Monday, December 31, 2012

Scale and Proportion: What's the Difference?

Painting Out of Scale With the Buffet
Have you ever been disconcerted by seeing a king size bed that fills a tiny bedroom, or by a lamp shade too small for its base, or perhaps by a massive flat screen tv that overshadows the fireplace mantle next to it? If so, you were reacting to a problem with scale (the bed and the tv) or proportion (the lamp shade). The two terms are often confused, so let's sort out the differences between them.

What is Scale?

Scale is how the overall size of one object relates to the overall size another object, or to the space in which it's placed. On the right is a painting that's much too small to fill the area above the buffet in a pleasing way. Instead of creating a harmonious composition, the painting and buffet seem unrelated, and the little painting looks like a orphan.

Choosing furnishings or accessories in the proper scale is essential to a space that works. Here are before and after examples from librariantellsall.comThe "art"  doesn't resonate with me, but the pictures do illustrate the point.

The Proper Scale Makes a Difference

Scale Issues to Avoid When You're Selling

One of the most common mistakes I see, particularly in vacant houses, is the use of forlorn, small pieces of furniture and/or accessories here and there in a misguided attempt to make the house look furnished or "staged". Not only do they look wrong because of scale, the style often is inappropriate for the location, such as the typical flimsy aluminum outdoor chair that gets dragged in from the deck, or the accessory that's wrong for the architecture of the house. It's much better to have no furniture and accessories than it is to have the wrong ones.

What is Proportion?

A Proportion Problem
Proportion is the relationship between one part of an object and another, measured in various terms, such as size, quantity or color.  An example in design is furniture. If the legs of a table aren't in the correct proportion to the top, the table could look silly. Or if the arms of a sofa are over or under-sized, the sofa is uncomfortable and unattractive. When you buy a replacement lamp shade, it has to have a pleasing shape and be in the correct proportion to the base. What other examples can you think of? 

Proportion is important because each time it's used correctly, it creates a little spot of harmony. When it's misused, something looks or feels "wrong". 

The Golden Mean

Some proportional relationships are more pleasing to us than others. The ancient Greeks came up with the Golden Mean, which expressed ideal proportions in a simple formula: 
Golden Mean Expressed as a Line

Golden Mean Expressed as a Rectangle

For ideal proportions, the ratio of the smaller section to the larger section should be the same as that of the larger section to the whole. 

This 2:3 ratio is found in nature and design, including the standard dimensions (4 x 6, 8 x 12, 16 x 24, etc.) of familiar objects, such as rugs and picture frames. Did you know that we have the ancient Greeks to thank for these things? 

Essential Differences Between Scale and Proportion

  • Scale refers to the overall size of an object. Proportion refers to relative size of the parts of an object.
  • The proportional relationship is constant regardless of size. Scale can vary, and there can be small, medium and large versions of the same item. 

"The basic rules of proportion and scale are unchanging. They are reinterpreted according to the needs of the time. I like simplicity and I believe in restraint. Above all, there should be harmony-of proportion, line, color, and feeling. The most important element in decorating is the relationship between objects - in size, form, texture, color, and meaning. None of these is in good taste in itself but only in relationship to where it has been placed and what purpose it is to serve."
Eleanor McMillen Brown

Keep Scale and Proportion in Mind

The next time you're considering a design project, keep scale and proportion in mind. If you need a little help, call me at 828-692-4355 to talk about what you'd like to accomplish and schedule a redesign or color consultation.