I’ve recently started a new design project in THE most beautiful maisonette in Hackney, East London. It’s part of a huge Victorian building that has been converted into several different living quarters and it has given me some major house envy, with its amazingly high ceilings and huge bay windows, it’s so dreamy..
Beautiful, oversized bay windows – an original Victorian feature in the flat
Anyway, the design brief calls for some help with the interior styling of the living room as my client feels that it doesn’t have any real structure and wants to achieve a more grounded and harmonious scheme and most importantly wants to ensure that the beautiful, Victorian features of the room are enhanced to their fullest potential. Now all interior designers know how integral both scale and proportion are to a successful design scheme and getting the right balance is key to achieving spatial harmony within a room. This is a challenge in a room of any size be it a room with dramatically high ceilings or on the other end of the spectrum, one that may resemble a cupboard. So here is my take on scale and how to use it and use it well.
SCALE = The size of things
PROPORTION = The relationship between them
Examples of a perfect balance between
Scale & Proportion
Examples of unbalanced scale & proportion
I have always had a bit of an OCD about where things are placed and how things are positioned, from cushions on a sofa to photo frames on a window sill, if something doesn’t look quite right I literally can’t bear it and I have to keep moving things around until everything is arranged in a way that I deem to be aesthetically perfect. I can remember doing this from a young age, always making sure my bedroom looked just right, meticulously arranging trinkets and photo frames on my windowsill and carefully balancing the layout of the posters on my wall.
Scale and proportion are integral to a successful design scheme but how can you get them just right?
So there is this theory known as the ‘Golden Ratio’ which some designers swear by. Now to put it simply and without boring you all to death, the Golden Ratio is a mathematical ratio that is commonly found in nature, and when used in design, is believed to foster organic and natural looking compositions that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This ratio – 1:1.61, to be exact – has been found to account for everything from the structure of musical sequences, architectural designs dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and even the proportions of the human face.
I am not going to bore you with any more details of this because, although I’m sure that this theory is scientifically proven and blah, blah, blah…. I don’t think that it is an accessible way to implement design and I chose not to bother with it myself because
a) I HATE MATHS and I am terrible at it and I’m sure that most creative people are
b) The most important thing about designing a room is how it makes you feel
As a designer I think that one of the most important things is how a room makes you feel and that in itself makes interior design so much more accessible to everybody – Hooray!
Different rooms serve different purposes both in terms of practicality and in the feelings that they evoke and when it comes to designing and styling a room I think that this is a completely personal thing based on your individual personality.
So my advice is to trust your instinct and not to sit down and study the golden ratio until your brain hurts!
But having said that scale and proportion are still important and certainly not a factor that should be overlooked so here are a couple of key tips that can be used in all rooms great and small…
CoMBiNe DiFFeReNT HeiGhTS
This is especially important in a room that has high ceilings. All that vast wall space can feel a bit overwhelming but you don’t need to plaster every inch of the walls with artwork and pictures. Think about using differing heights in all aspects of the room. For example with a high ceiling have a statement piece of lighting that hangs just above eye level and creates a focal point in the room and combine tall pieces of furniture with a few shorter pieces so that the eye is drawn both up and down, this not only works to promote the visual appeal of the space but it also tackles the height of the ceiling without making the room feel too cluttered. Same rule applies to a room with a lower ceiling but obviously on a smaller scale (by this I mean you won’t get away with using a huge pendant light in a room with a lower ceiling of course). Just trust your instinct, really look at room and use varying heights to create more depth, just remember to keep it balanced and think about the room as a whole from floor to ceiling, it really is that simple!
This room demonstrates a variety of different heights from lighting to furniture to accessories
Focal Points are the answer
Every room no matter how small should have a focal point. This can be anything from a fireplace, to a window with a picturesque view, a bold statement sofa or even a television (although this is not the most aesthetically pleasing but probably one of the most common!), it is quite simply an element that your eyes are drawn to when you enter a room. So why are focal points relevant to the use of scale in a room? Well the focal point is what will ground the design and layout of a room and everything should radiate out from this point. It doesn’t have to be something particularly large or grand but the focal point will aid you in getting the scale and proportion of a room just right. For example if the fireplace is the focal point, you will likely have a piece of art or a large mirror hanging above it on the chimney breast to create more of a feature on this wall. On the mantelpiece you would then perhaps have some small decorative items to balance out the scale in this area of the room and add a level of contrast to the proportion. From here other elements of the room will radiate out, like the sofa would perhaps face the fireplace with maybe a floor lamp next to it which would be smaller but taller so would add height but is again a contrast in proportion to the sofa. The sofa may have cushions on it, perhaps that are slightly different sizes or shapes to add more visual interest and also to break up the size of the sofa.
This room has two focal points, the mirror and the coffee table. The large mirror is flanked by two smaller wall lights and the coffee table is decorated with smaller items such as the tray and the vase. The armchairs radiate out from the coffee table as it is a focal point.
Last of all…
In a small room, don’t be afraid to have anything too large. It is a common misconception that you can’t have, for example a large sofa in a small room because it would be counterintuitive. This is only ever true if said sofa is so large that it is causing an obstruction or making it difficult to move around easily in any way. Just remember that a boldly sized piece of furniture, lighting or décor will help to ground the room and give it some weight. What you should avoid doing in a small room, is having too many small items, such as lots of small pictures on the wall because this will simply reinforce the feeling of small.
This small living room uses the oversized rug and sofa to ground the space and smaller accents such as the floor lamp and the coffee table to define the balance between scale and proportion.
Whereas this small living room feels somewhat cluttered and lacking in space as there are too many small pieces of wall décor spread around the room with only the sofa offering a bit of weight to the space, the balance is off as the contrast in scale is too harsh.
In a larger room the main thing to remember is that the larger the space, the more focal points you will need. This is the key way to create spacial harmony in this type of environment.
In this room the focal points are the statement ceiling light, the television wall and the huge windows. There is a good balance of proportion in this space.
In this room the fireplace and artwork make up one strong focal point within the space with the oversized house plant acting as another. The proportion of the rest of the furniture has been carefully scaled to compliment the focal points, resulting in a harmonious scheme.
In my opinion a well balanced room will make you feel happy and content and that is what I strongly believe your home should always do for you. A large piece of art will add drama and give a room a more opulent feel, while a decorative table lamp will add a feeling of warmth and cosiness. When designing a room think about how you want that room to make you feel, find or create a focal point and then work on varying the scale and proportion until you find the right balance. Don’t doubt yourself and be bold with your decisions – you can do it!