Elements of Design: Line

We all know what a line is: a connection of two or more points. In design, line happens when two planes meet, or when we see an object in silhouette. Line helps us play with scale and proportion by emphasizing height, width, or movement. There are several types of lines, each with a particular effect that it creates.

Straight Lines

Horizontal lines: Horizontal lines are secure, restful, and stable. They can emphasize the horizontal nature of a space, and they can lead the eye to a focal point. In the photo below, you can see how the horizontal lines of the house give it a sense of grounding, without a lot of excitement.

Vertical lines: Vertical lines can be inspiring, drawing the eye towards the heavens – which is why they’ve been used in church architecture for centuries. Too many vertical lines and it can feel like a prison, but the right number… good stuff. I love ecclesiastical (church) architecture, and occasionally I’ll stop the truck for pics of a really cool church. The picture below is of a church somewhere off of I-81 that I fell in love with from the road. Look at the vertical lines of the front of that church! And they continue into the three crosses. Too cool.

Angular Lines

Diagonal lines: Diagonal lines show movement and action, yet they’re still considered stable. Diagonals can be a great way to add emphasis to design. In the photo above, you can see that the roof of the church leads the eye to the dramatic vertical structure of the front wall. If you haven’t yet figured it out, I really like this building.

Zigzag Lines: Zigzag lines show a lot of exciting action and movement. They also introduce rhythm. In the photo below, you can see where this set of steps is still very comfortable and easily navigable, but is much more interesting and dynamic than a simple, straight set of steps would be. Too much movement, or too many repeated zigzags, can be overwhelming.

Curved Lines

Curved or Circular Lines: Circular lines help balance the straight, angular lines of a house or structure. They can also provide emphasis while giving a more human character to the space. In the photo below, the circular medallion defines a dining area while also providing a pleasing counterpoint to all the angular lines of the flagstone patio.

Flowing Lines: Everyone likes flowing lines in their landscape design. They provide a gentle sense of movement and grace in the space. Done correctly, you can’t help but want to walk down a gently curving path!

So, that’s line. Such a cool element of landscape design!

Next up: Texture!

Principles of Design: Proportion in the Landscape

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!