The answer is all about scale. I mean if he asks you that question, and he’s 6 foot 4 and has a huge bulky sweater on, then in comparison, his butt would probably look pretty proportionate in those jeans. Well, in interior design, it’s pretty much the same thing. You start with a blank room and depending on how big the furniture in the room, the room will either appear big, small, or just right. If you put a tiny couch in a huge living room, it will make the living room appear cavernous and cold. If you stuff a huge sectional into a small living room then the room will seem…well, stuffy. So how do you know what size furniture to put into the living room? Is there a formula? Actually, there is.
Some people, myself included, can just look at a piece and know if it will look good in the space. Others need to measure. Whichever you are like, we are all probably following the same general rule: the Golden Ratio. 60:40. Apparently in interior design the 40 is broken down even more into 30:10. So it’s 60:30:10. Have I lost you? Lets look at some visuals.
Applying the Golden Ratio to the room above we see that the furniture takes up about 40% of the room (don’t count the space the rug takes up). So, 60% of the room is open space and 40% is furnishings. We can see the ratio also applied to the ottoman size. Notice that the length of the ottoman is not more than 60% of the length of the couch it sits in front of, and, at the same time, not less than 40%. We can also see that the couch is not taking up more than 60% of the length of the wall it sits against, and not less than 40%. Pretty cool huh?
Here are some examples where the ratio isn’t so golden in these living rooms:
The first two pictures show lovely decorated living rooms, but the couches are too large for the rooms. The second two pictures show huge living rooms that were not filled enough to meet that minimum of 40% to make the room feel done. For example, in the room above, I would take the sofa that is against the window wall and put it where the blue chair is. Placing a nice sofa table behind that sofa I move would not only add to the room’s scale and balance, but it would offer a place to put things on or have additional bar stool seating. Then I would place the blue chair on the window side, purchase a second blue chair and possibly even footstools to place on the window side of the rug as well. A coffee table would look nice in the space too. Can you picture it?
This lovely library to the left has some fantastic floor to ceiling bookshelves and a wall of windows with a high, soaring ceiling above it all. Then, in the center of the room, is a dinky little round table. What the heck?! That table and chairs takes up less than 40% of the space in the room, making it appear comical. If that table were 150% larger then it would look like it was meant for the space.
What is the punchline in the room to the right? If you said the “coffee table” then you are correct! It is probably only about 25% the length of the sofa so it certainly doesn’t make it a Golden Ratio. What we need here is a longer, lower coffee table.
Let’s talk about chandeliers for a sec. I really like the globe lights over the circular table in the photo on the left, don’t you? I bet those lights in relation to that table are about a 40:60 ratio (lights:table). It looks so funny when people put a tiny light over a dining table or lights that are too big like in the photo on the right. Look at how the chairs appear to be almost miniature. Lights:Table here are probably more like 75:25.
So what happens when you have all your ratios right on furniture size but the layout is all wrong? Like in this living room:
I mean, these people NAILED it on ratios, but then they went and put those cute blue chairs alllll the way against the wall and the lovely white sofa alllll the way against the opposite wall. Notice how the coffee table isn’t in the center of the room because of this. Bringing those pieces toward each other would give the room balance, which is what a good layout will give you. I can write a whole blog post on balance (and I probably will!), but I bring this up because ratio is only part of what makes a room work.
If you enjoy shopping for furniture online like I do, make sure that you look at the specifications of the piece before you click “Pay now”! I recommend you get some blue painters tape and tape out on the floor, according to the specifications listed online, where you plan to put said furniture. Take a look at how much space it takes up along with the rest of your furniture and consider the Golden Ratio: would you have more open space than filled space? That is a good thing. Is the piece you are buying in a 60:40 ratio with the other furniture in the room? For example, say you are buying a side table for a stuffed arm chair. Is the table not bigger than 60% the size of the arm chair, but also not smaller than 40% of the chair? And, finally, check the return policy…just in case.