You started learning about size and scale when you were a tot, trying to wedge those round wooden pieces into square holes. But scale—especially as it applies to interior design and decor—is more than an elementary concept. And if you screw it up? It’ll look as if you live in a circus funhouse. (Which isn’t as much fun as it sounds.)
Don’t beat yourself up—even the pros struggle a bit with scale. And furniture store showrooms are part of the problem, making it hard to imagine how that Pinterest-perfect sofa will actually look in your not-so-Pinterest-perfect living room.
“Because there aren’t any walls, and the ceilings tend to be much higher than in any normal home, you don’t have a good idea how big or small something really is,” explains Darla DeMorrow, author of “Organizing Your Home With SORT and SUCCEED.”
For reference: Most living rooms can fit a piece that’s 75 to 80 inches long, but you’ll want to leave about 24 to 36 inches of clearance between each piece, DeMorrow says.
There’s a limit to the size that table lamps should be, but choosing one that’s too small is the more common mistake, says Justin Riordan of Spade and Archer Design Agency. Too small, and your fixture can get swallowed up by large end tables. Plus, it won’t shed enough light to be useful.
“A good rule of thumb is to check that the bottom of the table lampshade falls roughly at seated eye level,” he says.
If the lamp you own is small, you can compensate by raising the light on a stack of books or decorative boxes.
When it comes to floor lamps, consider your ceiling height: The average floor lamp is between 5 and 6 feet high, which works in a home that has 8-foot ceilings. But in a room with higher ceilings (8 feet or more), your floor lamp can be taller by another foot or so, to match the scale.
“Just remember, the taller you go, the bigger the base has to be, so it’s stable,” DeMorrow cautions, adding that a big base can look garish quickly.
3. Area rugs
Don’t float an area rug that is too small in the middle of the room, the pros warn, lest it look like a sad and lonely coaster. Plus, a tiny rug usually can’t accommodate your furniture, which leaves homeowners trying to squish their pieces onto the fabric. The result? It will make your room look smaller.
Start with an 8-foot by 10-foot rug or bump it up to 9-foot by 12-foot if the room is very large, DeMorrow suggests. Next, aim to place the front legs of your chairs and couch on the rug or, better still, all four legs, if they fit.
But don’t go too big—try to allow for 2 feet of space from rug to wall, experts say.
4. Artwork and knickknacks
Pictures and paintings need room to breathe. Hang large artwork (or a gallery of smaller pieces) so that it covers no more than 75% of the wall space you have, and make sure the center of the piece is at eye level.
Before you grab a hammer and nail, though, sketch on paper or use an app to visualize how the pieces will look and whether they’ll fit on the wall. The same holds for bookcases. Tiny objects on a big shelf can look silly and lost. DeMorrow encourages clients to display accessories that are the size of a basketball or larger for better balance.
“Too many small knickknacks is overwhelming, but a few large pieces can open up the room,” she says.
5. Dining room tables
As a general rule, you want 42 inches of clearance between the table and the walls. Keep this in mind if you’re buying a table that expands, Riordan suggests—you need to be able to exit easily, however many leaves you add.
You can push the boundaries a bit here. If you’re dying to move from a queen to a king bed (or swap a full for a queen), allow about 2 feet of clearance to change the sheets without having to do an awkward side shuffle.
Still squeezed? Consider eliminating the dresser (yes, you can!) and putting everything in the closet. You can also install a set of floating shelves as nightstands and suspend lights from the ceiling, Riordan says.
“When done correctly, a king or queen bed in a small room can be very successful,” he says, adding that this is “far preferable to being miserable every night and suffering from sleep deprivation.”