8 Smart Ways to Scale Furniture to Your Home’s Square Footage

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

We’ve all been there. You just bought the sofa, bed, desk—whatever—of your dreams, only to find out that it doesn’t fit in your space. Or worse, in your doorway. And it goes both ways. A too small piece can be just as annoying to deal with, time and energy-wise. Instead of hoping for the best when you’re unboxing or waiting for that white glove delivery, take matters into your own hands. Follow these designer-approved tips on how to figure out what furniture will fit in your space, and hopefully, you’ll make fewer returns than ever before.

1. Get App-y

“Many furniture and decor outlets have apps that allow you to take photos and measurements of your space and actually see how various elements would look,” says Beverly Solomon, creative director of Beverly Solomon Design. Amazon, Wayfair, IKEA, and others each have their own augmented reality apps. There are also third party, stand-alone visualization options. Try Photo Measures, which allows you to write floor and wall measurements down on top of your room photos for easy reference while shopping, or Mark on Call, which helps you whip up simple floor plans based on the dimensions you plug in.

2. Make it Miniature

Remember those dioramas you created for projects in elementary school? Then you’re all set to go and scale the old fashioned way—cardboard modeling. “Make a little cardboard scale model of a space and fit little cutouts to get some idea of how things will look and fill the space,” says Solomon. Of course, this is a little tedious, but if you get the scale right, it’s quite accurate. You can also sketch out a mini floorplan if you prefer to keep your efforts 2D.

3. Measure IRL

“Grab a measuring tape and some blue painter’s tape, and mark out the dimensions of what you are planning or seeing online or in the stores,” says Erica Leigh Reiner of E. Leigh Designs. “The ultra cautious can even take this to the next level by marking 3D pieces with cardboard.” Ah, more cardboard. Okay, maybe save those Amazon Prime boxes, people, or ask a friend for theirs! You might need them for life-size modeling. And when you’re measuring for pieces, definitely remember depth. It’s not all about length and width when it comes to actually interacting in a space.

4. Don’t Forget Your Architecture in the Equation

“It is extremely important to measure your door frames and hallways before you reach the front door of your home with your new furniture,” says interior designer Elizabeth Bolognino. Apparently, this is called a “fit appointment,” and you should be doing this. Obviously, don’t order something that won’t fit through the door!

Ceiling height and window dimensions are important, too. Low slung pieces will work better in rooms with lower ceilings, while lofty ceilings can handle taller items.

5. Strategize if You’re in a Small Space With Double-Duty Pieces

The more stuff you cram in a space, the smaller it’s going to feel. “Keep that in mind when dealing with smaller spaces, the more multifunctional furnishings, the better,” says Solomon. Look for pieces like coffee tables, nightstands, or beds with storage drawers underneath or shelving integrated into their designs.

Reiner’s best tip for those with small or narrow spaces is to elevate furniture off the ground. “For example, if it’s a family room, get a sofa with long or thin legs,” she says. “It lets light under the sofa and creates more visual space.” Similarly, if you have a small bathroom and you’re looking to update it, opt for a floating vanity for the same effect.

6. Go Big if You’re in a Large Space

“For large spaces, the trick is finding oversized pieces to fill large swathes of wall or floor area, which is important so the space doesn’t feel empty, disjointed or silly,” says Reiner. Don’t place furniture pieces too far away from each other. This can make a room feel sparse and cold.

Additionally, artwork should mimic the wall it is being hung on. “For instance, a 20 by 24-inch painting on a 20-foot wall with 10-foot ceilings will look puny,” Reiner says.

7. Avoid Blocking Windows and Doors

“Try to create the longest lines of sight to the windows and from room to room as possible,” says Solomon. If you must put something in front of a window because of a wonky layout, make it look very deliberate—a big bed centered in front of double casements, for example. “If you have to block a window with the back of a sofa, consider putting a narrow sofa table in between the window wall and sofa so the light isn’t blocked, and the sofa comes forward about a foot,” says Reiner. “It will look like an intentional anchor or setting instead of crammed, and odd.”

Be mindful of walkways and door frames, too. “Plan to place your heavier pieces like your sofas in a position that doesn’t interfere with a main entry point,” says Jessica McRae and Kristen Yonson, co-founders of e-design firm, SwatchPop! “Your lighter pieces, like accent chairs, can be arranged near an entry to keep the room feeling more open and spacious.” Once you choose an appropriately sized sofa, look for a coffee table that’s about 1/2 to 2/3 of its length.

8. Think About How You Really Move in a Room

Don’t just measure from wall to wall. “We suggest taping off/reserving an area that leaves at least 30 inches for traffic flow, as you’re entering from adjacent spaces and moving around the perimeter of room,” says McRae and Yonson. “Be sure to allow extra space for doors that swing open into the room as well.”

Hopefully now you’ll be a much savvier shopper when it comes to scale. Do you have any other ordering tips you swear by? What was your biggest furniture blunder?