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Proportion in Design

The Palm Springs Desert Area is one of great natural beauty. In the design of all our projects we try to complement this beauty by applying traditional design elements and principles, including the natural principle of proportion. So we offer our potential Clients this brief excursion into Proportion in Design.

Proportion in design is harmony that pleases the eye. The proper application of proportion is to devise the most pleasing relationship of one part of an object to another part; or between or among one or more other objects. Understanding the principle of proportion involves a discussion of the Golden Ratio and its derivative in the 60:30:10 Rule, together with the Rule of Thirds, and the Rule of Threes.


The Golden Ratio is also known as the golden section, golden rectangle, golden mean, or divine proportion.
Some 2500 years ago the Greek mathematical school of Pythagoras defined the Golden Ratio or Phi as 1:1.618 and it is a rule that has been applied in mathematics, art, architecture and design. Phi is the perfect relationship between the smaller and the larger.

A simple example of this ratio in the world of interior design would be a dining room table that is 45” wide and 72” with these dimensions in the ratio 1:1.6.

Stated mathematically, (a + b)/a : a / b = phi, or the golden ratio. In simple geometry it looks like this:

A golden rectangle with longer side and shorter side b, when placed adjacent to a square with sides of length a, will produce a similar golden rectangle with longer side a + b and shorter side a. This illustrates the same relationship as in the line segment example opposite.

We see from the above that a golden rectangle has the property that, if a square with sides equal to the short side of the rectangle is marked off, the remaining form will be another golden rectangle. This process can be repeated in either direction, by addition or subtraction, ad infinitum. This brings us to the Fibonacci series. Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa) lived in the 13th century.

The Fibonacci series is an outgrowth of the Golden Ratio. It is a sequence or progression of whole numbers, where each number is the sum of the preceding two (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…)

Composition of Golden Rectangles and the Fibonacci Spiral or Sequence

A Fibonacci spiral is created by drawing arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares in a Fibonacci tiling of Golden Rectangles. This one uses squares of sizes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and 34.

This aesthetically pleasing harmony is found in nature. We see this spiral in the shell of a Chambered Nautilus. We see it in a Hurricane. We see it in a Galaxy.

Given the evident universality of the Golden Ratio in the natural order, we had better pay attention to it in the design of our remodels. Phi is all around us, so it stands to reason that utilizing Phi in our designs and compositions will naturally lead to improved communication with the observer and a harmonious result.

A remodeler, given the constraints of an existing structure, has rather limited opportunity to apply the Golden Ratio, although we at Cabinets of the Desert certainly pay attention to it. However, it has great effect when applied by our clients to the furnishing, decorating, and accessorizing of a completed room.

Nature By Numbers

THE 60:30:10 RULE

The 60:30:10 Rule is an informal derivative of Phi and the Fibonacci Progression, in which a rectangle or spiral progresses smoothly from small to large and vice versa. It is a rule of composition used in art, photography and design, including interior design, to achieve a pleasing whole through a smooth, proportionate progression of elements. The rule is applied to room design, furniture layout, colors and accessories.

Here are examples of how the rule works in practice:

  • Overall: 60% provides a theme; 30% provides contrast; 10% provides accent.
  • Paint selection: 60% of a dominant color; 30% of a secondary color; 10% of an accent color.
  • The room’s relationship to color of contents: 60% of the room’s color is the walls; 30% of the room’s color is the upholstery; 10% of the room’s color is in accent pieces.
  • No more than 60% of the room is filled with furniture/accessories, leaving plenty of “white space” to relieve the eye.


The Rule of Thirds has nothing to do with the proportions of the Golden Ratio. Rather it is a compositional rule of thumb mainly applied in art and photography. It states that every composition can be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines.

The convention is that the most important elements of the composition are placed along these lines or at the four points of intersection. This creates tension, energy and dramatic interest. The elements of the composition that are its focus should not be placed in the center of the composition.

In interior design, the obvious practical application of the Rule of Thirds is in the placement of artwork on walls.


In interior design, the Rule of Three, also known as the Rule of Odd Numbers, has application in progression and spatial composition, color and fabric schemes, arrangements of furniture, and groupings of accessories.

The basis of the rule is that details and objects that are arranged or grouped in odd numbers are more appealing, memorable, and effective than even-numbered pairings. For additional interest there should also be variations of height, texture, shape or color within the groupings.


Using these rules of proportion and placement takes some effort but is necessary in achieving a satisfactory overall result in a remodeled home. If the result actually achieved turns out to be less than pleasing, it is usually because one of the rules of design has not been followed. If this happens, a review of the rules will likely identify the problem and indicate an appropriate remedy.

At Cabinets of the Desert we bring awareness of the rules of proportion in design to our remodeling projects. We also bring our own intuition and experienced eyes.