using size and scale

An image of a couple looking at a home blueprint

If you’re downsizing, starting out in your own place for the first time, or are already in a small space and you feel your design isn’t working for you, we’ve put together some tips that we think should help. Good news, bad news: there’s a little bit of math involved, but we promise there won’t be a test at the end.

And, that brings us to what we're talking about today—using size and scale.

In design, size and scale go hand and hand. You already know what size is and scale is how the size of one object relates to other objects. When putting together a room you want to choose pieces that are not just the right size for the room, but in proper proportion—or scale—to one another.

Measure Up!
When embarking on any decorating project, it’s important to start with measurements—even more so when decorating a small space. You might have a pretty good idea of what you want, but once you are in the store, you are going to start second-guessing the size of things. A sofa that seems small in a 20,000 square foot showroom might appear gargantuan in your tiny den; conversely, deliberately choosing small furniture can backfire if you get it home and it’s too small to be functional or appears out of scale when placed beside your “normal” furniture.

Before you start shopping, get out your tape measure, notebook, and pencil or pen and measure EVERYTHING. (Hint: it helps to make a sketch of the room and add measurements as you go.) Not only do you want to record the length and width of the room, you’ll want to make note of doorways, windows and other permanent elements like fireplaces and radiators. Finally, snap a few pictures on your smartphone to refer to while you shop.

For both in-store and virtual appointments, make sure you have your sketch and measurements close at hand. If you’re shopping by video call, your salesperson might ask to see the space to help understand what you’re working with and will be able to show you items in relation to each other to see how they work together.

Start with Sofas and Chairs
Anyone who has had to climb over the arm of a sofa to get into a room knows how important it is to consider size and scale when shopping for upholstered pieces. This is also a common problem with people who have downsized from much larger homes and are determined to make their furniture “work.” You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration if you sell (or donate) those too-big pieces and put the proceeds towards new items with the right proportions.

Armed with your room measurements, you’ll soon find that there are dozens of options for smaller-sized sofas, sofa beds and sectionals. Often referred to as “apartment sized,” they are usually around 20- to 30-inches shorter than a full-size sofa. Look for low arms and exposed feet for a lighter look; the taller the legs, the more visually “lifted” the piece will feel. And, don’t forget, if you fall in love with a particular sofa but it’s too long for your space, ask if its available in a loveseat or inquire about custom options.

At just 84 inches long, the Regeena Queen Chaise Sofa Bed is the perfect example of a small-space sofa that doesn’t compromise comfort for size. The low, narrow arms make it seem visually smaller, but the oversized loose pillow-back, thick seat cushions, and attached chaise are all about sinking in and kicking back. Plus, it has the added bonus of a pullout cushion that converts it into a comfortable sleeper for overnight guests or movie night.

Once you have chosen your sofa or loveseat, that’s when scale starts to really come into play. You might gravitate towards a matched set of furniture, because that’s easy, but it’s not always the best approach for a small space. Instead, for a more interesting layout, put aside the idea of a matched set in favour of a carefully curated group of complementary chairs and alternative seating (more about that later).

When choosing your additional seating, select pieces with a similar scale to your sofa. It's important to look for chairs that have roughly the same visual weight as your sofa or even a little lighter (ie longer, exposed legs or open arms) to open up the space.

This is also a great opportunity to start adding pops of colour or pattern that might overwhelm the eye if used on a larger piece. The Elgin accent chair in a sassy marmalade shade is perfectly proportioned for a smaller room and almost appears to float on its thin black frame. As well as making a bold statement, it’s the perfect shape and size for a smaller space and could easily spend time as a bedroom chair when it’s not needed in the living room.

If there isn't enough room for an armchair or two, consider using Eames-inspired dining chairs for seating that can move effortlessly from room to room, or pick up a couple sturdy poufs that can do double duty as footrests and casual guest seating.

Add Coffee and End Tables
Scale and visual weight are also important when choosing the “hard” furniture for your room. These secondary items take their cues from the seating pieces, so wait until you’ve chosen your sofa before picking a coffee table.

A good rule of thumb is to choose a coffee table that is about two thirds the sofa's length—that way everyone can reach it, but it’s not blocking the entire front of the sofa. So, if you have a 68-inch sofa, you don’t want to go any longer than 45 inches.

That said, some rules are made to be broken. You might choose a smaller coffee table with a pouf or footstool beside it, or a set of nesting tables that stay nested until company comes over or you need to make room for drinks and snacks. Again, leggy pieces will look visually lighter, but you can also get a sense of airiness by choosing glass or lighter-coloured materials.

Tables that provide arrangement options and tables that fold, expand, or provide extra storage are especially versatile in a small space. To add visual interest AND more room to walk around, consider round or curved tables, or skip the coffee table altogether and steal a few inches from behind the sofa with a narrow console table or shelf.

If you have room for one or two end tables, again you might consider using nesting tables, or maybe even nightstands which will give you a little bit of extra storage space. To make sure you have the right size and scale, keep in mind that the top of the end table should be equal to or lower than the height of the arm of the sofa (or chair) that it sits beside, and should never extend past the front of the sofa. (For armless pieces, choose a table height where the arms would normally sit or slightly lower.)

Shop with Confidence
We hope this has helped take a little bit out of the mystery out of working with size and scale in your small space. Keep in mind that we’ve focused only on living room furniture today, but it’s just as important in every room of the house—imagine how weird it would be to see a huge china cabinet in a room with a small bistro-sized dining set, or a tall, king sized bed flanked by folding tray tables!

The most important thing to remember is if you don’t think it looks “right,” there’s probably a mathematical reason why. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to reach out for some expert advice. Remember—small space living comes with some sacrifices, but just because you have less floor space doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort or style.

So, whether you are starting your decorating project from scratch or looking for some new pieces to work with what you have, we can help! We encourage you to book a virtual appointment to chat with an in-store associate by phone or video chat, or co-browse our site with one of our home experts who can answer your questions and simplify the process of shopping online. Learn more at Shop Your Way.