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breaking the rules of scale and proportion

Breaking the Rules: 9 Ways to Play With Scale and Proportion in Unexpected Ways

If you’ve seen our guide to scale and proportion, you already know they’re important decorating principles, just like symmetrical balance in interior design.

For a quick refresher, scale and proportion refer to how things relate in size visually (and physically) in a room. Having the right scale and proportion across your furniture and decor will give your space a more balanced look and feel. For example, you want to pair a spacious sectional with a coffee table that’s relatively large in size.

But sometimes you have to toss the rules. Consider a large sofa paired with a non-rectangular rug or a room with just one giant art piece. These are examples of how by breaking the rules of scale and proportion, you can create moments that add drama and visual impact to a room.

We recommend understanding the rules before trying to break them, of course. You can always check out our interior design 101 guides to make sure you have the decorating basics down.

Otherwise, here are a few of our favorite unexpected ways to play with scale and proportion!

breaking the rules of scale and proportion1. Play With A Large Rug Size

A rug that’s proportional to the size of your room is key. Which means a very large room with high ceilings can be tricky. Consider a large cowhide or an irregularly shaped rug.

In this bedroom, the size of the cowhide rug helps to offset the large space and high ceilings. It does so by drawing the eye down and towards the bed, the main focus of the room. Additionally, whereas a rectangular rug would have felt rigid in such a large room, the cowhide’s organic shape breaks up the straight lines and gives the overall space a more effortless look and feel. And because it’s placed at an angle, with part of the rug under the bed, it helps to ease up the flow of the overall space by making the room feel open but not vast and empty.

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breaking the rules of scale and proportion

2. Contrast With A Floor Vase

Large-scale decor pieces meant for your floors are a great way to play with scale in a room. Try a giant floor vase that visually matches up in size and proportion to your furniture.

In this corner, the floor vase is far larger than any of the other decorative pieces. What it also does is serve as a second focal point that evens out the cabinet. Its scale is almost that of a small tree plant rather than an accent. Next to the large sideboard, it fits into the space by way of its size and becomes a decorative touch that goes one step further to add impact beyond the other objects and accents.

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breaking the rules of scale and proportion

3. Offset With Statement Art

Adding large art is a surefire way to play with the visual scale and proportion in a space. Try hanging a single art piece in a room as a way to create focus and balance.

In this living space, a large-scale artwork is tucked behind a small side table, filling a space but also helping to center the focus of the room. By hanging it off to the side between the sofa and the table, it directs attention to the side table area by way of its large size. At the same time, it also helps to balance out the substantially sized sofa.

breaking the rules of scale and proportion

4. Activate Walls With Small Art

On the opposite end of the spectrum, small art can add just as much drama to a space when used to set off empty wall space.

In this bedroom, the art piece helps to “activate” the negative wall space, meaning it’s the only break on the intentionally bare walls. What it does here is raise the overall focus in the room by being placed slightly above the rest of the low-profile furniture. That ultimately guides our eye up towards the art and ultimately makes the furniture seem less low to the ground. You can even play with hanging small art a bit higher for a more dramatic effect, but the key is to make sure it’s not hung so high that it feels out-of-place or simply floating.

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breaking the rules of scale and proportion

5. Juxtapose With Mismatched Nightstands

Mismatched furniture is another way you can purposefully break up scale and proportion in a room. The easiest place to start mixing up your furniture is with bedroom nightstands, which usually come in pairs or sets.

In this bedroom, the tall dresser offsets the size of the small side table to the right of the bed. The dresser’s large size and structured form is the complete opposite of the small, thin, and delicate side table. The result is a look boldly contrasted in scale, proportion, and every other way. However, by positioning a pendant light above the small table, it adds height and balances out the overall space.

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breaking the rules of scale and proportion

6. Break It Up With Lighting

Lighting is one of the most common accents you can use to break up scale and proportion in a room. Depending on where they’re placed, they can add major visual impact.

In this living room, the hanging pendants and floor lamps are sculptural and dramatic and they offer a hint of shape and form against the white walls. For instance, the floor lamp arms extend high over the low-profile back of the sofa but it doesn’t feel out of place. Instead, it contrasts with the low sofa in a way that pulls together the design of the room. In the same way, our eye is guided up by the pendant, which visually bridges the mantel and artwork with the furniture.

