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Scale & proportion – how to choose the right size furniture – and where to place it

Forget falling in love with furniture for a moment (we know, it’s tough) and let’s focus first on getting the scale and size of furniture you’re going to pick just right.

It’s all about proportion you see, and scale and proportion are the bread and butter of interior designers and stylists. They’re what makes a room you walk into seem so right, or so wrong – and often you can’t quite work out why.

Without getting into the technical definitions and differences between ‘scale’ and ‘proportion’, in the interior styling world, the terms essentially talk about the same thing – how different design elements relate to each other, such as whether a sofa is too big or small for a particular space.

We’ve put together a few key tips and tricks to get proportion and scale just right before you go shopping:


Planning makes perfect

Ok so you’ve heard this one before, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Arm yourself with a tape measure and a roll of masking tape and map out where you think you’d like to put particular pieces of furniture. Or, if you’ve already fallen hard for, say, a sofa, then check its dimensions and set them out in various location on the floor to determine where it should sit – then plan accent furniture pieces around it.

If you want to go hi-tech, there are even apps available – such as Magicplan – where you can upload photos of your space and have it converted into a plan.


Get the rug right  

Rugs are a great way to designate space and create ‘zones’, especially in an open plan living area. If possible, buy a rug large enough for all the furniture in a zone to fit onto it, but failing that, ensure at least the front legs of sofas and armchairs sit firmly on the rug.


Living room proportions

Make sure your entertainment unit is in the right proportion to the TV – which means ensuring the entertainment is significantly wider than the TV sitting, or hanging, above it. As for watching the box, the general rule of thumb is to have your sofa 2.5 times the width of the TV screen away, but no further away than five metres.

When it comes to sofa placement, a U or L-shaped arrangement is social, and if you have a coffee table in between (and you should), you should place it within easy reach when sitting down, which is usually within 45cm of the edge of the sofa. Side tables should be roughly in line with the arm of either the sofa or occasional chairs.


Bedroom proportions

In the bedroom the key rules as they relate to proportion are pretty simple. If you have a king-sized bed, don’t pair it with petite bedside tables or lamps – and vice versa. The experts agree a bedside table of between 70cm and 90cm wide is perfect for king-sized beds, while 50cm to 60cm wide better suits queen-sized beds.

Kitchen and dining proportions

Pendant lights look peachy above the kitchen counter, but it’s important to hang them at the right height. But…what is it? Around 70cm to 80cm above the worktop is ideal – they’re low enough to provide enough light but not blocking your line of sight when you look out from the kitchen. You should leave at least 90cm between your dining table and any walls or other furniture to allow people to easily get in and out – more if possible.


Don’t stick to the same height for all your key furniture items

Mixing it up is key to nailing that designer look – even on a non-designer budget. Have a floor lamp or plant that rises above a sofa; or mix a tall bookcase with mid-level credenza and low coffee table to avoid having a room look bland.


Don’t have everything in one colour

We’re all for combining colours, but there is a secret behind styling colours together and the usual trick is the well-known rule of 60-30-10 which means the key anchor colour represents 60% of the room, such as your wall colour, the 30% will be your key furniture pieces, such as sofas armchairs, as well as window coverings, while the 10% will be homewares and accessories, such as rugs, cushions and lamps.


On the walls
It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people hang artwork too high. You should aim for the centre of key pieces to be at eye level for someone of average height – this means hanging it so the centre’s about 150cm above the ground – or slightly lower in a formal dining room where people will generally only be viewing the art from a seated position.  You can also use the old masking trick when it comes to working out the right placement for your prints, photos and paintings on the wall.


Ceiling height

If you have the luxury of high ceilings, your room can handle taller furniture – and more dramatic hanging lights. But there are a few tricks of the trade to create the illusion of height if you don’t naturally have it. Some of our faves include using tall book shelves (built-in to the ceiling if you can) or hanging drapes from just below the cornice to draw the eye upwards; using tall mirrors on a mantelpiece, and continuing one paint colour through the walls, skirting boards and the ceiling to blur the line where one begins and the other ends. Choosing low-profile furniture is another trick to create an impression of higher ceilings – such as sofas with low-slung backs or without arms.


White space

Ever wondered what interiors types are on about when they talk about ‘white space’? It’s the area around furniture, and it’s the concept of not filling every inch of space, which means leaving the occasional surface or side table unadorned, and having a blank section of wall here or there.


The good old golden ratio 

Renowned for centuries, the ‘golden ratio’ is approximately 1:1:6 and it’s found in nature, in the human body, in art, in web design and in interiors – where it’s often applied to determine a room’s layout so that one area occupies two-thirds of the space and another smaller segment represents the final third. The typical layout would have a modular sofa, coffee table, TV and entertainment in the larger section, with a secondary seating area or smaller dining table in the secondary zone.



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