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The art of scale in home decorating

In design, one trick is to use odd

In design, one trick is to use odd numbers. For example the horse pieces relate very directly and therefore are hung 2 inches apart. The framed Hermes scarf, the homeowner's, mother's, was hung in the hallway, far left, to delineate the rooms and create negative space on the walls so each installation gets attention. Photo Credit: Jacob Snavely

Even the most beautiful chandelier or expensive area rug can look awkward if not placed correctly, and creative artwork will look odd if not displayed with thought in a home, local designers say.

A well-decorated room depends on how and where each of its elements are arranged, with scale and placement of furniture, lighting, artwork and rugs giving a room the right flow.

Though interior design is both intuitive and a learned skill, there are some rules of thumb. “I’m a big believer in guidelines,” says Kelly Dall, a Greenlawn-based interior decorator, “but I don’t think it’s hard and fast. It’s your home.”

For instance, says Dall, members of her family are in the 6-foot-tall range, so she tends to hang lighting fixtures higher than standard height.

Using templates to figure out how and where to place furniture can help a person judge proportion, says Mindy Miles Greenberg, owner of Encore Decor Interior Design, with offices in Great Neck and Manhattan.

“I’m famous for appearing at people’s homes with plastic party tablecloths, cut to the size of the sofa, light fixture, et cetera, before we purchase these
big-ticket items,” she says.

AREA RUGS

Area rugs can connect different parts of a room, but there are guidelines on where to place them and what size they should be.

“A pet peeve I have is when rugs are too small for a room,” notes designer Eileen Kathryn Boyd of Huntington.

“If it is slightly oversized, it will actually make the room look bigger,” she says.

Designers agree on one thing: Make sure you have enough room to pull out dining room chairs without them falling off the edge of the rug. Give at least 24 inches around the table for the chairs, but if you have more room, 36 inches is even better, says decorator Kelly Dall.

“Having the chair at the edge of the rug is uncomfortable,” says Mindy Miles Greenberg of Encore Decor Interior Design. It’s all right to go with the largest rug the dining room allows.

There should be about 30 inches from the wall to the chairs for good flow around the table, says Adrienne Kessel, a Port Jefferson interior designer.
In any room, try to keep 12 to 18 inches of exposed floor between the wall and the edge of the rug when using an area carpet on a larger scale, Dall adds.

LIGHTING

Lighting may be the unsung hero of the decorating world. If it casts too many shadows, it can make a room look ghostly. If there is too much direct light, a space can feel clinical.

“Good lighting is essential in all rooms,” says designer Adrienne Kessel. Deciding what type of lighting to use depends on the room. Do you need task lighting, for reading or kitchen work? Or are you decorating a living room where mood lighting is what is called for?

In a dining room, the light fixture should shine down on the table and be 30 to 34 inches above its surface, says designer Thérèse Pomerenk of Kings Park, who adds that the width of the fixture should be about 1 foot less than the width of the table. If too small or too large, a chandelier will look out of proportion with the rest of the room, designers say.

There are exceptions. In a Cove Neck dining room designed by Huntington decorator Eileen Kathryn Boyd, pictured below and on the cover, the chandelier is large and hung higher to “fill the air space over the table,” she says.

FURNITURE AND FLOW

The placement of furniture can be complicated and vary according to room size, window arrangements and the layout, but there are a few rules that can help make a room more visually pleasing.

One is the “two-thirds rule,” Kings Park designer Thérèse Pomerenk says. A coffee table should be about two-thirds the length of the sofa in front of which it sits. A rug that is in front of the sofa can follow that rule, too.

Flow around the room is also important. Leave enough space between chairs, tables and other furnishings to allow free movement. For instance, position the coffee table about 18 inches away from the sofa, allowing room to get up and walk around the table easily, Pomerenk says.

ART

‘‘People have a tendency to hang their artwork too high,” points out Port Jefferson designer Adrienne Kessel. As a single item, artwork should be hung at eye level at its midpoint, about 56 to 60 inches off the floor and about 4 to 8 inches above the top of a sofa or console, says decorator Kelly Dall, who also emphasizes the importance of negative space.

At a Centerport home she designed, two framed images of a horse’s head — each 32 by 54 inches, with 2 inches between them — hang on a large wall. About 7 feet of unadorned space separates them from another piece of art: a framed Hermès scarf that had belonged to the homeowner’s mother. The idea, Dall says, is to allow each element to shine.

“The eye needs a place to rest,” Dall says.

Small items of artwork scattered on a wall can be distracting, but how to display those things you love?

For either hanging art or for placing favorite items on a table or dresser, designers think in odd numbers of three, five or nine. Pairs or sets of four work also, if the pieces are identical or go together, as in one photo divided into separate pieces. Kessel says she often takes her pictures and puts them in similar frames to give a sense of unity. Use items of different heights and textures on tabletops for visual appeal, she says.

As for mirrors, designer Mindy Miles Greenberg says she likes to match the height to other decor. If there are sconces hung 30 inches above a server, for instance, she will align the center of the mirror to the sconces.

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