If you’ve ever had new furniture delivered only to find it was too small — or too large — for the room where you wanted to use it, take a lesson from the school of scale. Scale is the relationship between different objects that make up the whole of your room. Proportionality, scale’s cousin, has to do with the size relationships between the two.
Here’s an example: Picture two glass vases, one very small and one very large. Scale is what makes the small vase small and the large vase large. Add a bouquet of pansy blossoms to the small vase and it looks perfectly proportioned. Add just one pansy to the small vase, and the vase looks too big. Add the same pansy to the large vase, and the pansy seems to disappear.
Buying furniture that’s the wrong scale for a room can make even a large room look too small. Conversely, furniture that’s just right in scale can make a small room seem large.
Part of a room’s sense of spaciousness or coziness comes from the width of the traffic aisles in the room and the distance between pieces of furniture. A sofa and coffee table, for example, should be at least 14 inches apart and 18 inches apart at the very most — at 18 inches, your guests may have to perch on the edge of the sofa to reach their drinks on the coffee table.
Traffic lanes through a room should be at least 36 inches wide to provide a sense of flow. In the dining room, leave 32 to 36 inches between the table and the wall to allow room for an adult to pull back a chair and sit down. A seated adult needs 24 linear inches of dining space to eat comfortably.
In the bedroom, place the bed at least 24 inches away from the wall on each side individuals will use to get in and out of bed. Allow 36 inches of clear space between the bed and the door.
Creating a floor plan with graph paper will help you determine what size furniture to buy. With minimum clearances in mind, take the measurements of your room and mark it on the paper. Mark traffic-flow areas and clearances around doors. The space that remains tells you how much room you have to work with.
Using a floor plan make it easy to find furniture whose footprint fits the room, but scale goes beyond just the footprint. The color and shape of the furniture you choose adds or subtracts visual weight from an item’s actual size. A puffy white leather sofa with wide arms seems larger than a sleek black leather sofa with chrome legs and armrests. A good rule of thumb is to stick to low, clean lines in a small room and save visual heavyweights for a great room, a family room, or a large living room.