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Scale refers to visual size—how furnishings look next to each other and how they fit in a room. Rooms need big things, little things, tall things, and short things. If everything is the same size, nothing will stand out. Vary scale within a room to create interest and drama.
Variation in scale throughout a room is important. But, drastic differences can be unsuccessful. An oversize lamp on a petite table or one small piece of artwork above a large-scale sofa creates unbalance. Use similar scale when appropriate, such as this substantial piece of art over the fireplace as a focal point.
Consider proportion when adding architectural elements, such as paneling, to a room. Furniture weighs down the bottom half of this room, so carrying the wainscoting two-thirds up the wall lifts the eye. A tall floor lamp and artwork placed above the paneling also brings balance. In a dining room, a classic chair rail hung at the bottom one-third of the room compliments the proportion of high-back dining chairs.
When working with multiple patterns, vary the scale to give each pattern special attention. Start with large, airy prints on the wall or windows, then layer smaller-scale patterns on the furniture. Here, the large-scale draperies and medium-size pillow and ottoman fabrics are followed by even smaller and more neutral patterns in the upholstery and on the rug.
Scale and proportion is important in the simplest of decorating tasks, such as a pairing a lamp with a table. This shapely lamp has enough heft to balance the dark wood of the writing table without being too bulky to contradict the table's petite size. To determine height proportion, use this rule: The bottom of the lampshade should be at cheek-level when you're seated.
Combine small objects with other like objects to create impact. This collection of ceramic pots makes one big statement on the mantel because the similar pieces are grouped together. Just a few pots scattered about would look disconnected and out of proportion. Try this approach with artwork over a sofa: A cohesive group of small frames can work as well as one large piece.
The scale of a wall art grouping can vary as long as the variety has purpose. Here, different size photos and frames still create a unified arrangement thanks to other similarities: Black-and-white photography, white frames, and repeated color mattes.
Too much variety of scale can cause visual chaos in a focused area, such as bookshelves. To make open shelving more pleasing, group items of similar scale together, such as lining up like-size books and arranging glassware or other collections in groups of similar type and scale. Another trick: Use same-size storage bins or baskets throughout to keep clutter out of sight.
Consider proportion when placing and arranging pillows. On a sofa, use proportion to set the mood: For a cozy look, layer multiple pillows, keeping their height in scale with the piece of furniture. For a clean, contemporary look, add just a pair of large pillows at the ends or line up an odd number spaced out across the sofa.
Mounds of large pillows on a bed are usually impractical and overwhelming. Simplify with a better proportion: Pare down to just the sleeping pillows and decorative shams, then add a decorative accent or two.
Color has scale, too: Dark and bright colors are heavy, while soft and muted colors are light. Balance the color scale in a room to prevent it from feeling too heavy or too light. Here, a dark leather sofa is balanced with light pillow fabrics and a wicker ottoman. Likewise, the wall art uses color differences to create interest with light-color artwork surrounded by dark frames.
When working with scale, start with the largest piece of furniture in a room, then add pieces that fit. A table and lamp may be proportionate to each other, but when placed next to a bed or sofa, they may look too large or too small. To maintain the simplistic, clean-line design of this bed, the sparse linear wall-attached lights are a better complement than bulky table lamps.
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