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Designer's Notebook: Playing With Scale

For interior designers, the idea of scale is one of the most important guiding principles of great design. Whether having a consistent and appropriate scale throughout a design, or mixing scale up to create something truly unique, when it's done right, you'll know it. Scale is simply the size of an object or design element (e.g., pattern on a fabric or wall covering). Since scale is an intangible aspect of the design, it's important to understand the principles that guide the proper use of scale. Here is how the designers at JBi use scale on a daily basis in designing our clients' homes.

Space and scale go hand in hand. When designing a room, designers often begin with understanding the size and volume of a room. It might be a really large room with high ceilings (overall large volume) or maybe a smaller room with standard ceiling heights. We take into account the way the space feels as direct reflection of number of windows, openings to other rooms, etc. Understanding the volume of a space is important in selecting the appropriately sized furnishings, lighting and accessories to fit the room. Under-scaled furniture in a large room or really large furniture in a small room would both feel awkward. When done right, like the following examples, the room feels just right.

This rooms feels like it all works because all the furniture, art and accessories are in the same scale, and fit perfectly with the room's size.

Design by Dresser Homes

The larger volume of this room allows for a larger sectional and larger scale pattern on the area rug. Again, the scale of design elements fit the room's scale.

Design by Jordan Iverson Signature Homes

Scale becomes a design element with tweaked. I've always been a firm believer that really good design should stir something in the soul. This is often best accomplished by throwing in something unexpected in the room. When scale comes into play, an oversized light fixture or exaggerated fabric pattern can cause surprise and delight in the viewer, and create a special moment in the room.

The volume of this space (out rather than up) allows for the use of this over-sized ceiling fixture creating an almost architectural feature in the room.

Design by Ira Frazin Architect

The scale of these pendant lights, end chairs and mirror all play well with one another in this higher-ceiling dining room.

Design by Nicole Hollis

The scale of the art adds an interesting texture in this kitchen space beyond the clean, contemporary surfaces.

Design by WL Interiors

This extra large floor lamp adds an almost whimsical and modern touch to this otherwise traditional living room.

Design by Julianne Kelly

All in all, scale, and the way you use scale in any design, can have one of the biggest impacts on the way a room feels. Don't be afraid to play with scale in unexpected ways. You might just surprise yourself and create something that becomes a showcase in your home.



A Young Girl's Scrapbook Reveals a Forgotten Interior Design Dream

My wife, Julie, was visiting her mother the other day to pick blackberries with her siblings and their children. This event is somewhat of a tradition, with the family getting together to pick black berries off the vine in Julie's childhood backyard before they go to seed. Susie (mother-in-law) had recently uncovered her own 5th grade scrapbook that had been buried in the far recesses of the garage and wanted Julie to share it with me. Apparently Susie had wanted to be an interior designer at the age of 10. She had collected pages and pages of pictures of kitchens, bathrooms (for which she had a particular penchant) and other decor from the era. Several years ago when I first started JASON BALL interiors, I read a story about a famous designer talking about his passion for interior design. In looking back at his childhood, he realized that he was always interested in design at some level. My story is very similar (read my story here). I can only imagine how Susie would have developed as an interior designer given her interest at so young an age.

I wanted to share some pages from her scrapbook to show some wonderful examples of designs from this time in our design history. In a post WWII world, designs were about color and pattern. People wanted to live in interiors that reflected their hope for the future and respect for the past. The boldness with which the design world approached the use of color is refreshing.

portland interior designers - 1950s kitchen and bathroom

portland interior designers - colorful bathroom designs

portland interior designers - kitchen designs

portland interior designers - living spaces

portland interior designers - 1950s interiors

portland interior designers - living spaces from the 1950s


Which of these rooms is your favorite? Mine is the white kitchen in the third picture - I love that stainless steel counter top. Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever go back to bath fixtures like these.

About JASON BALL interiors. We are a team of interior designers based in Portland, Oregon serving residential clients throughout Oregon and Washington and beyond. To see our full portfolio, click here. For an evaluation of your upcoming projects, contact Jason Ball at (503) 267-2352 or via e-mail at We look forward to being your interior design team.



Case Study: Remodeling a Condo in NW Portland

JASON BALL interiors has been getting in the condo remodeling business as of late. Compared to remodeling a free-standing home, condo remodeling is a completely different beast. There are different types of interior design challenges to consider, as well as all kinds of regulations and rules set by the HOA to work around. And, given the close proximity of neighbors (and potential clients), it's important to work with an outstanding remodeling team to manage the entire build process. I teamed up with Olson & Jones Construction this past summer to completely remodel a condo in NW Portland. The story: My client is a transplant from the U.K., via Amsterdam and decided to move to Portland to make a new home for himself (you've probably guessed that he works for a large athletic shoe company). He found a great condo in NW Portland that sits above a bustling neighborhood and is blocks from loads of great restaurants. The views from the unit are fantastic - Mt. St. Helens and the industrial area on one side and the West Hills from the back of the unit. The sheer amount of natural light in the space is amazing and will go a long way to keep the winter doldrums at bay.

While the unit was nice, it wasn't perfect. The fits and finishes were nice, but already showing age even after just a few years. There were some missteps in the selection of materials in the bathroom specifically. And, to further complicate matters, my client has some mobility issues and requires two canes to get around. You'll see from the "before" picture that the existing bathroom would be problematic for him to use on a daily basis. And, the kitchen was outfitted with an apartment sized refrigerator/freezer. Makes daily living less than practical.

