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Big or small? A Non-Scientific Lesson in Scale

Have you ever looked at a space and thought, “hmmm. That is is pretty, but something is a little off?”  Beautiful things, perfect colors, straight out of a magazine look, but something is just not right? My guess is it's a little design element called scale. Don’t check out because that is a designer word and you don’t care, this is good information you can use. Let me explain… 


Until we moved in April, I’ve always lived in small houses. Let’s be clear not tiny houses, HGTV hipster style (because HELLO! Have you seen my closet?) but nice cozy houses. But I find that those of us with smaller spaces can really struggle with this idea of scale. You think small space, small stuff- right? It makes sense why would I cram a 47 piece sectional into an 8 by 8 living room. It won’t work, obviously but that’s the practical idea of scale. You know what you can fit and what you can’t.  Same goes with big spaces. You would never put a teeny love seat in your sprawling great room and call it done. 

That is common sense scale. Measure your space. Measure your stuff. Make sure it fits. Bonus points if you make sure it fits in your door #Won’tMakeThatMistakeTwice 

But big or small, we can still struggle with making it all “feel right.” Let’s take about that part, shall we? I’ve put together 5 simple rules to get scale right 

1. Go big. We’re assuming you know that it will fit but I am willing to bet 99.9% of the time bigger is better. Yes, there is a time and place for that cute little things (I mean, have you seen our succulents. They add more charm to a space than almost anything!) but if you have 47,000 cute little things what do you have? You have no place for they eye to rest, nothing that grabs your attention. Here’s the tough news,  you might have the cleanest, neatest home on the planet, but this lack of a focal point just might look like… clutter. Clean up your view by just picking the bigger item. This is important with rugs, furniture and accents.  Bigger is better for small and large homes.

2. No tiny pictures. I love pictures. Have you seen my kid? I could wallpaper every wall with that face.  And once upon a time in our hold house, I had the most glorious gallery wall ever (more on that later) but the thing I’ve learned as my understanding of scale has become clearer is that tiny just don’t shine like they should. I even made a rule for myself about this that I’ve never shared.  I will almost never frame a picture smaller than 5x7. I print the 4x6, but keep them in a dough bowl to look through. I might have a few 4x6’s framed here and there BUT they will always have a larger mat or thick chunky frame. Why am I so crazy? If it’s worth displaying, it needs to be big enough to see it and appreciate it. Now I have seen some displays done beautifully with a bunch of small pictures but as a general rule, get bigger pictures to give them the spotlight they deserve. 

3. Less is More. Remember that gallery wall I mentioned?  It was my pride and joy. I even put Buddy the Elf in there one year. Then when Tripp came along, it was so fun to fill it with all his new pictures as he grew. And then I took it down. As much as I loved it, I got tired of all the stuff. Even though our house was small, that wall was huge and long so there was plenty of space, but it was just too much competing for attention so I replaced it with 3 large metal and wood pieces. I lost the 20+ items of charm, but gained texture, warmth and scale! I still think gallery walls are awesome (I stand my rule #2 though!) and I hope to someday do another one full of old family pictures BUT most of the time, if you can have less items, but bigger, your view will be cleaner and you’ll love it. 


4. The rule of threes. I hope you are not hearing, “put a huge something on every wall and call it a day” because that is not at all what we’re talking about and you will hate me! That won’t work! Let’s go back to my big metal pieces from #3. What if it was just one? What if I had 2? Not working right? The rule of threes is really the easiest way to achieve balance (balance is scale’s BFF) You still want to hang a teeny picture on your wall? Go for it BUT do three and it will pull it together. Is that shelf feeling off even though it’s your favorite? Check your numbers. Three items that play nicely together feel like one unit, a vignette if you want to use a fancy word, and that will help you get the scale right! 


5. Trust your instinct. I share these things because they work. They are lessons I have learned through design training, watching my BFF Joanna (thought sometimes her scale is off on rugs. Sorry, JoJo) and from getting it wrong and right over and over again. While I have labeled these as “rules” they are not laws. Every space is different, ever taste is different so do what works for you. But if you’re struggling with it just not feeling right, or your thinking that chair might be a little big or a little small… take a look at these and see if the right scale is what you’re missing.   


We really learn best by paying attention to what we like and what works. Start paying attention to those pretty spaces you like that just feel right and the ones that just seem to be missing something.  What do you see? Chances are scale plays a huge part in what you’re loving or not. 



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