Design Mistakes – Scale and Proportion in Interior Design

I started my Design Mistakes series many years ago. It began as a way to showcase some of the mistakes I made around my own home, while helping others to learn the dos and don’ts when it comes to home design. Well, it quickly turned into my most popular series here on the blog!

Here are the top five posts from the series. Or you can peruse them all right here.

Design Mistake – Scale and Proportion

How to get scale and proportion right when decorating
Our Kitchen

I’ve seen many gorgeous homes with the finishes, the style, the furniture, all so on trend. But when I look around, something just feels off. Usually, that’s because some of the rugs, artwork, or furniture are not the right scale or proportion. Scale and proportion actually refer to different things, but are often used interchangeably.

  • Scale is how an item relates to the size of the room.
  • Proportion is the relationship between items.

To give you some examples, I’m going to show you guys our old condo when we first saw it back in 2015. These are the MLS photos. You can see all of the before and afters of our old place in this post.

Bedroom with wrong scale and proportion

Why It Isn’t Working: The nightstand on the right is much too small for the large bed and looks teeny tiny compared to it. The artwork is way too small over the bed, as is the lamp on the left nightstand.

Bathroom before with small frames

Why It Isn’t Working: These frames are a pet peeve of mine and I see this all.the.time. Hanging a 4×6 or 5×8 on a wall and calling it a day will rarely work in any design situation. These babies are just floating there! This would actually look a lot better if the frames were stacked because it would take up a lot more room visually, over the toilet.

Too small dining room table

Why It Isn’t Working: This dining room table isn’t the correct scale for this room. It’s much too small for this large room. We ended up using a six-person table in this space and it filled the room much better.

So those are some extreme examples, but can you see where I’m going with this? Sometimes you can have furniture or items you really love, but they just don’t work in a particular spot in your home because the scale is all wrong. Let’s fix that!

Scale with Artwork

When chatting about scale, the #1 design mistake has to do with artwork on the walls. For some reason, people are often choosing small frames and small pieces to hang in their homes and it drives me bonkers. So let’s look at a few bedrooms that have the correct scale and talk about why it works…

jan's bright bedroom makeover
My Mom’s Bedroom

Why It Works: An easy rule of thumb for hanging art above a bed, or any piece of furniture, is that it should fill at least 1/2 to 2/3 of the space. For my mom’s bedroom, we needed a big ol’ piece to go over her king-sized bed. This one worked out beautifully. I wish I had a link for you (I get asked about it every time I show her space), but we found it at a local boutique that is now closed.

Casey's master bedroom
Our Old Main Bedroom

Why It Works: In the main bedroom of our old condo, I chose to use a round mirror (old from Lulu & Georgia) over the bed, instead of frames or a large piece of art. I did this because of the square window next to it. It would have looked awkward to do a square piece next to the square window. Instead, a round mirror breaks up all of those straight lines. Plus, the mirror is big, taking up at least 2/3 of the bed.

Main bedroom after
Lauren & Kam’s Reader Home Tour

Why It Works: In this reader home tour, Lauren and Kam chose three framed prints over their bed. This looks fantastic, especially on that dark wall! The three frames act as one unified piece, taking up over two-thirds of the bed. If they would have only hung only one of these, it would have been the wrong scale.

Scale with Furniture

Sharing special pieces in Rory's nursery
Rory’s Room

Furniture can be tricky because it’s hard to know how a particular item will look when you get it home and into your space. That’s why measuring is so incredibly important. Shop armed with your measurements and you’ll have a lot more luck. Before I shop for something to fill a space, I usually make note of the minimum and maximum size that will work.

Another tip is to use painter’s tape to mark out your potential furniture on the floor. That way, you can get a feel for how pieces will interact with one another and you can ensure you have the correct proportions.

Here are some spaces where the furniture scale is spot on. 

condo living room open concept
Andrea’s Reader Home Tour

Why It Works: Andrea’s family room is a great example of scale with furniture. This is a large room, so she filled it with large furniture. She opted for a large leather couch and two navy swivel chairs. Everything is in proportion to one another and nothing looks way too big or way too small. 

Ryan's living room space
Ryan’s Living Room

Why It Works: The furniture in my brother’s living room is at the right scale too. This is a large open living room space and the sectional works beautifully here. You want your coffee table to take up 2/3 the length of the couch, and this one does just that.

Scale with Rugs

Our main bedroom makeover reveal
My 9×12 Bedroom Rug

We’ve chatted about the too-small rug in this design mistake post and exhaustively on other posts here on the blog. By now it should be drilled in your brain that you should always go bigger when buying a rug!

Here’s an example of a too-small rug…

Too small rug

Why It Isn’t Working: This 5×8 (I’m guessing), is way too small for this large family room. Visually, it cuts up the space and it isn’t the right scale for this large room.

Why It Works: Here’s the same exact room (with lots of other changes), with a much larger rug, a 9×12. The space feels huge compared to using the other 5×8 rug.

Scale with Lighting

Remember scale and proportion when choosing lighting for your space

Here’s another area where people often go too small…lighting. I actually have an entire design mistake post dedicated to my rules for lighting, but I didn’t touch on scale and that’s an important part of the process.

Choosing kitchen lighting
Chandelier In Our Dining Room

Having the right scale for the chandelier above your table will make the entire space feel put together. Stick to a piece that is at least half the width of your dining table. If it’s smaller, it will look too dinky. And consider scale compared to the table, not to the size of the room. The chandelier in our dining room works perfectly, taking up 2/3 of the width of the table.

Bright bedroom with gray headboard and textured lantern
Bedroom from Tracey’s Home Tour

On the flip side, if you’re choosing an overhead light fixture for an entire room, there’s a different equation to follow. Measure your room’s length and width (in feet) and add these two numbers together.  This number is the ideal diameter for your light fixture. For example, a 10×10 room would need a 20″ diameter chandelier. Tracey’s room, above, nails it with the gorgeous basket chandelier.

Your Homework Assignment – Master Scale and Proportion

how to master scale and proportion

Now that you’re armed with this information, I want you to take a walk around your house and look at each room. Does something just feel off in certain spots? If so, it just might be the scale or the proportion of a piece. Take a hard look at the art and frames on your walls and make sure they actually work for that particular space. I promise that with a few tweaks here and there, you can master scale and proportion to create a well-designed home.


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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