Lines on Design: Tilt the design scale in the right direction

The 13-inch table lamps are better in terms of scale for this buffet. Previously, lamps

The 13-inch table lamps are better in terms of scale for this buffet. Previously, lamps double the size and with a larger shade were there. (Erin Owen)

When something in a room looks off, but it’s hard to express why, the reason is likely related to a misuse or omission of the principles of design. These are the tools to determine why a room is visually pleasing rather than just saying a room looks pretty. These principles are the why behind the pretty.

The combination of wanting to finish a room and working with existing furnishings led to a narrow buffet being overwhelmed by two table lamps. The symmetry of the lamps was a nice element, but the lamps overwhelmed the surface and adjacent art. I see that clearly now. The scale was wrong.

Taken together, proportion and scale are one of seven design principles. Interior designers use these principles to develop a room. I wrote about contrast in this column published Sept. 19 and thought it might be helpful to continue writing about the remaining principles.

At the start of the interior design program, we were asked to find pictures in magazines and evaluate them based on design principles. This was one of my favorite tasks. Designers can breakdown why a room is appealing regardless of if they like the material or furnishing choices. Taste is subjective, but the design principles are objective.

Proportion and scale are all about size. Proportion is the size relationship between the parts that make up a whole. Scale focuses on the size of objects in relation to each other. There is a measurement, the golden ratio, to evaluate proportion. The golden ratio is a mathematical sequence often found in nature, including the human body. In architecture, think of the Parthenon in Greece.

The golden ratio for interior designers translates into 60/30/10. This means the dominant color occupies 60 percent of the room, a secondary color fills 30 percent and an accent pops up in 10 percent. Furniture should fill 60 percent of the room. Larger rooms need larger pieces of furniture. In a 15- by 20-foot living room, a grouping of furniture could be around 10 feet by 13 feet.

Then there is the rule of thirds. Photographers use this idea to visually divide the frame with two horizontal and two vertical lines. They capture the subject of a photo in one-third of the frame, ideally where the lines intersect, and leave two-thirds open. This draws attention to the subject.

Interior designers can similarly divide a room to determine a furniture plan or how the space will be used. A living room’s main furniture would occupy two-thirds and the last third could be for a secondary related use. The rule of thirds can be used to determine the proper size of art and furniture. A coffee table, for instance, should be two-thirds the size of the sofa.

It all starts with knowing the guidelines of design principles. Then breaking a principle is a purposeful decision and not just a mistake. Just make sure to train your eyes to spot the mistake.

Erin Owen graduated from the interior design program at Kirkwood Community College. She has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer. Comments: [email protected]

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Lines on Design: Tilt the design scale in the right direction