Element of Design | Scale

Designer Mentor James Saavedra of Saavedra Design Studio share a tool from his design arsenal: scale!

The other day, I was attempting to explain the concept of scale to my intern in my Austin office. It was not as easy as one might think and I realized then that the mastering of this powerful skill comes with practice and experience. The longer you have been creating interior the easier implementing scale becomes. Instantly, you can see in your mind what size this or that should be and through much trial and error you have learned what formula works for your spaces. (Admittedly, I began my design career relatively young, and at 35, can’t ever remember if this is year 13 or 14 of this endeavor!)

These are (the rules) one might be taught in design school but they can be a bit hum-drum and, usually, these rules result in bland interiors that have little life or “magic” as my clients have deemed my abilities. Basics are a necessity when you are first learning any skill or trade but it’s when you begin to play with the basics that the real fun begins.

There are a few standards that I always adhere to where scale is concerned:

1. Do not fill small spaces with a plethora of small things. Especially rugs. This is one error a lot of people make with their petite rooms. It may seem counter intuitive but the reality is that you are saying, “I lack the space to live generously”. I do not care what size the room- you deserve to live fully in every respect. No to mention, a lot of little items = clutter. Both physically and visually. Instead, chose key pieces – such as your sofa and rug and take them to their max.


In the Hollywood bungalow- the goat hair rug runs the entire length of this space giving the illusion that there is more room in this small space.

2. Always include an item or two that you would consider “over-scaled” for your space. For most- the easiest and most pleasing items will likely be artwork or mirrors. Even a lampshade will do the trick. What does this accomplish? Not only can you draw attention to something wonderful, or pull your attention away from something in the room just awful that you can do nothing about (say horrible architecture or what not) but it prevents your space from becoming too perfect and formulated. How boring is that? There is nothing approachable about a perfectly pulled together room, trust me, and we always want a sense of ease in a room- don’t we?


The giant Robertson mirror from my JAK furniture line works fabulously.

Notice the table lamp’s large scale and wide spread shade in the study of my wine country project. Tres Chic. No?


3. Think of scale as you would your wardrobe. Most people would not mix three gigantic patterns together in the same outfit- instead they chose a pleasing mix. Say one large patterned piece balanced with a solid and perhaps a smaller patterned item. Or consider jewelry and accessories- one fabulously large cocktail ring means that all those other baubles and bangles are either unnecessary or they must be refined and tailored to play a supporting role.

The same is true for your interiors. A successful space requires the combination and balance of sizes and shapes to mix and mingle just so to create harmony. One large sofa- try a pair of smaller occasional chairs that are different than your sofa. Not only are you introducing different sized elements, plus variety, but now you are also playing with a numbers game…also more interesting.

  Here we balance the width of the JAK  Lexington Bar through the vertical height of the metal wall art. The convex rounds of the art off set the flat, linear lines of the bar and the fact that we have two impressive pieces means that the top needs little accessories. Notice the size of the horse (small) the art (medium) and the bar (large).

Think of any big box furniture retailer and how the always try to sell things in matching sets. The big rolled arm chenille sofa come with the big rolled arm chair that is exactly the size of the big rolled arm love seat, chopped down the middle. And so on. Yuck, yes?

I am not saying to super size everything or always throw scale out of the window. Rather, take time to consider how playing with scale can help you achieve making the ordinary more interesting and meaningful whether its a mirror over a cabinet in a room or choosing that sofa you think is just not going to fit.

You can even take this further and play with scale in your own life. See how increasing the scale–or presence–of the interesting things in your day-to-day life has an effect. Take some presence from that part you really dislike and add it to what you know is working or that which you wish to try. Add some variety and break your rules -just a bit. Undoubtedly, you will see how the impact of an interesting and richer life becomes stronger.

If you would like your space professionally designed by this fabulous Los Angeles, California Design firm, you can find Saavedra Design Studio here
You can also find a full list of all our global mentors [ who are top professional interior designers ] on our Mentors Page.



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One Response to “Element of Design | Scale”

  1. Sarah Says:

    So well stated and meaningful. When James speaks of having one oversized piece, I immediately think of a giant mirror Meredith Heron used in a very small dining room. I can’t find it now to link to it, but it is another awesome example.

    Great post!


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