereas scale (size) can vary and you can have small, medium and large of the same item. The 2:3 ratio translates to 4 x 6, 8 x 12, 16 x 24, etc. You probably recognize those dimensions as common in picture frames, rug sizes, table sizes, etc. Whether you buy a small rug at 4 x 6 or a large scale one at 16 x 24, the proportion is the same 2:3 ratio – it’s the scale that has changed.
According to the Greeks, a square is the least pleasing proportion – I don’t always agree; I think the large square piece of art nicely balances the stacked rectangles (which are in the “right” proportion). Proportion can also refer to elements of a piece of furniture – is the relationship between the arms of the sofa in proportion to the overall size of the piece? While that calculation is more complicated than we need to worry about, your eye will likely determine that something just feels “off” or uncomfortable and you might not even know why you don’t like it. Trust your gut.
This cabinet by Pottery Barn is the “perfect” proportion of 52″ x 78″ or 2:3 (give or take an inch, but who’s counting?). Why does proportion matter? Because each time it is used correctly, it creates a little spot of harmony, of pleasing restfulness.
You know how sometimes when something in the room isn’t working and your eyes keep returning to it to try to figure out why? It likely has to do with either scale or proportion. Hopefully this will help you figure out which.
Scale & Proportion Are Worth Learning About
Though proportion isn’t always something we have control over (the room shape is what it is, not the perfect 2:3 that we wish it was), but when we do we can make it work in our favor. On the other hand, scale is definitely something we can control. Make sure the sizes of the accessories or furnishings you select make sense in the space you want to use them – larger scale (size) items make a bigger impact and feel more “right” in taller, larger spaces. Small scale items are great for the “up close and personal” places in your home.
Can you believe September is almost over? Although I did a little teaser about fall earlier in the month, just wait til you see what we have coming up in October. We hope you’ll take a moment to subscribe to Your Decorating Hotline (at the very top of the page in the right hand side bar) so you don’t miss any of the fun we have planned for the upcoming months.