Monday, May 10, 2010

Houses in My Neighborhood: Scale

This is the last in a series I've posted on front yards and porches--the good, the bad, and the ugly. I've waded in with my (humble) opinions on what makes or breaks your home's curb appeal, from paint choices, to plantings, to porch furniture, to accessories.

Today, I want to talk about scale. And I'll give you my one fail-safe tip on how to do scale right, at the end of this post.

Scale refers to the size of things--how big or small things are in proportion to their environment. It's one of the hardest things for us non-decorator, non-landscaper folks to get right.

Have you ever done your best to dress up a table top, or arrange a bunch of pictures on a wall, or re-arrange the stuff in your bookshelves only to step back and realize that something--you're not sure what--was just wrong? Just

Chances are, you might have tripped, unwittingly, on the remorseless stone toes of scale.

Let me show you some examples. First, some scale missteps.

Here's a sweet little cottage-like house, with a beautiful bench on the porch. But the lacy tracery of the bench can't carry the porch's space. It is simply under-scaled. And the one lone pot, a terrific mustard-yellow one, is almost hiding over on the left side:

A quick fix for this porch would be to get another pot to match the first, pull them in to flank the bench, plant them with something bigbigbig, and pump up the volume of the bench by creating a seat cushion and two toss pillows in the same mustard yellow, to visually add weight to the bench. Or, imagine the recycled-plastic bench, below, in black--or mustard!--on the porch, instead:

This porch, below, simply lacks stuff on it in keeping with the scale of its volume. Ditch the flimsy director's chair, get some furniture with more visual and actual weight, add a very large potted palm in a very large pot, and the porch-to-stuff ratio would be much healthier:

This porch, below, is halfway there. The green bench is a good color choice, and it isn't a bad size, but a porch this big needs two benches like this. And the flowering stuff in the terra-cotta pot is too small in scale to the pot. I'd grab a fat topiary at least 3 feet tall from the garden store and plop it right in the middle of that pot. The current flowers would be a fine underplanting.

Lastly, I'd add something on the wall between the two windows to fill that blank area. A huge mirror, or even an empty picture frame with a smaller empty picture frame inside it, would be a good choice Something between the two windows would tame the big, empty space, which is threatening to overwhelm the scale of the current, lone bench:

This house (below) has a lovely porch, flanked with two small trees. The fresh paint is great, and the two black pots are of a fairly good size. But the beautiful Windsor bench is too delicate to carry the space all by itself, and its spindles stand up to the scale of the porch:

A nice bench like this could be relocated indoors, maybe in the front hall or a mudroom, to provide welcome seating for folks leaving or entering the home.

In its place, I'd put something heavier, like this bench (below). The white would work well on this porch, which tends to be a little dark. And it would reiterate the white trim of the windows:

In fact, there's room on the porch above for two benches, or for a bench and two matching side chairs. I'd also think about adding two more black pots that relate in shape to the existing ones, but I'd make the two new ones a tad bigger. That would keep things harmonious, and make the ever-so-slightly undersized current pots a bit less of a problem.

Here's a house with a gorgeous chimney of river rock. The chimney's mass currently overwhelms the porch accessories a bit. A fairly inexpensive way to correct this would be to install a slightly bigger, beefier mailbox and porch light. The house numbers need to be larger, too, but since the fairly narrow pillar prohibits that, I'd relocate them to run vertically down the space between the chimney and the window:

I'd also beef up the seat cushion on the built-in bench, making it 3 or 4 inches thick, which would make it much more comfy, too. In a bright, happy color, it'd pop nicely against all that gray:

If the budget allowed it, I'd also consider upping the size of the porch's pillars, for some additional heft. All these fixes would help balance out the handsome but somewhat overwhelming chimney.

Below, we have a terrific porch with undersized, cheap plastic furniture and undersized flower pots:

These pots are just pathetic. A porch of this size demands several large, handsome potted plants no less than 3 feet tall, and the pots they are in should be 2 or 3 feet tall:

Just imagine the porch above, with one of these vintage gliders on it:

Gliders would go well with the style of the house, and they are the right scale for such a generously sized porch. Plus, the wonderful colors would pop against the house color:

Now for some examples of front-yard scale done right!

These people have a dinky porch. It's not much more than an overgrown step, really:

But they've made the most of it by massing some potted Jade Plants together, and by placing an Adirondack chair in the corner, which fills up the space nicely and adds heft to the space. For a moment, imagine a delicate wire cafe chair in the corner instead. Awful! Not at all the right scale for the space:

Scale is also important in the size of your garden's paths, too. Look at this example of a well-scaled walkway, below:

The brick path is the same width as the black front door, with its white-trimmed frame. The matching widths create harmony between house and garden:

Everything on the porch is a nice, hefty scale to match the brick walk, from the large, black mailbox to the plum-colored planters to the plants in them to the porch light. They all work together:

And at the street end of the walkway, two plum-colored trees in generous, rectangular flower beds counterbalance the scale of the house and porch:

Even the width of the flower beds flanking the walk are in proportion. Imagine if they were just 6 inches wide on each side of the path. They'd look pathetic, undersized. But these beds, a good 18 inches or so wide, are the right scale for everything else:

This petite porch is one of my hands-down favorites in the neighborhood. It suffers from a nearly invisible front door, out of view on the right side. But the homeowner has done such a terrific job with scale here. The chunky Adirondack chair, the porch swing, and the oversized star--even the mass of bougainvillea hanging down--fill the little space in a very pleasing way, drawing your eye in and leading you to the front door. There's a generously sized white planter on the left, and tucked in behind the chair, an aloe plant achieves more heft by its placement on some sort of riser:

Every time I see it, I think this porch could be on the cover of "Country Living" magazine.

This porch, below, isn't much more than a quarter-circle of brick stair step. The owner got it right by symmetrically placing two very large pots, thickly planted with an interesting bamboo-like plant, on either side of the porch. The scale of the pots and plants works well with the beautiful wood front door:

Have you figured out what my one, fail-safe tip on scale is yet?

Almost every time we amateurs decorate our yards and porches, we pick things too small. If you want to avoid problems of scale, remember these immortal words:

"Go big, or go home!"

If you have a choice to make between medium, large, or extra-large when doing your front yard, always choose extra-large. Whether you're picking pots or plants, balustrades or lawn chairs, go big. Bigger, even.

Bossy, here, says you won't regret it.

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