The Psychology Of Space: Proportion

In this lesson, I show you how to apply the psychological principles of proportion to your space.

In the first part of our series on space, we looked at perception and how we can trick the brain to perceive a space differently by manipulating the visual cues. In this lesson, we will focus on the second part that influences the feeling of space: proportion. In simple terms, proportion is how much of a space we take up relative to the rest of the space.

In lesson 1, we started by explaining why a room seems larger when all the surfaces, including the ceiling and floor, are painted white. Aside from many gallery spaces, however, rooms are rarely just a blank white box. The moment furniture enters the picture the perception of the space can change completely, which is why sometimes rooms can seem bigger with furniture than without. This is a factor of the correct proportion of the size of the furniture to the room.

Mom 4 Real

The Psychology Of Proportion

If the scale of the furniture is wrong, the room will feel cramped and we feel closed in. If there is too much space, however, we feel vulnerable. Another important factor to consider is body space. While the exact distance can vary between cultures, there’s an ideal space when looking at each other. On the one hand, we don’t like it when people are too close to us, because it means that we have to flick between their eyes and their mouth. On the other hand, when people are too far from us, we can’t really see their expressions. The ideal distance is around a meter because that’s the distance that permits us to read someone’s expressions without having to move our eyes.

Lesson 1

The main obstacles to a proportional room

The main barriers to getting the proportion of a room right can be grouped in the following two categories:

Is there a conflict of interests within the same room?

In order to squeeze the maximum potential out of your space, you have to understand how it will be used. Whether it is a hallway or a bedroom will change the types of functions the room will serve. It is important to define what these different functions will be, based on your daily life and preferences: listening to music, watching television, reading a book, having a conversation, children playing, working, etc.?

    Coco Lapine Design

Are there conflicting aesthetics fighting for your attention in the same room?

Is there too much clutter everywhere? Are the patterns and colours clashing? This doesn’t mean that it's not possible to have many different colours and patterns in the same room. Kelly Wearstler (see image below) has shown how to layer patterns and colours in intentional ways like few other designers are able to. We will try to decipher some of the simple rules for anyone wanting to experiment with this in later lessons.

    Kelly Wearstler

Lesson 2

Tips & Tricks: How to get the proportion of your room right

Here are some simple rules to keep in mind when choosing and positioning furniture within your space:

No ‘hugging the wall’

Move furniture away from the walls, because it keeps us from looking at the corners, shows up more floor space and therefore makes the room seem bigger.

    Pierre Saalburg
    Emmanuel de Baser
    Stephane Parmentier

Take furniture off the ground

Wherever possible, take your furniture off the ground as this makes it seem like there is more floor space and allows the eye to move through the room easily. You could do this by removing legs from cabinets and attaching the cabinets to the wall instead or by hanging a clothing rail from the ceiling, for example.

    Athena Calderone
    House Doctor

Consider Body Space

Keep in mind, that three people rarely sit on a three-seater sofa. Therefore, if you have a small room, it may be better to opt for a two-seater. If you already have a three-seater, it can be made to look smaller by putting a throw over it vertically.

    House of Grey

Keys to increasing space:

  • Declutter!

  • Storage should always be the primary step. Ask yourself: what do you need to store? And where is it going to be used?

  • Don’t overcrowd with furniture. You can opt for flexible seating that can be put away or moved around the room instead of bulky seating.

  • Wherever possible, include furniture with integrated storage, ie. pouffes.

Help: My room is too big!

Section out the room and have dedicated areas for different functions!

    Pre-war penthouse NYC

Are you going to implement any of these tips? I'm happy to help you implement these tricks, so don't hesitate to get in touch!

Need help applying these psychology-based principles to your space?

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The Psychology Of Space: Perception


The Psychology Of Colour: Considering Light


The Psychology Of Colour: Combining Colours

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