Scale And Proportion

In the simplest and fewest words, scale refers to overall size. Proportion refers to relative size. But that doesn’t help you very much, does it?

Michael Ferzoco is the principle of Eleven Interiors, the interior design firm he founded in 2005. Michael will be a regular contributor to my blog adding a fabulous design component to the conversation. His first post distinguishes the differences between scale and proportion in design… fascinating. Enjoy. You can reach Michael at [email protected].

Let’ take a minute to clarify a couple of terms used in daily communication in the design world – scale and proportion. These terms are frequently used interchangeably because their meanings can be confusing, but they are quite different.

In the simplest and fewest words, scale refers to overall size. Proportion refers to relative size. But that doesn’t really help very much, does it? How about this instead?

The scale of an object or a space is relative to the idea of that object or space, literally the human perception of what is the norm or the ideal for that object or space. For example, the scale of a sofa is either small or large when compared to other sofas. So when you walk into a friend’s 1,000 s.f. apartment and he has one of those overstuffed, lounging sectional sofas, you’re correct in thinking to yourself  “Wow the scale of that sofa is HUGE!” And of course you’d be thinking of that sofa relative to other sofas that you’re familiar with…and you’d graciously keep your thoughts to yourself!

On the other hand, proportion refers to the relative size and scale of the various elements in a space. The issue here is the relationship between objects, or parts, to a whole. So your thoughts about the aforementioned sectional sofa would now be “wow the scale of that sofa is HUGE and the proportion for this room (basically the amount of space it requires relative to other furnishings in the room) is all wrong”.

Our most universal standard of measurement is the human body. Think about it. We judge the appropriateness of size of objects by that measure. For example, a chair in the form of a hand is quite an attention getter because of the distortion of expected proportion of a human hand, and therefore it becomes the center of attention in the space.

Architectural spaces that are intended to impress us are usually scaled to a size that dwarfs the human viewer. Public spaces, such as churches or government buildings, corporate spaces and museums are often very large in scale relative to other buildings. These structures impress us with their grandeur and size, creating a sense of power and invincibility. In contrast, the proportions of a private home are usually more in scale with human measure, and as a result the home appears friendlier, more comfortable, less intimidating.

Not so confusing after all.