Proportion and Placement in Design

There are so many things to think about when decorating a room—you have to find the right balance of colors, textures, and shapes to make a room come to life. And you want to make all of it fit your own personal style.

The important elements of proportion and placement often get neglected during the design process, but they go a long way towards making a room warm and welcoming. You can have perfectly coordinated pictures, for instance, but they’ll still look wrong if they’re not hanging in a balanced way. Learn more about how to use proportion and placement to your advantage as you decorate.


People have a tendency to place artwork too high on walls. The center of the piece should be at eye level (57 to 60 inches from the floor is a good rule). But if the art is very tall (over 120 inches), you’ll have to forget the midpoint rule and just make sure that the bottom edge is above the floor by at least 12 inches.

Also, if you’re placing the artwork in an area where people are usually sitting (or if people in your home are shorter than average), you should move it down a bit lower to compensate. Art over a sofa should be about a hand’s width above the edge of the sofa.

If you’re hanging art over a large piece of furniture like a sofa or a bed, it should be at least two-thirds of the width of the furniture. If it’s not, consider adding other items, since a group of art functions like one larger piece. To keep items in a group balanced, put the heavier pieces left and bottom, where the eye starts. Or if you have just one heavy piece, put it in the middle of the grouping.


Rugs define a space and enhance your décor. If you have a closed-off room and want the rug to cover most of the floor, get one that leaves about eighteen inches of bare floor on each side of the rug. But you may want to pick your rug’s size based on how you want the rug to interact with your furniture.

In a bedroom, the rug often goes under about two-thirds of the bed, perpendicular to it. Or you can place a runner on either side of the bed. In a children’s bedroom, you can just place a rug beside the bed.

In a large living room, you can put all of the furniture in the center of the room and put every piece fully on top of a large rug. Another large-room option is to create two conversation areas and use separate rugs (of the same design and color) to define each area. Alternatively, you can have the front legs of the sofa and chairs rest on the rug and have the back legs off of the rug.


Use furniture pieces with a variety of heights. Otherwise, the room will appear static and boring. Don’t have too many large pieces in a room—they will compete for attention. A small room may be able to handle only one large piece of furniture. Choose large pieces to build around, putting smaller items in any remaining space.

Pay attention to drastic differences in pieces. A very large lamp on a delicate table, for instance, will look off balance. So will a very small chair next to a large sectional.


The bottom edges of all the shades in a living room should be at eye level when people are seated. Otherwise, people may have an obscured view of others in the room. A lamp on a night table should sit at chin level when you’re sitting on the bed. And all of the tops of the lampshades in a room should be at roughly the same height.

The bottom of a pendant light should be around 30 to 32 inches from whatever it is hanging over, going to the low end of that range if you have very low ceilings. But if people are going to be walking under the lights, they need to be hung at least 7 feet above the ground so there is plenty of clearance.

To get a rough idea of what size fixture to use, measure the longest and widest points of the room. Round up to the nearest foot and add the numbers together. Change the measurement to inches, and this is the approximate diameter of fixture you should look for. So if you have a room that is 8 feet wide and 10 feet long, you should get a fixture that is about 18 inches in diameter.

Photo by TNS Sofres


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