Proper Proportion: A Trick of the Trade



If you're a house junkie like me, watching the home shows, reading the home magazines, and looking at houses wherever you go, then you've seen good houses and not so good houses.

You've seen charming homes that seem perfectly settled; you've seen houses that seem "complete" - like there's nothing you could do to make them any better.

And you've seen houses that look a little...off.  Houses that look like something's missing, or like something's not in the right place.  Maybe the roof seems a little too tall, maybe the windows seem a little too wide.

And maybe you've wondered - are there tried and true ways to help assure that a house design will look "just right"?

Indeed there are, and one of those ways is to design using correct proportions.


Math wasn't my strongest subject in school, but I always had a fascination with geometry.  Which worked out well for me, since basic geometry is one of the keys to good house proportions (and doesn't involve calculus).

Through the centuries, Architects have used geometry to organize the proportions of their buildings in different ways - but almost everyone, from Le Corbusier to Michael Graves, has used some sort of proportional organizing scheme in their work.

In fact, a strong geometrical framework is the basis of great buildings going way, way back to the earliest days of Western civilization.

But back to your house.

Let's pick a simple easy home style like Georgian Colonial Revival to work with.  This is a style originally brought over to America by English colonists during the reign of - you guessed it - Kings George I through IV, and is characterized by simple, symmetrical massing.


The quick sketch above is an attempt at a basic Georgian Colonial design - not too terrible, but to my eye, there's a lot wrong with it - mostly having to do with proportions.  Among other things, the roof is too tall, and the windows are too "squat" - too wide for their height.

Fortunately, both issues are very easily corrected to look just right.


In this sketch, I've drawn a simple radius line, starting at the bottom center of the house and ending at the roof edge.  The top of the segment that radius creates sets the proper height of the roof. Done!

I've also drawn a line connecting opposite corners of the big rectangle formed by the main facade.  This is our primary proportion line, and we're going to use it to proportionally size the other rectangles on the facade - in this case, the windows.

We'll turn that big rectangle 90 degrees to match the orientation of the windows, then draw that same angled line from one of the top corners of each window.  The result is a window proportion (width to height) that matches the proportion of the main rectangle of the house.

Applying both of these proportion strategies to the original design, we end up with this:


Much better!  I've simplified the process a bit, and there's still more to do to get this basic design completely correct. But we're on the right track towards a house that looks just right.


Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at RTA Studio Architects to arrange a meeting or an online consultation.

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