Designers (and homeowners) are often faced with good things we like about a room, or space, but often we also have things we don't like. The room is oddly shaped; it may resemble a bowling alley (long and narrow) or the ceilings may seem too high (your furniture and items look like they are Barbie doll size) or too low (now you feel King Kong-like.) Unless you are blessed with an unlimited budget and structural changes are an option because your spouse is a general contractor, working with the space you have is the plan du jour.
Design concepts including proportion and scale will serve as handy tools in designing a functioning as well as beautiful and pleasing room.
Proportion: In design, proportion is the relationship of one part of an object to other parts or to the whole, and of one object to another. Example: if tiny, spindly legs are used to support a massive table top, we'd say that one is improperly proportioned to the other.
Scale: Scale refers to an object's size in relationship to some constant with that constant usually being but not always the human being (the primary scale relationship is to people). Scale and proportion work hand in hand. and really understanding the difference may take some thought. An example of poor scale would be a large, two story home with narrow hallways, low doorways and countertops and fixtures placed squatty. The scale here is a large house, but suitable for a child.
In learning proportion of objects and proper proportion among different objects we need to understand how they relate to each other. Are they compatible? Are the proportions linked, one to another? How are they different? By seeing the likeness of two objects, you can see what gives each its individuality. A lime is fatter, rounder, and smaller than a lemon. You can use such comparisons when you example the proportions of arms on chairs or of legs on chairs and tables. Go on a practical treasure hunt around your house, exploring the proportions of your objects and their relationship to one another. Is the saucer of a coffee cup in proportion to the cup, not too big, not too small? After some time and practice, this treasure hunt of evaluating the proportions of things can be done outdoors as well as in your friends' houses. Become a student of seeing. What you observe well will train your eye. Observe a tiny garden that is so overgrown with trees and foliage and flowers, you have no room to sit and have a cup of tea. A garden's reason for existence is a person's pleasure. No matter how beautiful something may be, if it gets out of hand and loses its human-scaled proportions, the entire purpose of its existence is defeated.
When I first visited New Mexico my eyes had an adjustment period in finding beauty in the home style - adobe construction and flat roofs with no overhang. In short time I grew to love them, especially when I realized that their form followed function, it kept the home cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, utmost importance in the desert.
However I noticed that the simplicity of the style (in the hands perhaps of non-indigenous, newcomers to the area) could easily cause attempts to add beauty - not - it often caused a beautiful form to now have bad form, or bad proportion. Architectural additions or design elements that work perfectly with other homes overpower these lovely homes. Proportion is an important element in creating, and keeping, beauty.
This article is one in a series of Design Concepts, to go to the entire list, click here.