Make it Golden: Using the Golden Ratio in Design

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WORDS BY Gillian Grefe

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Published on January 25, 2021

You’ve heard of the Golden Rule, but what about the Golden Ratio? Although this term technically comes from mathematics, it’s often used in the design world and, in a nutshell, means approaching your space in either one-third or two-third sections, rather than breaking it up into halves or quarters. 

“The Golden Ratio provides a tangible framework to achieve balance, blending the scale of pieces for a more visually pleasing aesthetic,” says Havenly’s Managing Editor, Heather Goerzen. “Scale and proportion can be tricky to master — after all, designers get a degree studying such topics. But with this mathematical principle in the back of your mind, it can help you deconstruct layouts and plan furniture purchases with a greater sense of confidence,” Heather says. 

Here are a few tips for how to use the golden ratio in various rooms of your home.

In the Living Room

Living rooms feature core pieces like a coffee table, sofa, accent chair, and artwork. When thinking about these objects in relation to one another, employ the Golden Ratio to help you choose the proper size. That means selecting a coffee table about two-thirds the size of the couch (if it’s a round coffee table, try one that’s one-third the size). An accent chair is often paired with a side table that’s a third the size, Heather says. That same one-third rule also holds up for art: “Choose a statement piece of art that covers a third of the wall,” she says.

In the Dining Room

Lighting is often called the jewelry of a room, and this is perhaps most evident in the dining room, where a chandelier can make or break a space. Luckily, the Golden Ratio can help when choosing lighting to go above the dining table. “Choose a chandelier that’s one-third or two-thirds the width of the table,” suggests Heather. This could also mean staggering pendant lights across one- or two-thirds the width of the table. If you go the pendant route, working in multiples of three will help create a more unexpected and interesting look than even numbers.

dining room rug

In the Bedroom

While symmetry just suits a bedroom — think about a well-made bed with matching nightstands flanking either side — the Golden Ratio still comes in handy, particularly when designing vignettes. For instance, Heather recommends “staging a moment on your dresser with two vases, a larger one and a secondary vase that’s two-thirds the size.” The same goes for frames, artwork, jewelry boxes, and other personalized displays in your bedroom sanctuary.

Feel It Out

“Oftentimes, the Golden Ratio is simply a more formal lens to understanding what the eye itself would approve,” Heather explains. For example, if you hung a chandelier that’s one-third the width of the table and stepped back to evaluate it, it would just feel right and visually balanced, she says. It’s a guiding principle that will become more intuitive as you practice putting it into place — just like the art of layering.

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Words by Sara Watson