Kathleen's Tips

Scale and Color Juxtaposition

Scale and Color Juxtaposition

To achieve a harmonious scale in your home, it is important to understand the power of color juxtaposition.  Color has a huge influence on scale.  White and light colors have the power to enlarge objects or a space visually, while dark colors do the opposite, diminishing scale.  The darker the color, the more visual weight the object acquires, attracting your attention.

How can you use this knowledge to enhance the rooms in your home?

  • If you want a small room to appear larger, painting the walls a light color will visually double the space.  Whenever you see a need for expansiveness, consider a light color. If you want to feel cozy and enclosed, bring your walls in toward you by painting them a dark color.  Paint the bookcases, the cabinets, and all the trim the same color so you feel cradled in the space.
  • In a room with low ceilings, if you have old wooden beams overhead that appear heavy to your eye, consider changing their color.  The lighter the color, the more airy, expansive, even ethereal, the ceiling will appear.  If you do not want to paint over the wood, paint the ceiling between the beams a light color (i.e., sky blue) in order to avoid the problem of too high a contrast between a white, light ceiling, and heavy beams.
  • A bleached floor looks expansive because it gives the illusion of being a higher floor.  By the same token, light on a floor tends to heighten it.  A dark-stained floor would look as much as a foot lower.

A mix of retail-store cabinets and shelves surround a new electric fireplace and wall-mounted TV. By wrapping the unit in the same molding and lacquer-like paint finish as the rest of the space, it looks like an expensive built-in. {Better Homes & Garden}

A light color throw rug over the dark floor anchors the soft colors of the furniture and upholstery. Without the rug the effect would be jarring.

Color can appear bright or subdued depending on its juxtaposition. Here are a few tips on the use of color and its effect on scale:

      • When you want to diminish the scale or dimensions of a large piece of furniture, paint it or cover it in the same color as its background. Recently, I designed for a client a navy blue study with birchwood bookcases on two opposite walls.  The client questioned whether we should paint over the wood.  I never intended the bookcases to be anything other than navy blue so they wouldn’t stand out in the small room.  In their natural honey color, they looked out of scale against the navy blue.  Once they were painted they looked perfect, visually half the bulk as when they were unpainted.
      • If you have an ugly side chair or footstool, paint it the same color as the wall so it will fade into the background.  If you have an oversized piece of non-quality furniture—an armoire, for example— paint it the same color as the wall so that it will look less prominent.
      • A dark coffee table on a dark rug feels anchored.  A light-colored table against a dark rug appears to float, feeling unstable.
      • If on a large wall you have an object—like an architectural fragment or decorative ledge—that contrasts in color with the wall the outline of the form is prominent and the piece appears to be larger than it is because the strength of its shape gives it character and a sense of weight.
      • In a small space, use the same hue in a variety of different shades so that the objects do not stand out and take up too much visual space.

This oversized armoire painted the same color as the wall appears less prominent in the small room.  The floors have been painted a light color giving the room a more expansive, light feel.


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