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Scale vs Proportion: Why should you care?

Scale or Proportion? What's the difference? They seem to be used interchangeably with one another. I am here to break it down and explain why you should care about this.

The reference of scale refers to the size of objects in relation to the human body. For example, designers use the scale of the human body when setting heights of counter-tops, dining room tables and how far apart chairs should be spaced at a kitchen island. Most of these rules-of-thumb have been standardized because it is based on the typical size of a human. If a chair seems too large for you, the scale of the chair is off compared to your body size. A good designer will consider the size (or scale) of their clients when designing the heights of open shelving or where commonly used items should be placed within a kitchen. If I am designing a new home for Shaq, the scale of items within the design will be much larger or taller than a home I am designing for a professional gymnast, Simone Biles.

Considerations of scale is found within the overall design of spaces but it can also inform us of the little things. Take a home office for example, if the space is small, the last thing you want to put in there is an over-sized executive desk and chair. The scale of the furniture can become overwhelming to the size of room.

Proportion is what designers refer to when they are describing the relationship between objects that are adjacent to one another. A large, over-sized sofa next to a small accent chair would visually appear strange. Designers consider proportion when laying out the dimensions of a room, not just furnishings. Have you ever experienced a small room with a high ceiling? How did it make you feel? The proportions of the room can be used to evoke an emotion or feeling. In the image below, proportion was used to create an emotional experience of transcendence.

When selecting furniture or layout, consider proportion prior to making your selections. For example, the coffee tables that flank a sofa should be about 2/3 as long as the sofa.

When designing a room for a specific purpose, like a living room, designers will size the room based on a 2/3 ratio. 2/3 of the room will be the main area while a smaller 1/3 will be planned out with either smaller items or storage.

Consider artwork on a wall. Artwork can be very difficult to select, especially when considering where you want items placed within your home. If you have a wall in your home that needs some artwork but not sure what size you should be considering, a simple rule of thumb can help.

The general rule of thumb is to have the artwork cover 4/7ths of the wall area you are looking at. To break it down into a simple equation, multiply the length of the wall x 0.57. This will give you the width of the artwork you should be looking for. One of the images below has artwork that is not the correct proportion to the wall. Can you tell which one?

For accessories, designers typically use odd-numbered groupings because it tends to be more aesthetically pleasing. My thought on accessories: if you like it, go for it. Your home should be a reflection of you and the accessories that you display should say something about your interests, hobbies and places you have been. I love it when I am at one of my clients homes and the conversation turns to a particular painting or sculpture that they have sitting on a fireplace mantle. I hear all about trips to international places and the people they have met. So fascinating!

I hope this short break-down of scale vs proportion can help you on your next design adventure. If you have any further questions about this topic, send me a note at I'd love to hear from you. And remember; home is where you make and share memories.

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