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Human Scale in the Home

Scale is an architectural term that refers to the size of buildings and the parts of buildings. Human scale refers to buildings whose size relates well to people.

There are four basic scales we deal with:

1) Human Scale, where the a building is sized such that people feel comfortable and protected.

2) Monumental Scale, where the surroundings are vast and individual elements are large. This is necessary for some public spaces, but the scale can be intimidating.

3) Shock Scale refers to scale that intentionally leaves us uncomfortable, whether because it is large or small.

4) Intimate Scale is a slight variation of human scale. It is smaller than we are used to, but it provides security. A close analogy is the womb. That is a tight environment where we feel safe, warm and comfortable.

For the home, the two scales are commonly used, human and intimate. Less common is monumental scale.

Grand palaces and great mansions often have monumental entrances, ballrooms and hallways, but even these usually give way to smaller rooms where human scale rules. The large porticos with two-story high Greek columns look beautiful, but they are best viewed from a distance. You aren’t likely to find the occupants grilling on their front porch. They aren’t very warm and inviting and with that roof two-stories up you won’t even be safe from the rain.

Where does human scale begin? It is really a matter of your comfort, visually. If you feel at odds in a room because everything seems too big it is not human scale. I watched the BBC version of “Emma” the other evening. Mr. Knightley’s home had windows that must have been 12 feet tall. All the classical molding and ornamentation was of a similar scale. It was beautifully proportioned, but it was far too large for comfort. It was a house built to impress. It was not a house built to be inviting.

A room or two of such size would be appropriate if you have large parties.  If 200 people is an intimate gathering for you, then you will need a room that size. The rest of that house should not be built on such a large scale.

If you are going to include monumental rooms in your home, then design smaller spaces within those rooms  or off to the side. A window nook or a small alcove under the stairs will give your more sensitive guests a place of escape.

Joffre Essley writes on all things concerning residential architecture and home design at

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