Interior Design Essentials: Proportion 101

To design like a pro, you need to think like a pro – and the pros think about proportion. Size, dimension, and grouping are all pieces of the strategy behind creating a proportionally-sound space. Here are the key factors you need to understand in order to make proportionally happy design choices for your home.


Scale relates to visual size. When you walk into a room, how do the furnishings look compared to the room size and the elements around them? A sectional sofa might look fairly small in an open-concept home with a large living room, but the same piece may feel huge in a small apartment.

Think about how each element scales compared to the other elements in the room. Take a look at your wall décor for instance. If all your pictures and mirrors are the same size, nothing will stand out – mix it up with tall, short, big, and little components.


Size not only applies to the context of scaling each item to the room (and to each other), but it also contributes to function. If you have a long sofa that can seat many people, you’ll want a similarly long coffee table to accommodate the function of your sofa.

Don’t just think big or small – look at the dimensions of the item. If you want to hang a painting behind the sofa, don’t choose a tall piece that almost reaches the ceiling. Instead, try something short and wide behind the couch, and hang it about a hand’s width above the back of the furniture. Designers suggest hanging art at eye-level for the greatest appeal.

You can also use size factors like height to create visual illusions. Designing in a compact space? Curtains hung closer to the ceiling can make the room seem taller, and make small windows seem bigger.


Dimension is all about creating layers in the room. When you lay everything against the wall, the room becomes “flat” like a two-dimensional movie. Layer your décor to give it more of a 3D “pop.”

You might hang large artwork on the walls and then place smaller accessories on tables to create the “layering” effect. Transition from large to small, keeping the larger items toward the walls.


Grouping refers to pairing objects together to create more of a cohesive feel to the room. For example, two armchairs can be grouped together if they are of similar height and weight. You can create the same “grouping” feel by using similar end tables. This helps provide symmetry in the room and keeps the design from becoming chaotic.

You can also group objects based on size – several small pieces of art placed above the sofa can give the impression of one larger piece of art.


We think proportion, size, and shape are obvious factors; but color can contribute to the proportions in a room as well. Darker and brighter colors give a “heavy” feel to a room while muted and soft tones make the room feel lighter.

Try mixing both “heavy” and “light” colors to create a better sense of balance in the space. For example, a bright couch might be offset by soft-toned throw pillows, or artwork with muted colors can be balanced with darker frames.

Designing Using Proportion

To create proportion in a room, start by placing your largest items – such as your bed or sofa – first. Then add your other elements around them. Remember to think about the space as a whole; even though your coffee table and area rug are proportional to each other, they may not be proportional to the couch or the rest of the room. Keep these tips in mind to help you design your space for visual appeal and comfort.