Kathleen's Tips

Manipulating the Scale of a Space

When decorating our homes most of us know what we like but the challenge is often how to pull it all together. Scale and proportion, two very common interior design terms, are what make a home or room warm and inviting- and neither one costs a dime.

Scale refers to how an item relates to the size of the room and is determined by physical dimensions and presence.  Everyone and everything has a scale that falls in the range of small to large, short to tall, or refined to bold. Personality, design, material, distance, placement, and color all influence scale. These variables can either heighten or diminish an object’s physical size by illusion. When you understand scale, you can assemble more harmoniously scaled possessions for your rooms, creating a comfortable living environment. For example, a large overstuffed sofa crammed into a small living room is the wrong scale for the room.  Because scale is relative, juxtaposition is perhaps the most crucial element of scale.  If you change an object’s location, its scale changes.  An average-sized table can look oversized in a small room when squeezed into a tight space.  When we learn to see and feel certain qualities of scale in objects, we can group them in harmonious ways.

Here are a few design tips:

  • Rather than clutter a small space with small objects, try a few well-selected, large-scale objects against light walls to enlarge the appearance of the area.  Your eye is drawn to the large, bold objects and away from the unobtrusive walls.  The furniture will also fool you into thinking the room is of a substantial scale.  If you put a lot of things in a small space, it looks too fussy.
  • You can make a large room feel cozier by arranging several different seating areas, visually breaking the room into several spaces.
  • If large-scale objects are too close to one another, they “fight” for breathing space and dominance.  For example, you shouldn’t have a king-sized bed close to a large armoire.  You want to see both with the space around them.
  • If you like large-scaled furniture, use fewer and well-proportioned pieces, or your room will look crowded.
  • It’s important to have “white space” in a room. This is the space around and above furniture.  The eye needs room to rest, so provide it by leaving some surfaces uncovered and some walls alone.

Your Homework

Take a good look throughout the rooms of your home exploring the proportions of your objects and the scale of the furnishings.  If something doesn’t feel right, it probably doesn’t have the correct scale or proportion for the space. Rearrange it, remove it or replace it until you achieve the right balance of proportion and scale for the room. Your eye, as well as common sense, will guide you. You should feel comfortable in your daily life, finding a scale that fits your size and suits you emotionally.

Similiar upholstered pieces create a sense of unity, the furniture styles have similar lines and look harmonious together. The artwork and planters on either side of the door are balanced. Together, everything in this room works.

Designer Susan Ferrier created multiple seating arrangements in a large space. Everything relates to their basic style, curves, and general proportions, including the height of the back. Because the chairs are smaller than the sofa, the arms are scaled down appropriately.