Scale and proportion are one of those basic principals that every designer is taught as a basic element. (To differentiate the two: Scale is one object compared to another. Proportion is the ratio of one element to another or one element to the whole) .For the average homeowner scale is not something that is thought about – but not thinking about it will lead to some costly mistakes.
Here are two common scale errors to look out for:
~ 1 – Furniture size ~
It’s absolutely a-ok to play around with furniture sizes. Oversized arm chairs can be fun and can totally suit a space. But they can also look totally ridiculous.
For example, I had one client who purchased some furniture without consulting me. She ended up picking a diminutive leather loveseat and a chair-and-a-half sized armchair. The two pieces were almost the same size! There was no way to configure them to create a seating area that worked. If she had asked for my help, I would have picked two small armchairs instead of the one large one. That way it is easy to create a seating area that is balanced, plus you have many layout options.
Another example is the king-sized bed. A lot of people want these but they are relatively new to the marketplace. In fact up until the sixties, most people would use double beds (which are generally considered too small for two people these days). This means that most older houses generally can’t accomodate them. If your master suite is overtaken by the bed, it makes the whole space feel boxed in and uncomfortable. Leave some breathing room around the edges for walking and opening drawers and closet doors. Again, if you have the space, by all means, upgrade your bedsize.
Still lost? The easiest way to see if your furniture proportions are correct to both each other and the size of the room is by putting everything on paper. You don’t need to make it complicated. Just use plain old graph paper and some paper cut outs for furniture. Make sure you leave some breathing room – empty space is also important!
~ 2 – Art ~
Diminutive art is my biggest pet peeve. One 7 x 11 picture frame hanging by itself on a wall will never look good. I understand why this happens: they are cheap and readily available. In fact, you probably have dozens, right? That does not mean it okay to hang one – just one – over your sofa. If you can’t find a large-scale piece of art, then you need to fake the correct scale by grouping several pieces together. Please only use small frames in a grouping. Don’t hang just one. Ever!
Scale Problems You Just Can’t Fix
Now there are probably some things about your space that could benefit from a scaling that you cannot change. For example, windows! An unusually small window can pose a problem on a large wall. Think about those awkward basement windows that are up unusually high on the wall – or even worse, place off to one side. My favorite trick for this is to hide the source of the problem with clever drapery. Wall-to-wall drapes hung at normal height will make your room feel “normal” – even if only at night! You can also place drapes in such a way as to make a window seem centered in the space. If you have to, find a way to trick the eye! It works.
When to Break the Rules
I love scale when it is used for impact. For example, a hugely-oversized planter in one corner of a living room makes a statement. Or how about on your patio? I would much rather see one over-scale object in a space than a ton of tiny little objects. It gives impact and is still minimal and clean. If you can find one oversized piece that you love (and have the room for) by all means, go for it! One large piece will set your space apart from the rest.
I am also an advocate for some carefully-considered oversized furnishings used in a small space. Sometimes ignoring the “rules” and putting in a large piece fools the eye and makes a space seem more grand than it really is. I think you can get away with a large sectional in a condo, as long as you still have room for everything else (side tables, coffee table, room to move!). On that note, if you are buying something very large make sure that you take the time measure your doorways to ensure your new treasure will actually fit inside! There is nothing worse than buying a new sofa only to have it not fit up the staircase.
When it comes down to it, my advice is when in doubt scale up! So go on and have some fun with it.