beautiful proportion and scale


Last column I talked about scale, and how not understanding scale can really mess up an otherwise good design plan. I recently read a blog post by an ‘expert’ who said that proportion and scale were the same thing and the words could be interchanged. Such nonsense is probably one of the reasons so many people have problems with scale in their home designs.

So today, I’m going to expound a bit on proportion. It goes hand in hand with scale but it is not the same thing at all. Scale is the size of an item relative to its surroundings. Proportion is the size of each component of a piece and how it relates to the whole piece. Proportion includes scale, but the two are not the same thing.

Bad  Scale: A huge sofa in a tiny living room, a tiny sofa table in front of a large sofa, an over-sized mirror above a vanity-sized entry table. A rug too small for the room; out of proportion drapery; nasty picture display, plant and pots too small.  Side tables and lamps unusable.

poor proportion and scale
This room has it all, bad scale and bad proportion.

Bad Proportion: A heavy table top with spindly legs. Heavy legs topped with a lattice table-top.

top heavy sideboard
This one is top heavy — or leg light.

An 18-inch long valance mounted just at the top of the window frame, covering up one-third of the window. The same valance over drapes which stop half-way between the window frame and the floor.  A large coffee cup with a handle so tiny you can’t put your fingers through it.  I know you have all seen these things.

Now, having said all that; get this:  scale affects proportion within an item.  Just as the large sofa and small room are out of scale, within an item the components can be out of scale. Back to the heavy table top with spindly legs. The table top and legs are out of proportion because the scale is wrong. Either the legs are too spindly or the top is too heavy.  Either way, the piece is not in proportion because the scale of the components is   not balanced.  

Once you start looking for good proportion, you will see the good scale too, and this understanding will positively affect your room designs.  And you will also see astoundingly bad scale that creates bad proportions, like in these three images. 

overtall lamps

scale and proportion big wall paper

sideboard skinny legs

So, use items that have good proportion within themselves and think of the surrounding pieces and the size of the room when using them in design. This last image is a busy room but the proportions and scale of every single thing in the room is in balance. Each piece works within the space, and with it’s neighbour. Its a beautiful room; nothing jumps out yelling “Look at ME!” It’s peaceful, easy and calm.

beautiful proportion and scale
Good proportion and scale. Wonderful room.


Written by