So, based on a referral from a work friend, JASON BALL interiors was brought in to help with the overall design of the space. Once we started the process, it was clear that my client wanted a very streamlined, contemporary space. Our mantra was no clutter, no extras, no wires, everything must have it's place. The key in this contemporary design was to focus on textures, contrast and materials, with an overarching goal to increase the function of the space. Here are the before and after pictures to show how we accomplished these goals.

BEFORE: This is a "nice" unit, but lacks any real sense of design and character. The white laminate cabinets blend into the white walls. We focused on bringing in materials that would add dimensions and texture to the space.

AFTER: The walls were painted a sophisticated shade of blue gray, with the new, custom cabinetry gets a similar shade of gray (but a tone darker). Black granite and a stone mosaic are used for the main surfaces. Open shelving made from white oak complete the contemporary, European look.

The bathroom was a similar story to the kitchen - nice materials, but nothing to write home about. The floor and shower tiles were both grayish, but two completely different tones. One was bluish gray, other was yellowish gray. They completely clashed with each other. Plus, because of mobility issues, the tub was impractical, so that had to come out. The major problem in the space, besides the mismatched, was the wall between the tub area and the vanity. This wall blocked the light from flowing through the space and made the shower a dark "cave shower."

AFTER: Now, completely opened up, with a frameless glass enclosure around the shower, improved lighting, open vanity and consistent materials throughout, this bathroom is a study in contemporary design. We focused on warm tones in the hard surfaces with layered textures. The custom vanity adds an additional wood element and sits in front of an entire wall of tile mosaic, which reads a little like birch bark. Even though everything is open, we designed a space for all the necessary accessories you might want in a bathroom. Open shelving around the corner (in the left of the picture) adds additional out-of-sight storage. This bathroom is now set up perfectly for my client to make his new home in Portland.

JASON BALL interiors partnered with Olson & Jones Construction (website) and King's Cabinets (website) to complete this design. Visit JASON BALL interiors for more design inspiration (portfolio) or to contact Jason to start your next project.



Part 1 - Lessons from Amsterdam: Mixing Eras

contemporary bar with traditional furniture

My wife and I traveled to Amsterdam and Paris over the Christmas holiday. While the trip was mostly a vacation, it also gave me an opportunity to see how other parts of the world approach interior design. While most of the design world is fairly easily available (due to the internet and international design magazines), seeing design (whether interior or exterior) in person is a valuable experience. It also provides a perfect opportunity to gain inspiration for my own work. This is the first part in a series on lessons I learned while traveling abroad. Some of these ideas will be broad-sweeping, while others will cover specific design elements I found interesting and worth further investigation. For Part 1 of the Amsterdam series, we'll look at mixing eras and styles in the same space. Europeans, in general, are very adept at mixing contemporary and old-world styles. A few years ago, while visiting Berlin, I came across an old building near the Reichstag. This building still showed signs of damage from World War II, but they had covered the entire facade of the building in glass panels. It was as if they had pulled a glass curtain across the front of the building - simply the most amazing juxtaposition of styles I'd ever seen.

Amsterdam, like many cities in Europe, is an old city with clear direction for the future. Just walking through the canal district, you see numerous buildings in process of being renovated or updated. It is also a common site to see a building from the 1800s next to a contemporary building. While this idea can be jarring to some, I find the juxtaposition of eras and styles refreshing and interesting.

A perfect example of when old and new are mixed in the same setting. The Amsterdam Central Train Station, built in the 1880s serves hundreds of thousands of people a day. The fact that a modern light-rail system runs directly in front of the grand building shows the modern direction of this city constantly on the move.

interior designer in portland oregon talks about old architecture and modern technology mixed together


Most of the foot bridges allowing pedestrians to walk through the city are more traditional in nature. This artistic bridge is a great example of the movement to keep the traditions alive, but bring them into the 21st century.

interior designer from portland oregon visits Amsterdam


One of my favorite mash-ups of style is to take a traditional shape (like these chairs) and use modern fabrics and colors to turn everything on it's head. High-gloss black and royal purple turn these chairs into real statement pieces.

interior designer in portland oregon talks about mixing styles in an Amsterdam bar

There are two aspects of this scene I absolutely love. First is the use of bold red for the shutters on this traditional canal building. This makes a statement like no other color could (although, to be honest, I don't know if this is a traditional shutter color or not - it's still way cool!). Second is a little harder to notice. The building to the right is another example of a contemporary rendition of a canal house. The straight, clean lines are not typical of the gabled shapes found throughout the canal district.

portland, oregon interior designer visiting Amsterdam


Like any other modern city, the need for office space sometimes encroaches on the traditional parts of the city. Here, old-world style clashes with modern office buildings. Additionally, the two buildings on the right also take the traditional gabled shape of canal homes and revise it into a modern version. This allows these buildings to sit perfectly with the old part of the city, without causing too much of a stylistic clash.

portland oregon interior designer visits amsterdam and talks architecture


There is something refreshing about the boldness seen in mixing styles and eras in these old cities. It gives us license to do something similar in our own homes. For instance, in my own home, I have a combination of antique Chinese pieces, modern Italian, mid-century and contemporary. Mixing these eras and styles in one room correctly is about balance and proportion. How have you done this in your own home?