Proportion and scale are two related design principles. Proportion refers to the size relationship that parts of the design have to each other and to the design as a whole. On a small scale, an example of proportion is the size of a chair’s legs to its back or seat. On a bigger scale, an example of proportion may be the size of a pergola’s posts in relationship to its beam. If the relationship of the parts is pleasing, we consider it to be well-proportioned.
As with many things, the ancient Greeks had this one under control. They referred to a concept known as the golden mean, an imaginary line that divides an object into unequal yet harmonious portions, somewhere between 1/2 and 1/3. It’s easy to see this at work in interior design; think of tiebacks on curtains, or where a chair rail is located.
There’s also the golden section, a mathematical statement of proportions. This uses a progression of numbers – 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34… – that relate to one another in a pleasing way. For instance, a patio 5′ wide by 8′ long is considered pleasing. Want it bigger? Multiply both sides by the same number. Using the number 3, that gives us a patio 15′ wide by 24′ long. Theoretically, a room or space created using the golden section should be the easiest to furnish and work with.
Proportion is important in the landscape because we’re dealing with so many large items, and all too often people are afraid to go big. Here are a few examples:
When it comes to pergolas proportion makes a world of difference. Bigger is, quite often, better. Compare the proportions of the pergola that was there (top) to the one we replaced it with (bottom).
This custom arbor I designed is one of my favorite pieces. The house it belongs to is in the 9,000 sq ft range and it sits on 75 acres. The existing arbor was a run-of-the-mill garden center piece of junk that looked like paperclips on a basketball court. This one has the “oomph” to have some presence.
I’ve also talked about picking plants that suit your home and site. Again, proportion is so important! The trick is to find a plant that’s not too big for your lot (especially a smaller city lot) but is big enough to stand up to your house. Not sure? That’s what professional landscape designers (like me!) are for.
Next up: balance!