When you’re revamping your home, you might find it tricky to work out some of those fundamental elements, for example knowing when the proportions of something are right or deciding on the best-size lampshade.
Here are a handy collection of rules – some general, others more specific – to get you started. For those interested, the Architect’s Pocket Book, published by Routledge, is an invaluable resource, covering everything from classes of timber for joinery to calculating wallpaper quantities.
Create layers – but don’t over-decorate
The definition of too much depends on your own sensibilities, of course, but do avoid the temptation to throw everything at a room all at once. Think of your particular space in terms of layers to be built up – colour, texture, pattern, fabric, surface treatments, lighting, pictures, plants, books – and go with what you love rather than whatever is on trend. This quietly elegant, but richly detailed living room is proof of the fact that individual style always outlasts fashion.
Give your sofas plenty of space
For a comfortable living space, think about practicalities as well as aesthetics. As a rule of thumb, allow 45cm between the seating and a central coffee table – any less can feel like a squeeze, but too much more can prove uncomfortable when reaching for a drink or book.
When you’re choosing the coffee table itself, make sure it doesn’t overpower the room. The proportions tend to feel right when the table is about half to two-thirds of the length of the sofa.
Make your rug work
Too many beautiful rooms are ruined by rugs that aren’t the right size. Often the largest size available is a standard 240cm x 170cm, which is fine in a mid-sized room, but can look a little bit apologetic in a big space. To make your rug look great in your room, ensure at least the front two feet of your sofas and chairs rest on it. This will prevent it from feeling as though it’s going to float away.
It’s worth hunting around to find a rug in a larger size, as there are many retailers who have a decent selection at reasonable prices. Alternatively, save up for something special or consider a bespoke piece – the impact it makes in the room might be worth the investment.
Dress your windows beautifully
Like a pair of trousers that are too short, curtains should never hang at half-mast. To show yours off to their best effect, ensure that they either ‘kiss’ the floor – such as the beautiful ones in this open-plan living space – or puddle luxuriously.
The combined width of your curtain panels should be one and a half to two times the width of the window itself. For extra-wide windows, such as this one, it’s worth looking at double-width fabrics (generally up to 300cm) as there will be fewer fabric joins.
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Get the art right
One of the most important rules for hanging pictures and paintings is not to position them too high. They should have a human scale – that is to say, they should be hung in relation to the people in the room, not the room itself. The perfect height is at average eye level, which is approximately 145cm from the floor to the centre of the picture.
If you are hanging a gallery wall, as in this image, the main picture should be hung at eye level, with the others arranged in relation to it. There are exceptions, however: if you have a favourite, smaller picture, try hanging it above a sidetable or next to a lamp, which will give it a more intimate scale.
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Keep kitchen standards
It goes without saying that there are countless essential measurements that go into creating a kitchen that’s aesthetically pleasing – not to mention safe.
Standard kitchen units measure between 60cm and 70cm in depth, including worktop. The minimum safe distance between two opposite rows of base units is 120cm, as it allows for safe movement even when the doors or drawers are open. However, this can be squeezed to a metre depending on the overall design of the room and the number of people who will be using it at the same time. The smallest recommended size for a kitchen island is 100cm x 100cm, and for under-counter bar stools you’ll need to allow a minimum of 30cm of worktop overhang.
Talk about tables
Pay attention to key measurements when you’re positioning your dining table and choosing the chairs to go around it. Each person (and therefore chair) around a dining table should have about 60cm of space to themselves if bumped elbows and knuckles are to be avoided.
At the same time, 75cm is generally the minimum amount of space required between the edge of the table and either the wall or another piece of furniture to allow people to push their chairs back when they get up. For most people, the seats of dining chairs will be most comfortable if they are about 30cm below the height of the table.
Have a light-bulb moment
When choosing the right pendant or chandelier to hang above a dining table, aim for a fitting that is between half and two-thirds of the width of the table. This will ensure everything is in proportion.
The same rule can be applied to long, slim light fittings, such as the one in this contemporary barn conversion space: by maintaining the same half-to-two-thirds ratio, but applying it to the table’s length, the light fitting is a harmonious part of the room.
Come out of the shade
Believe it or not, there are decorator’s rules that apply even to the size of a lampshade relative to its base – and thank goodness because there are so many on offer, it would otherwise be a rather random business of trial and error. Follow these points and you won’t go wrong.
The height of the shade should be roughly three-quarters of the height of the base, while the widest part of the shade should measure about the same as the height of the base. If you’re stuck deciding between sizes, go for the larger of the two as the light distribution will be better – unless you have a tall, narrow base, in which case a smaller shade will look more elegant!