By Paul Miller
Interior Designer, IDS Professional Member
Read Time: 4 Minutes
As a seasoned designer with diverse clients, I am often either helping a family decide how much to add to a home they are outgrowing or I am figuring out how to put unused rooms to work in a house that is a little too big for its owner. This post is my advice for getting the proportions and details right in a large luxury home.
Generally my opinion is that less house is better than too much house, but my skills and vision afford me the opportunity to create impactful designs no matter the scale of the project. For the homeowner who is trying to decide the size of their next home, there are a number of ways to evaluate what will be the perfect fit.
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This blog post is for people who want a large luxury home where every space is useful and all of the details and proportions make the right statement. Size alone is not what decides if a home is luxurious, as too many poorly built McMansions in recent years can attest. As a designer, I have observed enough large luxury homes to know which choices are most successful.
The Benefits of a Large Luxury Home
For homeowners who have a large family, the benefit of multiple bedrooms and bathrooms is clear. Today many homes are intergenerational, sometimes split into separate living quarters for aging parents and adult children. For an active family with a lot of differing schedules and interests, a large home can offer comfort and space that makes life more satisfying.
Large homes are also ideal for people who entertain on a big scale and who like to offer guests lots of activities and amenities. For the homeowner who wants a stay at their place to be as memorable as a resort vacation, factoring in space for a game room, pool, spa, and home theater is an appealing choice.
Because every client has their own unique vision of the home they want, this blog is not about what kinds of rooms or how many should be included in a large house blueprint. The one piece of advice I always pass along to my clients is to build their home not for future owners or by any standard but their own. Choose your spaces because you think they will enrich your home life, not because other houses in your neighborhood have them.
No matter the overall size of a home, it is important that each room is designed with human scale in mind. When proportions are not considerate of what we find comforting, we find ourselves seated so far from one another that we strain our voices to talk. Or we stare up into the shadows of a ceiling that seems miles away, aware on some level that the room feels a bit cold. Working in new and historic homes over the years, I have come to regard certain classic dimensions as best choices. These are the nerdy details of proportions in a large and finely-appointed house.
Room Proportion :
I have written before about how to zone large rooms to make sure that people are seated at a comfortable distance from one another. In a grandly scaled sitting room, it is a good idea to break seating up into more than one grouping. A guideline for determining space for entertaining when some are seated and others standing is to provide each guest about eight square feet. That means a gathering room would need to be at least twenty by twenty feet to accommodate fifty guests, larger still to account for furnishings, musicians, and catering staff. As with all design development, having a good sense of the scale of entertaining you are most apt to do will help inform how you scale your living areas.
Ceiling Height :
While many homes in recent years have two story ceiling heights in at least one room, very often this proportion fails to provide a sense of comfort. Ceiling heights at upwards of sixteen feet can complicate acoustic and climate control, create a sea of plain drywall surfaces, and make us feel less than at home. In most houses, I recommend a ceiling height of ten feet on the main level and nine feet on upper floors. When a bit more drama or grandeur is desired, setting the ceiling height at twelve feet creates an elegant scale that is still comfortable visually.
Doors & Windows :
In houses with ceiling at ten or twelve feet, a standard door height can appear squat. The addition of transoms or trim details that create a mock transom can improve the scale. However, opting for doors at between eight and nine feet in height is even more pleasing, opening up the vista between rooms while reinforcing the ceiling height.
There are a number of factors that play in deciding on the perfect window proportions. However, getting the placement and scale of windows wrong in a room can have major impact in the finished design. For instance, how you want to treat the windows should be considered at the architectural stage. If you plan to use drapery for privacy and light control, you will need space to right and left of the windows for the fabric to stack back when the treatments are opened off the glass. Even nonfunctioning drapery panels need space in the wall to prevent the treatments from crowding out light and view.
A standard base or crown molding is not sufficient in a large scaled home, particularly when the ceiling height is ten feet or more. For a richer and more grounding aesthetic, go with a molding that is ten to twelve inches wide. Case trims should be no narrower than four and a half inches in such a space and are very handsome if milled to six inches in width.
Trimming require a lot of thought and can make or break a room. A chair rail that is pleasing in one space might be distracting in the scale of another. Moldings can impact how art is hung, sconces are mounted, and drive how furnishings center up on walls. While wainscoting adds beauty and grace to rooms, it should be designed with both the proportions of the room and the final furnishings and decorations in mind.
Making It Feel Like Home
The details of furnishings, lighting, and treatments are ultimately what make a large house a nurturing environment. Your designer has many ideas to warm up spaces, enhance or correct proportions, and ensure that your home is regarded as an inviting and comfortable destination for family and friends. The scale of patterns in fabrics and rugs can make all the difference, while thinking outside the box with a lighting design can highlight key features and draw a big room just a little closer. Wall color, flooring textures, and how to approach builtin design are still other tactics for making even the largest house feel like home.