Dealing with Scale in Midcentury Modern

by George Schwab

There is nothing that will ruin a roomful of beautiful modern furniture (or any furniture for that matter) more than the miss matching of the scale of the furniture with the scale of the room where it resides. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this simple mistake destroy the ambiance of a beautiful space.

Mid Century Modern Living room. Surburban house with mid century American modern living room furniture. Source:

I’m going to make a general statement now. I know that is a dangerous thing to do but here we go:
I believe that, in general, Danish modern furniture matches the scale of smaller spaces, like those that go with most apartment living and smaller city houses, and that mid century American modern, matches the larger spaces of suburban houses.

Now we could discuss the cultural and historic origins of why this is generally true, and we may do that some time in the future but for now, let’s just work with that premise.

Let’s start with a couple of simple rules for how to deal with scale in space:

  1. When you are dealing with scale of a small space, look for furniture that is small so that it will match the scale of the space. Big pieces in a small space look awkward and clunky, even if they are very attractive.

  2. When you have a large space, look for larger scale furniture to match the space. Smaller pieces of furniture swim, to a great extent, in larger spaces. You can also group smaller pieces together to help alleviate the scale difference but be sure to include larger pieces.

A perfect example of the sacle of the funiture in balance with the size of the space. Source: design-milk  project by: Architecture studio wUNDERground and Damon Liss Design handling the interiors. New York City apartment: A perfect example of the scale of the furniture in balance with the size of the space. Source: design-milk.

I know that some would say that this advice is patently obvious but in my 40 years of experience in architecture and interior design, common sense is not always so common.

There is another factor that affects these rules. Again, I’m going to make a general statement. The most common technique for furniture placement in poorly space planned rooms is that the furniture is lined up against the walls of the space and viewed from the center of the room. Now, this is ok for a small office waiting room but in any space that pretends to be residential, it’s a killer. The trick here is to imagine how the space is to be used and to organize the furniture so as to facilitate those uses. This technique is most important when dealing with large spaces but is equally true or smaller spaces. As an example, take part of the space and make a seating area with a sofa and back the sofa with a low credenza that makes a transition to a dining area. You could back the sofa with a low bookcase and transition to an informal home office. Think about all the things you want to do in the space and make groupings of smaller spaces within the larger space. Don’t forget to allow room for moving through the space. Try to weave it through the space and to allot no more than 15% to a max of 20% to the circulation.



Source: Screenwriter Larry Levin Lists Matthew Leizer Designed Santa Monica Mod This interior uses groupings of smaller spaces within the larger space. Source:

If you follow these simple suggestions you are likely to avoid the most common mistakes when you space plan your rooms but if you’re not sure about what you are doing, it’s always best to hire a professional. It’s not particularly expensive to hire an interior designer to organize the furniture in a space.