Proportion of scale makes a room feel right

May 29, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Syndicate

When designers talk about proportion in a room setting, the term they use is scale. If the scale is off in a room, you can tell because things just do not feel agreeable.

If the furniture you arrange over and over in a room without sparkling results continues to bother you, most likely there is something wrong with the scale of the pieces to the space. Try as you might, you will never succeed in making the room feel quite right until the offending parts are corrected.

Very often when I receive an SOS from a person in a panic, it is because they have already purchased a costly piece of furniture that looks terrible in their house.

What went wrong?

With furniture and artwork, the important characteristic is getting the ratio between the pieces and the room space just right. One needs to consider several factors: The ceiling height, the amount of natural light and the amount of room available for easy circulation through and around the room.


It is important to avoid buying something just because it is on sale. Instead, choose furniture that is in good scale with your space. It is a waste of money to buy items that are too deep, too tall or too large for a room.

Beverly Hills interior designer James Swan designed the room in the photo for Ballard Designs' spring 2009 collection. What makes this assemblage comfortable? I will dissect it for you.

First, notice the individual pieces are not large. The drop-leaf desk is thin and not terribly tall. The use of two delicate, open armchairs on either side of the sofa allows us to see space around and through the legs and arms. The choice of an upholstered chair would have created a solid block instead of the more permeable feeling that these two black frame chairs achieve.

For the cocktail table, Swan selected four tiny leather cubes that can pull apart, or together function as one table. The inch or so of space between the four cubes is enough to establish that this is not a monolithic shape.

Swan placed a low, narrow, open bookcase along the wall. He anchors the piece with two chunky lamps and hung the mirror relatively low above them. The one large piece of framed art is hung just above the sofa, which again keeps the eye focused on the petite arrangement.

Never be afraid to combine a few bold items with more delicate furniture pieces. It is often the unexpected combination of accessories with small furniture that spices up a space.

If instead of the sunburst mirror the designer had used a small framed mirror, the impact would be lost. People often create "visual noise" by employing too many small, framed items in a petite setting. You might be better served with one dynamite piece instead of five unimportant and easily forgettable items.

Another favorable element of Swan's design is that not every item matches. Never be afraid of mixing different finishes and materials. It gives a room an interesting patina. Wood finishes can be differ from piece to piece as long as everything ends up appearing "friendly" together!

Swan chose a neutral, textured area rug. But this room would have been successful had he chosen a patterned oriental carpet with black and brown mixed into a colorful motif. He chose bonsai plants, but he could just as effictively chosen a white orchid or bromeliad for an exotic feel.

I encourage you to be particular about the accessories and artwork in your rooms. Consider prowling through antique and vintage shops for a one-of-a-kind items you won't see at every retailer this season or next. In fact, you might already have in your home a treasure that is waiting to be discovered.

o Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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