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breaking the rules of scale and proportion

7. Experiment With Gallery Wall Size

Gallery walls are often super organic in shape, which makes them fun to experiment within a space. You can easily scale yours up or down for a gallery wall size that’s focused or expansive. How you do it is up to you.

For this bedside, the gallery wall takes over the space in a way that not only draws attention to the art but also steers the focus away from the bed. That’s because the size and scale of the gallery wall as a whole are much larger than the headboard, which gives the art a more commanding presence in the room. If you’re working with a plain white upholstered bed, this is a great way to spread the focus in your room.

breaking the rules of scale and proportion

8. Anchor Spots With Large Decor

Similar to a large floor vase, you can scale up or down your decorative objects intentionally depending on where and how they might fit into your space.

In this living room, the oversize white organic vase on the coffee table has a larger scale that stands out among the other decorative pieces in the room. So it helps ground the center of the space. Additionally, because there aren’t layers of pillows on the sofa, the vase actually feels proportionately balanced among the furnishings. However, if you’re going for this look, consider all the other elements in your room first, so that you don’t overcrowd your space visually with large objects and “stuff.”

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breaking the rules of scale and proportion

9. Create Focus With Small Wall Accents

Small mirrors and artwork are often placed in unexpected places, where they can offset the focus. Try layering a small mirror with large furnishings to switch up sightlines and draw the eye.

In this living area, an antique mirror placed above a large-scale dresser is equally captivating despite its smaller size. Moreover, the decorative objects on the dresser help round out the look and add to the look by making the difference in scale appear intentional and intriguing.

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design styles

Global Style – 1 Room, 5 Cities, 5 Design Styles

design styles – MoroccoWhere in the world are you dreaming about traveling? France, Iceland, Morocco, Portugal or Sweden? While a life-changing, intercontinental move may be out of reach, we’re always up for clever ways to bring the vacation vibes to us.

While daydreaming about some travel hot-spots, we decided to try and recreate the look and feel of each city in our own apartments, without setting foot on a plane.

From the minimal but cozy feel of Iceland, to Portugal’s oceanic color palette and tile work, we created 5 different design styles, based on 5 beautiful cities and tips for anyone who wants to achieve the look.

The City: Cascais, Portugal

design styles – Portugal

The Style: Rustic Traveler

Cascais is a beautiful coastal resort town west of Lisbon, which is known for its historic landmarks and gorgeous beaches. We designed this room around a color palette that reflects the ocean and Cascais’ sunny weather. True to the Modsy Rustic Traveler style, the room is full of pieces that feel special and collected, maybe even passed down for generations.design styles – Portugal

How to get the style

Start by layering lots of patterns in sunny yellows and bright blues. Next, look to natural materials, which bring this style to life. Note how the rattan chairs and daybed add texture, especially when paired with soothing pops of color.

Don’t be afraid to mix up textures – this look is about a casual mix of eclectic pieces. Warm leather tones blend beautifully with rich velvets. You can even take decor inspiration from the sea by using collected seashells and ocean themed art.

Must-have pieces

The Avalon Daybed from Serena & Lily is very special piece – a perfect place for napping in the warm sun. You can dream about a trip to Portugal, even if you live far from it. We also love the Ikat Ottoman from Wisteria. It adds vibrancy and comfort to the space, while the colors evoke the palette of gorgeous Portuguese tile work.

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The City: Paris, France

design styles – Paris

The Style: Chic Collector

A city centered around fashion and the arts, Paris exudes a sense of luxury and glamour. We incorporated these chic elements into the space by pairing rich velvets with marble and brass finishes. A beautiful glass chandelier and statement art create a sense of opulence.

Who lives here? Probably a stylish curator, immersed in Parisian culture with a taste for the finer things. Someone who enjoys collecting interesting pieces over time, inspired by their love for design.

design styles – ParisHow to get the style

The key to recreating this look is layering colors, patterns and textures. Royal blue and teal are offset by lighter pastels and colorfully patterned rugs. Look for white marble pieces that are  balanced with brass finishes to bring warmth to the space.

Velvet and tasseled decorative accent pillows introduce an eclectic, curated feel to the space, rendering it more personal and vibrant.

