The function of aesthetics: volume of space

Over the last few posts I’ve been discussing how the look of your home or any space can affect the way you feel.  We’ve talked color and light, and how these two elements can have a big impact on the way you experience your space.  Today I’m going to talk a little bit about volume of space.

The volume of a room refers to the three dimensional space contained within the walls. It is fixed and defined by the height of the ceiling, and the length and width of the room. Of course the volume of space can be physically changed through renovation and moving walls.  It can also be manipulated by the scale and number of items within that space.

Essentially, when dealing with volume, you are playing with the feel of a large open space verses a small enclosed space.  Both have attributes that could cause positive or negative feelings.  You might intentionally create that enclosed feeling for a room that you want to feel cozy, or open up a room where the small space feels suffocating.  In either case the way the space is filled will have a direct result on how the space feels.

You have control over the volume of space in a room by how you choose to fill it.  Is that sofa too large for that room?  Can you easily move through the space?  A good layout, with properly scaled pieces makes all the difference when it comes to manipulating volume of space.


The scale or size of the elements in a space is one of the main influencers on how the volume of space is filled.  Ideally you want the scale of the furniture to relate to the scale of the room.  A large room will require large furniture pieces and vice versa.  An undersized piece of artwork on a large wall can give the illusion that the wall is blank and empty, and the artwork is not featured. When the scale of items are off this can often feel cold and unwelcoming, not the feeling you’d want in a home.

The volume of space requires a good balance between the positive space (all your stuff) and the negative space (empty areas).  An extra large room needs some stuff to make it more inviting, too much negative space diminishes what is in the room and causes the emptiness to be the focus.  You might need an extra large area rug in that big living room with a high ceiling, and that two story foyer?  Yes, it needs an oversized light fixture to fill that space.  Even in those rooms where you want that airy feel there has to be elements that enhance the positive space with warmth and draw your attention to focal points that balance the negative space.

On the flip size, the volume of space in a smaller room can be maximized by using smaller scaled furniture and decor.  You still want to achieve that balance between the positive and negative space.  If square footage is limited in a dining area but you can still get 4 chairs around the table, focus on choosing a style that has a lightness to it.  Armless chairs with delicate backs over a fully upholstered armchair, and a table with thin legs over one with a thick base.  It might take up the same square footage but won’t visually overfill the space.


The volume of space in a room can be filled by the size of the pieces used, but also by the number of pieces you choose to include. Once you are clear on the function of a room, you can start to list the furniture, decor, or other functional pieces you need to make the space work.  BUT, be strategic!

Image via Blackband Design

In a small space you have to be ruthless, it just can’t handle a lot of furniture.  That’s why you see pieces pulling double duty in tiny rooms.  A coffee table with storage for games and magazines beneath, or ottomans that work for extra seating when you’ve got a house full. If you start filling a room with too many pieces it can make the space feel overwhelming and heavy. Carefully editing is key in small spaces.

A large space might require some vignettes to help fill the space.  A big family room might have an area that is focused on tv, but also has a separate seating area for playing games or reading.  These spaces work together, and share the room, but help to not leave too much negative space.  Large rooms, especially those with tall ceilings, can have a hollowness that is uncomfortable if it isn’t balanced with the positive space.  This often means large light fixtures for the ceiling, bigger furniture pieces and oversized art work.


At either end of the spectrum a big empty room or a tiny one filled with stuff will feel cold, or suffocating respectively, to everyone. There is a bit of a sliding scale somewhere in the middle though. When it comes to the balance between positive and negative space what might feel light and airy to some, could feel cold and sterile to another.

If you love deep warm tones, but your small room just feels too dingy, try giving it some space by using a much lighter version of the color you like.  Then you can still bring in your deep, rich tones in your area rug, furnishings, and other decor.  If you live for painting everything white but your two story family room never feels cozy try opting for a tinted white that has some warmth, or fill those walls with artwork that you love.

When you start seeing the rooms in your home as a balance between the negative and positive space instead of just what your favorite trend or color is, you’ll have even more control over how those rooms make you feel, and you can build your home into the sanctuary you need.

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