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How to Use Scale and Proportion for Better Interior Design

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Apr 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Though you might hear the words “scale” and “proportion” used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the distinction when it comes to interior design principles. Once you know the difference between scale and proportion, you'll be able to use these two concepts to balance design elements the next time you redesign a room.

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What Is the Difference Between Scale and Proportion?

In the world of design, scale and proportion both have to do with the size of objects in a given context.

  • Scale is an understanding of how the size of one object in a space relates to the size of the other objects in the space, as well as the size of the space itself. Scale also describes the size of an object in relation to the human figure; for example, furniture is designed to human scale.
  • Proportion is an understanding of the scale of specific design elements on a single object; these elements include size, shape, texture, and color. Proportion is concerned with the relationship between parts of a whole.

Learn Kelly Wearstler’s Tips for Using Proportion in Your Home

6 Tips for Using Scale and Proportion in Interior Design

If you’re a DIY decorator looking to master some new principles of design, there are a few general rules to consider when it comes to working with scale and proportion:

  1. Repeat patterns and shapes. Repeated shapes are pleasing to the eye and a great way to balance the proportions of a space. For example, if you have square windows in a living room, you might echo that shape with a patterned area rug. Recurring patterns can unite disparate elements of design within a room, but be judicious and don’t go overboard with repetition.
  2. Scale design elements to a room’s ceiling height. High ceilings call for larger, more stately furniture, while low ceilings call for smaller, more modest furniture. Consider the scale of your moldings as well: If you’re working with high ceilings, you may want more substantial moldings. How moldings relate to the overall architecture is something to consider because they can make or break the space. Odd proportions can turn out to be very cool, but make sure to keep them in mind when designing.
  3. Design around your most important piece of furniture. Decide which piece of furniture you want to be central to a room, then build out the rest of your design with this piece of furniture in mind. For example, if you have a large dining room, furnish it first with a large dining room table, then design the rest of the room from there.
  4. Leave room for negative space. Negative space refers to the empty space within a design. To keep a room’s design from looking too busy, leave certain areas blank. When hanging wall art in both small and large rooms, make sure to leave white space around the frames; it's best to let the walls breathe rather than covering up every square inch.
  5. Use the golden ratio. The golden ratio (also known as the golden mean) is approximately equal to 1.618. The golden ration reoccurs throughout the worlds of science and design: The proportions of the human body, the designs of ancient Greek architecture, and certain works of art by Leonardo da Vinci all involve this golden ratio. The ratio (which is roughly 60/40) is useful for interior designers seeking to achieve visual balance when furnishing a room. Filling 60 percent of your floor space with furniture and leaving 40 percent open makes a room feel complete without appearing overcrowded.
  6. Ensure that all furniture is to scale. Though the relative size of a piece of furniture should generally be to scale with the size of the room, it’s more important that each object be scaled to the rest of the furniture. For example, you can make large furniture work in a small room as long it is to scale with other pieces of furniture in the room (and doesn't take up more than 60 percent of the floor plan). A big sofa and a big coffee table might work well together in a small room, but a small sofa and a big coffee table will rarely look right combined.
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