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How To Use Scale, Proportion, Balance, And Rhythm

[Furniture]  [Home Decorating And Budgeting]  [How To Use Scale, Proportion, Balance, And Rhythm]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 1]  [Periods Of Decorations - Part 2]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 3]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 4]  [More Home Decorating Tips] 

( Originally Published 1955 )


By scale is meant the comparative size of one object or design in its relationship to the size of other objects with which it is to be associated.

For example, a small room requires small-scaled furniture pieces and accessories, and fabrics with small-scaled designs, such as polka dots, small medallions, small checks, and dainty floral motifs, or small-scaled scenic designs. A large room, on the other hand, requires bigger pieces of furniture and largerscaled designs in the fabrics or wallpapers used, such as broad plaids, large floral bouquets, figures, scenics, etc., as well as larger paintings (in bolder frames) and lamps.

Likewise, to be in scale, a fine and delicate fabric usually requires a delicate design, while a coarsely woven and heavier fabric demands a larger and bolder design. If a small chair or table is placed under a large mirror or picture, we immediately sense that it is overpowered, or out of scale; a small sofa placed alone against a long wall will be out of scale with the wall unless a grouping of tables and pull-up chairs are added to contribute more mass.


By proportion we mean the relationship of a part of one unit to the unit as a whole.

For instance, a small shade placed on a large lamp base will be out of proportion to the lamp as a whole; a large lamp, with its rightly proportioned shade, placed on a small table would also be obviously out of proportion to the table-the table with its lamp and shade being considered as a unit; a table with a massive and heavy-looking top placed on slender legs is badly proportioned.


By balance we mean the equalizing of weight, color, or line on either side of a central axis. Balance is based on the principle of a seesaw or merchant's scale of weights; balance weight with weight, height with height.

There are two kinds of balance: formal and informal. Formal Balance. Formal, or symmetrical, balance is the distribution of objects of equal size and shape, such as a pair of chests, tables, chairs, lamps, vases, etc., at equal distances from the center of an axis and arranged in an identical way.

For example, formal balance is achieved by placing two identical tables with identical lamps on either side of a sofa, fireplace, or door; or by placing a pair of hurricane lamps or figurines on a mantel at equal distances from the center. Informal Balance. Informal, or asymmetrical, balance is an arrangement of objects to achieve an optical illusion of balance.

For instance, a secretary or breakfront placed on one side of a doorway or centered window can be balanced in weight and height on the other side by a sofa or chest with a close grouping of small pictures, or one large picture or mirror, above it.

Informal balance also means the balance of weight in larger or heavier-looking objects with strong or dark color in smaller objects. The law for this is to place the larger form closer to the center of the axis, and the smaller and stronger-colored object farther from the center. Thus a large mass becomes a smaller mass in appearance. Informal balance is used a great deal in modern decoration, while traditional periods of the past, such as Georgian, demand a more formal treatment.

Balance of color. Two different colors balance if they are of the same value; that is, if both are the light or the dark shade of a color. In other words, two pastel shades balance each other, and two darker colors balance, if of the same value and intensity of color. Thus, pale green and dusty pink (light values) balance; so do bottle green and deep burgundy red (dark values).

One light color and one dark color do not balance. So, if you have two chairs or two small loveseats facing each other, the most satisfactory effect will be achieved if they balance in color value as well as in size. Usually a pair of this nature will be covered with the same material, but if for some reason they are not, then at least the color value should be the same.


Rhythm makes a room come to life. Room arrangements should be made so that your eye travels along a winding path of lines and colors and comes to rest happily at some group that is the center of interest-your sofa group, window group, or an arrangement of pictures over a table or chest; or perhaps a cabinet displaying your collection of china, glass, ivories, butterflies, dolls, or whatever else may be your fancy.

This can be done by bringing the large chairs out into the room, at right angles to a large sofa which has been placed against the wall; by using little group arrangements of small tables and chairs; or by introducing a circular piece, probably a small table, a decorative screen, or some other object that gives swing and motion to the room.

Rhythm is also introduced by means of color distribution. A color in the draperies can appear in the sofa cushions or two small chairs; it can be echoed in the picture mats or in the pictures themselves, or in your screen. By repeating colors at different eye levels, you avoid monotony and achieve a sense of rhythm.

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