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How to Play with Size and Scale in Your Home

How to Play with Size and Scale in Your Home

So…you want to update some of the interiors of your home, and you’ve read about things like size, scale, and proportion.

You’re right where you need to be to learn HOW to apply that information.

Or…maybe you’ve seen these terms and examples of how to wield them, and now you’re looking around your EXISTING space and wondering if you did it right!

Size and scale are some of the most technical aspects of interior design because design is not just flipping through magazines and making selections. The right selections are composed together to play off one another and off the physical space.

For instance, a great big overstuffed sofa won’t evoke the same thing in a large room that it will in a small one. It will change on you! It could make a totally different statement based on the room’s length, width, ceiling height, and how it’s used in your floorplan.

Enter: size and scale…


#1 Mistake Made with Size and Scale

The number-one mistake made with scale in interior design is…well, ignoring the following rule of scale:

Oversized furniture requires a VERY large space. Most spaces that use oversized furniture should not.

This is what happens when a too-small space uses an oversized couch, for example:

  • The space looks smaller
  • The couch becomes inconvenient to get around on at least one side (if not multiple)
  • Most oversized couches are either tall or deep, making them uncomfortable for shorter people to sit on
  • You’re also stuck with it being your “ONE big thing” in the room, and very little other furniture can be added!

The depth and height of a couch are two things few people think about! For someone who’s more petite, either one of these measurements could mean that feet are dangling above the floor…not very comfortable!

This custom sectional is an example of an oversized couch used perfectly. The space is HUGE, and add to that its tall ceiling…and then the 13-by-9 foot sectional makes sense.

Whatever furniture you put in a common space, think about who will use it! Shorter people who visit this living room, for instance, tend to favor the chairs instead of the couch. The chairs are purposed with providing that versatility since the oversized sofa is such a commitment of seating!

EXPERT TIP: Oversized features can be an accumulation of smaller items, too, to give a room that “full” feel you like without making a disaster of your floor space!! Just look at this luxurious lake house bedroom with all those super-stuffed pillows…


#2 Mistake Made with Size and Scale

Most of us have too much stuff. It’s true and you know it! Especially with the surge in maximalism in interiors right now, walls have become FILLED with open shelves packed with sundry items for the first time in 30 years.

Say what you will about the grandmillennial style (a specific form of maximalism), but this style is NOT actually about collecting tchotchkes. There is a science as well as an art behind true maximalism, and the end result doesn’t look cluttered at all.

Maximalism is about richness of color and texture, which is fantastically fun and easy to achieve today if your designer knows what you like. With the mixed materials in furniture and other selections and ALL the textures in upholstery, extraordinary environments can be created…

Just look at the mixed material finds from the last High Point Market!!

The term you need to learn is that of an “edited space.” Maximalism requires it. An edited space is how shelves full of tchotchkes turn into something with a carefully calculated and deliberate impact.

To achieve an edited space, talk to our very own Robin Burrill, CEO and Principal Designer and head of all our interior design services.


Part of Size and Scale is Height…of People Living in the Space!

Height is another crucial part of sizing and scaling in interior design.

Just like that example of an oversized couch, other elements of design should factor in the height of the people who will MOST use the space. If most of the people who cook in your home are on the taller side, can you imagine how much more comfortable it would be to go for a 36” counter height instead of the standard 32”?!

If you haven’t experienced that yet, and you are tall…this is a GAME-CHANGER! It’s really so, so much better…

Of course, most of us have a mix of tall and short in our lives. Maybe you’re on the tall side but your sibling who comes over all the time is petite. If you need a universally comfortable environment, communal areas where you entertain should have some selection that’s more comfortable for everyone. So, if you do have a spacious living room with an oversized sectional, ensure some of the chairs in the same area are better for people on the shorter side!


Lighting Requires Size, Scale, and HEIGHT, Too…

Lighting is another thing that hardly comes up with questions about size and scale. But, of course, lighting selections have to make sense in each environment, too!!

Lighting fixtures size and height are both relative to:

  • The total size of the room
  • The shape of the room
  • The size and shape of what’s beneath the light
  • The pattern of foot traffic under or around the light

One example of well-intentioned but faulty thinking is how chandeliers are hung above dining room tables. Most people think, “there’s a dining room table there, which is feet off the ground, so the chandelier has to be hung even higher!” However, there’s no foot traffic directly under the light because the table is there. So, chandeliers over tables should actually be hung lower.


Clever Selections for Scaling in Small Spaces

Everyone knows that painting a small room a dark color will make it feel smaller. Light paints and finishes are the mainstay of maximizing environments with small square footage.

Did you know, though, that “color drenching” could make a room look even BIGGER? This painting technique is where the walls, molding, and ceiling are ALL painted the same color. It does incredible things to add size and grandeur!

And think about the materials in your furniture when trying to maximize a small space…some of the exceptional selections today feature mixed materials with Lucite (especially furniture with Lucite legs), which of course is see-through. In a small space, this gets furniture into the environment without feeling like it visually blocks the view of what’s behind it. It has a profound impact on us psychologically and makes a space feel far more open.

A few more tips for small spaces…

  • If you truly love the “full” or overstuffed look, just one or two well-chosen larger pieces can actually do you favors instead of crowding a space (because upscale choices could make the environment look overall “grander”)
  • Whatever you do, ensure there’s enough room to get around everything, or your environment will be left feeling small AND uncomfortable!
  • Keep the patterns in wallpaper and upholstery to scale, too…a wallpaper with big floral printing will dwarf an already small space!!

EXPERT TIP: For small spaces in particular (but for big spaces, too), consider furniture selections with multiple purposes. Look at this large ottoman that acts as a table in the center of this family room, and can also be pulled apart to provide extra seating…


Clever Selections for Scaling in Large Spaces

Large spaces really are a LOT easier to work with, but they also give so much space to fill that often it’s filled without rhyme or reason. Big spaces tend to look either empty and cold, or too cluttered…rarely “just right.”

Here are some quick strategies for larger spaces…

  • Large spaces can be wide or TALL (or both), so remember to fill the space with something vertically if you do have a tall room to design
  • Consider more substantial (taller and more detailed) moldings for ceilings in taller rooms
  • Favor stately furniture in rooms with high ceilings, too
  • Favor post-modern and minimalist looks for large rooms with low ceilings (and remember—the ceiling will seem even lower in an unusually long room)


If you’re not sure how to apply something you’ve seen in this article, consider a conversation with Robin or a professional interior designer you already know and love.

Once you do truly understand what comes into play with size and scale in interiors, you can use these principals to balance great ideas and breathtaking design elements in environments that REALLY send the message you want!!

Start the conversation in the closed design community to ask questions or share your thoughts!

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