Must have pieces

The Robey Curved Sofa from CB2 is the perfect statement piece for a living room. The Waterfall Arched Chandelier and Gold Movement Wall Art from Anthropologie are also great pieces that add a sense of glam to any home. Tres chic!

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The City: Stockholm, Sweden

design styles – StockholmThe Style: Mod Enthusiast

Calling all Mid Century Modern aficionados! We know your love of Scandinavian design will pull you right into our Stockholm apartment.

This design is for a person who lives a minimalist lifestyle and is drawn toward spaces that feel open and completely functional.

We’ve left most of the flooring bare to highlight the beautiful detail of this particular studio apartment. Color has been added in very specific pops – giving a nod to the fact that this person is most likely a curator of their own home and is precise with every detail.

design styles – StockholmHow to get the style

Start with a neutral base color palette with pieces such as a neutral sofa and rug. Then, bring in a statement Mid-Century form chair and sculptural coffee table to create a bit of intrigue.

Must have pieces

The Noguchi Coffee Table is a real winner in this space. It helps to anchor the room, providing a true Mid Century statement to set the tone. A close second is the pierre-jeanneret chair which is paired with its matching desk for a great work station just off of the living area.

Swipe to explore the Stockholm look!

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The City: Marrakesh, Morocco

design styles – Morocco

The Style: Mod Collector

This Moroccan inspired studio is all about texture. The rug exudes warmth with its comfortable, soft texture. We’ve paired it with an informal seating area of poufs and floor pillows.

Morocco brings elements of casual comfort into the interior space so you’ll see less formal seating and dining areas and instead more comfort-forward pieces such as plush pillows and throws. We’ve also brought in a daybed to function both as a sofa and main sleeping area.

design styles – MoroccoHow to get the style

Creating this look in your own home is easy and fun! Pick a corner and transform it into a comfortable reading nook with floor pillows, drop pendant lights, and plenty of candles and cozy pillows and blankets. Use a tray instead of a formal table for your cup of tea.

Oh, and have tons of fun with color! This style is about mixing different colors, patterns, and textures together with ease.

Must have pieces

The Diamondback Rug is one of our favorites. It’s handmade and so beautiful. It pairs with this style well because of its pattern and texture, however can really work across different style preferences if you decide Morocco is no longer your city style.

The Carved Wood Media Console is a statement that has a carved detailing on its doors. The wood stain adds a touch of warmth to the space without feeling too heavy.

design styles – Morocco

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The City: Reykjavik, Iceland

design styles – Iceland

The Style: Modern Rustic

Reykjavik is a design lover’s delight, packed with edgy, modern aesthetics and functional, cozy elements to withstand the harsh climate. The city’s interiors often feel like retreats from the intense weather.

You won’t see massive homes with wasted space here, instead you find smaller, functional layouts that are shared by young couples or even a small family. This design is perfect for lovers of Modsy’s Modern Rustic style where minimalism is key, and lighter pieces get dressed up in rustic finishes and textures.

design styles – IcelandHow to get the style

This style is all about a balanced, moody color palette and cozy textures like leather, sheepskin, and wicker. We pulled inspiration from the North Atlantic ocean, glacier lagoons, volcanic rock formations and black-sand beaches for this city space. A surprise element like copper or brass adds a modern touch.

Choose foundational pieces that are more on the minimalist side, which you’ll see in the shape of the sofa, but opt for a slipcover, which creates a clean yet homey aesthetic.

A good amount of decor like candles, baskets, pillows, and unique lighting adds warmth. Bring the beautiful elements of the outdoors inside and dress them up with the coziest blanket you have.

Must have pieces

We love the Cedeno Wood Entry Way Bench from Birch Lane. It offers additional seating when entertaining but it doesn’t feel heavy or take up a lot of space. It has the charm and warmth of a rustic piece with all of the conveniences of minimalism!

The Reynisfjara Beach, Iceland Print from Crate & Barrel is an ode to the natural wonders of the country. The soft blues and greens add some color amongst the black and white palette. The Blaire Antique Brass Desk Lamp, also from Crate & Barrel is a fun piece that almost mimics a candelabra, a perfect example of traditional and modern meeting in the middle.

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