Have you ever thought about proportions in your home decorating?

Or to put it another way, scale and balance?

No? These topics are often overlooked in home decorating, which can lead to the idea that 'some just have it, and some don't'.

"I don't really like this room, but I don't know why. The colors are ok, and I don't mind the furniture, but - something's not right!"

By understanding the role this topic plays in home decorating, you'll be able to improve how you decorate your home.

Relative size and relations

Proportions, or scale and balance have to do with the relative size of areas and objects, and how they relate to one another. As with elements such as color, most people have a good idea about proportions - it's just they've never had to think too much about it.

One of the best ways of appreciating proportions is to use the same exercise as suggested for finding your preferred color schemes.

If you look at some of the illustrations you selected, you'll probably find the reason you like some of them wasn't just the color scheme. Often it's a combination of the colors and how the furnishings in the room were arranged.

Good proportions depend on...

A sense of balance

Usually the most attractive rooms are ones where there is balance. A large sofa in one area is balanced by a large picture on the opposite wall. Or a tall piece of furniture is balanced by a standard lamp.

proportions in living room

Here you can see how furniture on one side of the rug is balanced by furniture on the other side.

The fireplace is the focal point (see below), and the rug unifies the arrangement of furniture. Notice how black is introduced in various places, above the mantelpiece, in the coffee table, in the rug border, the chair on the left, and the nest of tables and lamp on the far side.


Focal point and anchor pieces

fireplace focal point in living room

In the same way that each room should have one focal point, usually the fireplace, it should also have one or more 'anchor' pieces.

These are usually larger items which give a sense of solidity and permanence to a room.

The obvious focal point in this room is the fireplace, and the furniture is arranged with this in mind.


Vary the height

Vary the height of your furniture. If all your items such as sofas, lampshades, bookcases etc are the same height, the room will appear very static and predictable. Break up the monotony with items of varying heights and volume.

Pictures are very useful here; you can hang them at a height which gives a 'lift' to the room. But don't make the common mistake of hanging them too high. Somewhere around eye level is usually correct.


proportions in living room

Notice how the different heights of the objects in this living room add interest.

The tall dresser in the far corner is the tallest piece of furniture. The picture resting against the chimney balances the heavy mantelpiece below.

The floor lamps are of medium height, and will give good background and task lighting for anyone seated on the sofas.

Pillows on the sofas help to break up the horizontal lines of the back cushions, while the low table is useful for placing books, ornaments or drinks.


A roving eye

Try to make the eye move as it takes in a room. A lamp is close to a picture, which in turn leads towards a sofa, to the left of which is a bookcase ... and so on.

Don't overcrowd the room, but have enough there to make it interesting.

Balancing color

Be aware that color comes into scale and balance.

For example, if you have a blue chair at one side of a room, try to balance it with another item containing blue elsewhere. It could be a rug, or a picture, or a painted piece of furniture.

The weight of color

Color also has 'weight' of its own. A light colored object will have less of an impact than a darker tone of the same color. If you're not sure about your color combinations, just take a piece of paper and color sections in the correct proportions.

For example, you might have one dark wall, three light ones and a dark sofa. So color one section for the dark wall, one light section three times the area of the dark one, and a suitably sized section for the sofa. Or cut out the sections and move them around. You may find you need to 'tone down' the sofa section by using pillows in the light color.

Find out more about color in home decorating


Too much to remember?

Here's a checklist for thinking about scale and balance. It's really just practice. Give it a go, and you'll learn how to make the most of your rooms.

  • Do the larger items look balanced purely in terms of their size? Are there too many objects of similar size fighting for attention?
  • What about high and low items? Is there enough variation in your room, or is everything the same height making the room look static?
  • What are you able to rearrange to give a better sense of balance? You may want to move the grand piano, but is it practical?
  • Do the smaller items fit naturally into the remaining room space?
  • Do you have isolated areas of color? How can you balance the color elsewhere?
  • Can you place items to create contrast and give a bit of life to the room? How will bringing in more colorful items affect things?

As with all aspects of home decorating, a little thought and practice with proportions will take you a long way.


Visit this page for ideas on arranging your living room furniture


traditionally furnished living room

This room demonstrates many aspects of scale and balance.

The fireplace is the focal point of the room, and is balanced by the dark colored bookcase on the right, and the curtains and drapes at the windows.

The blue carpet provides a 'base' for the whole room setting.

The proportions of the mirror over the fireplace are well suited. It is less in width than the mantelpiece, but is not too tall so that it reaches the picture rail. The effect is one of a comfortable fit without being squeezed.

Notice the height of the pictures. Most people hang their pictures too high on the walls! Each one has been hung differently, yet an overall balance is achieved. The one next to the curtain and the one one the right are set below the wall lights. The one above the bookcase is hung slightly higher so that it is not too close to the bookcase.

Look at the height of objects.

The mantelpiece and bookcase are roughly the same height, the wing chairs are lower, followed by the coffee tables.

The pictures, mirror and ornaments are higher, with the drapes in the background framing the windows.

There is interest and movement, giving a restful effect which still has life.




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