What is proportion, exactly, as it relates to design? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “The correct, attractive, or ideal relationship in size or shape between one thing and another, or between the parts of a whole.” I think of proportion as the most tangible element of design. It is less dependent on personal taste, and more objectively quantifiable than elements such as color and contrast. Understanding proportion come from educating your eye, from learning how to look. For me proportion is more a matter of the good judgment one accrues over a lifetime of looking at the best examples.
Choosing furniture of the proper size and proportion in relationship to the size of the room can make a small room feel more expansive, or bring a grand space down to a more inviting human scale. Hanging window treatments close to the crown molding can make windows seem taller, and using valances can help camouflage windows of different sizes. Decorating can help compensate for architectural flaws, but ideally it should be about highlighting the best attributes of a room.
One rule of thumb regarding proportion is that it is generally better to err on the side of bigness. It is a common mistake to choose dinky pieces of furniture out of fear of making too strong a statement, or to make a room appear larger (a misperception). While you don’t want a room crammed with oversize furniture, emphasizing select elements – a generous chandelier; an armoire that stretches up to the ceiling; a long luxurious sofa; or several large – scale accessories – will have a greater impact, and can make even a small room feel grander.