Gift of Divine Proportion

Exodus 31: 3-5 says: “And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.” And Exodus 26:29 states: “You shall overlay the boards with gold, make their rings of gold as holders for the bars, and overlay the bars with gold”. Through this direction for building Solomon’s Temple, God tells us that He loves beauty and form. We too love a beautiful home.

When we read in Matthew 6:2: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” we understand that when we treasure God above all things, and use our home to serve God, He will bless us. When we use our homes for prayer, Bible study, family discussions, fellowship, sharing experiences of faith, teaching our children, and accommodating the young and old, God will bless us. Amazingly, God’s creation of Nature has provided us with a mathematical formula for creating perfect balance when decorating our homes. This formula is called Divine Proportion.

Balance can be explained by examining a child’s monkey swing which hangs from a tree limb by one rope. The rope is tied underneath a platform which is used as a seat for the child to sit on with their legs straddling the rope and both hands holding the single rope. The balance required on the monkey swing is an excellent tool for understanding how to balance a room in our home. Just as the swing requires balance not to tip, a room needs to be balanced by properly distributing the ‘weight’ of its architectural elements and its furnishings. Without this balance, the room will seem to ‘lean’ to one side and furnishings will feel as if they will ‘fall off’ the room’s floor. Balance is the most important aspect of good design because it pleases the eye and creates a sense of harmony. Architecture, accessories, style, size, colors, and textures affect balance, not only the furniture. Balance affects everything, everything affects balance.

However, balance doesn’t require a pound for pound distribution, but rather the illusion of equal distribution throughout the space. Thus, a large item in one part of a room can be balanced by a corresponding size item, or the illusion of corresponding size, in an opposing part of the room. The balancing item could be furniture, but can also be architecture, color, drapery or plants. Disparities in size, delicateness, color, texture, and denseness must be considered, and when these balance from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, we sense its correctness.

One example of disparity is a fireplace of natural stone topped by a large mantle flanked by white rattan furniture and décor of lace and ruffles. The ‘weight’ of the rattan does not offset the apparent ‘weight’ of the stone and mantle. However, through the use of the visual ‘weight’ of color, painting the furniture dark brown might work. The determination of proper balance must not be about furniture alone, but begins with the perceived ‘weight’ of architectural elements and window treatments.

The ancient Greeks learned that the oval is more pleasing to the eye than the circle, and the rectangle more pleasing than the square. From this, the Greeks determined that the most pleasing proportions of rectangles or ovals were those with ratios of: (2 to 3), (3 to 5), or (5 to 8). A ratio is a mathematical relationship between two numbers. Fibonacci numbers are found in nature and connected to both the Greek ratio system and The Golden Ratio, though Fibonacci, a thirteenth century Italian mathematician, came later.

The relationship between the Greek ratios (2 to 3), (3 to 5) and (5 to 8), The Golden Ratio (.618), and The Fibonacci Numbers is the mathematical series found by adding two consecutive numbers to obtain the next number in the series. If we use the Greek ratios as an example and begin with one and two as the first two numbers and add these together, they give us the third number of the ratio. To move on we need only add the last two numbers together. Here, two and three gives five, and continuing we add three and five to get eight. Thus, the first five Fibonacci numbers are 1, 2, 3, 5, and beginning with the 2, pairs of adjacent numbers correspond to the pleasing Greek ratios. Using the 2 and the 3 gives us the (2 to 3) ratio. Using the 3 and the 5 gives us the (3 to 5) ratio. Using the 5 and the 8 gives us the (5 to 8) ratio. We only need the first three for decorating.

Leonardo da Vinci used The Golden Rule for the face of the Mona Lisa and the shape and dimension of her eyes before painting her. The mathematician Pythagoras and the builders of the pyramids used it as well. The spaces between columns in Greek architecture such as the Parthenon and even many graveyard crosses are some examples. Seashells, sunflowers, pinecones and pineapples are some mathematical examples found in nature and thus are referred to as Divine Proportion.

To obtain the ratio of a room, measure the width and length and convert these two measurements to feet, rounding off the inches. If a room measures 11’ 8” x 18’ 3” and the inches are rounded to the nearest foot, it would create the measurements of 12’ x 18’. Looking at the two numbers, find the highest common factor or divisor for both these figures. For example, 2 and 3 and 6 are all numbers that will divide into both the 12 and the 18. But, looking for the highest common factor or divisor, we would choose the 6 to work with.

We divide this common factor into the width figure, then into the length figure. If we have used the highest common factor, the ratio of the reduced width to the reduced length is the ratio reduced to its lowest form. For example, when we divide 6 into 12, the answer we obtain is 2. And when we divide 6 into 18, the answer we obtain is 3. Our results then are 2 and 3. Our math result matches up to one of the three desirable ratios of (2 to 3), (3 to 5), or (5 to 8). Our ratio, (2 to 3) is one of the desirable ratios, indicating that the room is already in good proportion. Use the highest common factor or divisor, but if you haven’t, then divide again.

However, if we assume that a room is 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, and when we find its ratio, it does not meet the pleasing Greek ratio criteria, we know that this needs attention. One solution would be to ‘visually’ elongate the 10-foot wall by two feet. If we could do this, it would create a 12 by 20 foot room which does meet the criteria. We cannot lengthen these 10-foot walls physically, but we can do it visually by creating the “illusion” of additional length. As an example, a piece of furniture that is both long in length and low in height can be placed on the 10’ wall to create the desired illusion. A chair rail on only the two 10’ walls, or wallpaper with horizontal stripes might also work.

Conversely, if the room was 13 x 20 feet, it would require that the two opposing 13’ walls be visually “shortened”. In this case, one might place a tall narrow piece of furniture, such as an armoire, on the 13’ walls to achieve the illusion of shortening them. Similarly, vertical wallpaper, or vertically placed moldings can be used. Thus, we see that there are many ways to solve the problem of disproportion once we have detected it. The mathematical formula for Divine Proportion detects it for you.

Once we understand the principles of balance and harmony through good proportion, we can decorate flawlessly. It is balance and proportion that is the all-encompassing rule for good design and provides the sense of harmony in our room. In most cases, it matters not the style, the age of our furnishings, or even the fact that nothing ‘matches’, as long as the items and their placement provide the correct proportion and balance.

(To read more about this subject see the author’s novel “The Granddaughter and the Monkey Swing)

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