|This 18th century Colonial interior, with its low ceiling|
and close spaces, has the sort of scale most of us
would refer to as "quaint".
This point was really driven home to me a while back, when I toured a house whose owner reminded me several times of its vast floor area—nearly four thousand square feet. What seemed more amazing to me was that, for all its size, the house was also utterly charmless. The rooms were huge, bland expanses in which the furniture looked lost. I seemed to walk for yards past blank stretches of spray-textured drywall intermittently pierced by enormous yet flimsy-looking aluminum windows. There was hardly a nod anywhere to the modest size of an ordinary human being.
|The interior of Reims Cathedral (c. 1211-1275): Here,|
scale has an entirely opposite effect, but for good reason.
Scale determines how you, as a human being, relate to a building. When you walk into a tiny Provincial cottage, for example, it’s your own relatively large physical size that makes the surroundings feel so quaint and charming. On the other hand, when you walk into the soaring nave of a Gothic cathedral, its scale intentionally makes you feel small and humble—after all, it's God's house that you're visiting.
But what’s right for God’s house isn’t always right for yours. Inasmuch as bigger isn’t necessarily better, here are a few suggestions regarding the use of scale in design:
|Is this a living room, or a lounge at La Guardia?|
|If you love large rooms, use smaller|
sub-elements to break up the vastness
of the space and give it a more
• Try to get a sense of appropriate room sizes by looking at actual buildings, not simply by studying floor plans or, worse, by guessing. I once had a client who insisted that his dining area be sunken eight feet below the living room. When I pointed out that eight feet was an entire story, he was horrified. “I didn’t know it was that much,” he said. “I just wanted to see out over the dining table.”
Lesson: Make sure you’re familiar with the dimensions you’re planning on before you commit yourself.
• Finally, if you simply must have that giant room (or a giant house, for that matter), try to make the rooms more people-friendly by including some small-scale elements such as alcoves and bays to break up the unrelenting volume. But as the lawyers would say—NOT TO BE TAKEN AS AN ENDORSEMENT OF HUGE ROOMS.