The Problem With Your Living Room Design That You Can’t Put Your Finger On

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WORDS BY Sara Watson

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Published on September 26, 2023

We’d categorize scale as one of those unsexy, somewhat mathematical design principles that just happens to be incredibly important. Without considering scale when designing your home, each room will feel disjointed, disproportionate, and just a bit off. Like balance, negative space, and flow, scale is a foundational principle of good interior design.

So, let’s start off with a basic definition: Scale refers to how the size of one object relates to the size of another in a space, and how those objects relate to the size of the overall room. Proportion is a word you might hear a lot when talking about scale, but the former is a little more specific: this design term typically refers to an object’s shape, and how that shape relates to other items in the room.

Luckily, all you really need to know is that both scale and proportion highlight how design elements relate to one another in your space — and usually, you can use the terms interchangeably. Now that you know what scale means, here’s how to use it to elevate your home.

Scale in Interior Design: Consider the Goldilocks principle

Scale in interior design | What is scale

Havenly designer Heather Goerzen likens scale to the classic Goldilocks story. “You don’t want anything that’s too big or too small, but rather just right,” she says. Heather adds that scale is incredibly important when creating a comfortable, balanced space that feels perfectly pulled together. “When things are ‘out of scale’—like a sofa that’s too large or too small for a space—the entire room feels out of balance.” 

Scale in Interior Design: Lean on the "Golden Ratio"

Scale in interior design | What is scale

What’s an easy designer rule of thumb to help you nail scale in your space? “The Golden Ratio,” Heather says. “In layman’s terms, that simply means approaching your space in one-third or two-third measurements.” Take your sofa and coffee table, for example: When thinking about scale and proportion, you’d ideally want your coffee table to take up about two-thirds the length of your sofa.

Other examples include choosing a side table that’s about one-third the size of a corresponding accent chair, hanging a statement piece of art that covers one-third of the wall, or installing a chandelier that’s either one-third or two-thirds the width of the dining table. While Heather notes that she views the “Golden Ratio” more as a guiding framework rather than a hard-and-fast rule (because we believe those are meant to be broken), it’s a helpful way to visualize scale in your space and allow for better planning.

Scale in Interior Design: Start From the Bottom

Scale in interior design | What is scale

While artwork, furniture, and accessories all benefit from thoughtful scale and proportion, one of the most important elements to consider is right under your feet. “When rugs aren’t proportional to the space, it easily throws off a design,” Heather says. Rugs should be large enough to fit at least the front two legs of all pieces of furniture on them. “Not next to them—on them,” she adds. “When a piece floats off the rug, it’s a clear indication that you should size up.”

Scale in Interior Design: And Work Your Way Up

Scale in interior design | What is scale

Ceiling height can be a helpful tool for determining the size of pieces in a room. In general, rooms—even small ones!—with higher ceilings look great with larger, more stately furniture, while rooms with lower ceilings do best with low-slung pieces. This is an easy rule-of-thumb to consider when nailing scale and proportion throughout your home. 

Scale in Interior Design: Don't Forget Negative Space

Scale in interior design | What is scale

Image credit: The Inside

Heather already mentioned how scale facilitates balance—but a part of that balance is breathing room. If every wall were decorated and every square-inch of space accounted for, a room would feel overwhelming and claustrophobic. “While in general, it’s better to choose pieces on the larger side (particularly for area rugs), be sure to leave a bit of blank space,” she concludes. “Not only will this let other design elements shine, it will also keep a room from looking too busy.”

Want to nail scale? Pair up with one of our expert designers to create a balanced, beautiful space. It all starts with our design quiz.

Words by Sara Watson