All About Scale and Proportion

Here’s what you need to know about interior design’s most underused elements.

Updated on August 08, 2017 15:08 pm

Camille Besinga

the elements of good interior design

When you enter a house that immediately feels warm and inviting, or a hotel lobby that takes your breath away, what you don’t know is that the elements of interior design are hard at work. It’s not always about how expensive the sofa is, or how modern the table is. While those add to the overall picture, interior design is often about evoking a particular feeling to anyone who enters or inhabits a space. This is achieved through the relation of each and every item that is used in that space to each other, what you call scale and proportion, two elements of interior design that many people often overlook.

white country victorian theme dining room

The curved lines on the table, chairs, and even the table cloth mimic those on the chandelier in this country-style dining room by Impression Design Firm. The size of the furnishings are also just right for the narrow space.

Scale refers to the size of an item in relation to the space it occupies.

For example, an oversized Chesterfield sofa may not look comfortable in a mere 200-square-foot space. Consider how the sofa relates to the room: Does it look too large in the diminutive space? Will the occupants of that room be able to move around it comfortably? Will you still be able to place other furnishings needed in the space, like bookcases or a coffee table? Or will it just look awkwardly huge in it?

As well, can I partner my Chesterfield with a dainty and delicate glass table? Does it dwarf its companion? Do the masculine lines of the Chesterfield go well with the delicate femininity of the glass table? Sometimes, it’s also about making perfect matches. You know when a person “looks good” next to someone else; that’s how it works with furniture, too.

Proportion, on the other hand, refers to how the elements (like shape, pattern, or texture) within an object relate to the object or space as a whole.

For example, if my glass side table is round and has ornate gold metal legs, would it look right if I placed a heavy, rectangular, distressed-leather tray on it? The shape and the material of both items don’t exactly look right together—one is round and the other is angular; one is reflective and metallic while the other is rough and coarse. A pair of crystal candlesticks would probably be a better partner to the table than the leather tray.

Getting scale and proportion is not rocket science, and sometimes, some people naturally have an eye for it while others take a while to see. Like with most things, practice makes perfect. Take a look at the photos below to give you a good idea of how the elements of scale and proportion create harmony within interiors.

Examples of Scale

earth tone zen style bedroom with nature motif wallpaper murals

Design by Dots N Tots Interior Pte Ltd

The bed and side tables in this condo bedroom are the right size for the space, but the high ceiling and tall windows make it look too low. A large mural serving as a headboard helps keep furnishings from looking out of place.

unique white and wood theme living room


Another high-ceilinged room gets help in bringing the low sofas to scale via arched cabinet doors flanking the room’s focal point, the fireplace. An imposing, rustic pendant lamp doesn’t look lost in this spacious living room. It’s interesting also to note that the arched cabinets are repeated in the arched doorway (an example of proportion), and the furniture arrangement and bright yellow pillows draw the eye towards the focal point.

modern black and grey tone living room


Barcelona chairs are also another kind of seating that is lower than the typical chair height. Cove lighting spanning the ceiling and wall keeps things down to scale.

motif wallpaper prints


Scale in interiors also makes use of contrasts. In this powder room, huge wallpaper prints are balanced out and don’t compete with the small pattern on the floor tiles.

modern bright spacious living room


This grouping of furniture would have been drowned out by all that space, but an oversized area rug draws them all to each other. The repetitive vertical lines from the windows’ wood trim and the columns draw the eye downward, removing emphasis from the ceiling height.

Examples of Proportion

cosy wood bright dining room

Design by White Board

Square plates, square drop lamps, and square shelves provide a harmonious flow from dining room to study.

cosy living room


The square shape is again repeated in this relatively small living room via the lampshades, ottoman, and tray. But sometimes, rigid lines need softening, and the designer here used lamps with a bulbous base, a round side table, and circular throw pillow.

industrial lamps for dining space


Gigantic industrial lamps look almost like mirror images of the dining chair’s backrests.

large pendant lamps are statement furnitures


Here, contrasting proportions are used to emphasise a particular area: Large lacquer pendant lamps are obviously the focal point, while everything else is kept to an understated minimum. Doing this technique draws the eye—and everyone who enters the lobby—towards the reception area.

Cover photo courtesy of Dots N Tots Interior Pte Ltd


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