Design Principles: Proportion & Scale

1 02 2010

Most of the question I receive these days pertain to how to pull together a composition, whether setting a mantle or table scape, everyone wants theirs to be interesting to look at.  As a designer, I don’t have a “one way fits all” answer to how to pull it together—but we do have rules that we must live by called design principles.  In the next few Mondays I am going to be tackling a few of these rules and try not bore you to death.  Hopefully they will be short, sweet and informative (and mostly pictures.)

Defining: Proportion and Scale.

Both proportion and scale deal with the relative sizes of things.  The difference is, proportion pertains to the relationships between the parts of a composition, while scale refers specifically to the size of something, relative to some known standard or recognized constant.

Let’s first talk about scale because I think it is easier to illustrate.  I have always been a person drawn to things that are out of scale.  Whether it be a jack that is much too large to play with or a pear that is basically half the size of your microwave (FYI, the microwave is a standard size.)  Give me a choice between an acoustic guitar and a ukulele and I’ll pick the ukulele hands down.  If it is extremely large or very small, I find it FUNNY!

When we introduce things in a scale that is unexpected we add interest to a composition.  These are two examples found in my very own home as ways that I have jazzed up the top of something ordinary using scale.

Moving along to proportion…this one is a bit tougher to explain.  As we said above, proportion pertains to the relationships between the parts of a composition.  Since there are no hard and fast rules that guide composition, proportion can be found many different ways and they are all correct.

In the following picture, the proportion of each vase adds something to the total composition.  Varying heights, different shapes, but all in the same color and material add visual interest.  It isn’t one piece of the puzzle when you are talking proportion but the sum of all goods.

The following pictures illustrate strong uses of both scale and proportion.

Aren’t the globes ultra chic in this picture?!  How often have to looked at a globe and thought, “you would really make a difference in *blank* room.”  I would venture to guess-probably never.  The combination of the huge map and the varying globes really show you that what you use isn’t really as important as how they work together.

I think this picture shows a grand use of scale.  If you put something small where the vase currently is everything would look out of sync.  But since they used a tall, singular vase on the right, they offset it on the left with a tall plant, a couple medium sized items (picture frame and blue box) and a couple very small items like the star fish.  All together this composition has great balance.

This picture shows a beautiful use of proportion.  They have a HEAVY table with much lighter seating and used an ultra thin hide as the rug that pulls everything together.  They used a large chandelier that is about the same width as the table, but kept it high and added a delicate table scape to add contrast.

So, do you have a favorite item that is out of scale, like our pear?  Tell me what you have at home and how YOU combined it with other items to really show off its size.

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