Lines on the design: tilt the design scale in the right direction

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

When something in a room looks bad, but it’s hard to articulate why, the reason is likely related to improper use or omission of design principles. These are the tools for determining why a room is visually pleasing rather than just saying a room is pretty. These principles are the why behind the pretty.

The combination of wanting to finish a room and working with existing furniture led to a narrow sideboard overwhelmed by two table lamps. The symmetry of the lamps was a beautiful element, but the lamps overwhelmed the surface and adjacent art. I can see it clearly now. The scale was wrong.

Together, proportions and scale are one of the seven design principles. Interior designers use these principles to design a room. I wrote about the contrast in this column published on September 19 and thought it might be useful to continue writing about the remaining principles.

At the start of the interior design program, we were asked to find images in magazines and rate them against design principles. It was one of my favorite tasks. Designers can explain why a room is attractive, whether they like the choice of materials or furnishings. Taste is subjective, but the design principles are objective.

The proportion and scale depend on the size. Proportion is the size relationship between the parts that make up a whole. The scale focuses on the size of objects relative to each other. There is a measure, the golden ratio, to assess the proportion. The golden ratio is a mathematical sequence that is often found in nature, including the human body. In architecture, think of the Parthenon in Greece.

The golden ratio for interior designers is 60/30/10. This means that the dominant color takes up 60% of the room, a secondary color fills 30%, and an accent appears in 10%. Furniture should fill 60 percent of the room. Bigger rooms need bigger furniture. In a 15-by-20-foot living room, a group of furniture can measure approximately 10 by 13 feet.

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

Interior designers can also divide a room to determine a furniture plan or how the space will be used. The main furniture in a living room would occupy two thirds and the last third could be for a related secondary use. The rule of thirds can be used to determine the appropriate size of artwork and furniture. A coffee table, for example, should be two-thirds the size of the sofa.

It all starts with knowing the guidelines of the design principles. Second, breaking a principle is a deliberate decision and not just a mistake. Just be sure to train your eyes to spot the mistake.

Erin Owen is a graduate of 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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