Interior Design

Using the golden ratio in design – 5 ways to create a perfectly balanced interiors with this clever design formula

The golden ratio explained - what is it and how to use it in interior design

most popular paint colours
(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

While we're not sticklers for rules (they're often there to be broken, after all), there are some design formulas that can be really helpful when planning a new space – and the golden ratio is one of them.

The golden ratio is a mathematical sequence ( 1:1.618 to be exact) that has been found to occur multiple times in nature, from the proportion of human beings to the spiral of seashells, and is thought to be perfectly pleasing to the eye. 

See: Interior design tips – decorating secrets for the world's top experts

Martin Waller, founder of global design company Andrew Martin, says: 'People often talk about the rule of symmetry within interiors and although important, there is another guideline that top designers use to create their impeccable yet seemingly effortless schemes. The golden ratio is the theory of thirds and exists as a natural phenomenon in nature, using the Fibonacci sequence to explain why things look so pleasing to the eye. For example the elegant twirl of a fossil or delicate unfurling of rose petals.

'Applied to interior design the golden ratio can be a great tool to use in creating a cohesive and comforting living area. 

'Some call it the 60/30/10 rule, which is based off the ratio, making it much easier to apply practically as you consider each element of your room using this ratio, from the scale of your furniture and structural details, right down to the color scheme and textural components.'

See five ways you can apply the golden ratio to your interior design below.

1. Use the golden ratio to help inform a color scheme

Using the golden ratio in design

(Image credit: Pooky)

'Color is a great way to get started with this theory,' says Martin. 'Choose your three tones and split them into these ratios, 60% of your space should be one color, perhaps through the paint on your walls and larger pieces of furniture. 

'Choose another shade to be your 30% color and apply it through textiles such as curtains and rugs. 

'Finally use your third color throughout accents and accessories, using it across 10% of your space to create a balanced and well thought out look that will appear almost effortless.'

See: The 60-30-10 rule – and how to use it to balance a color palette

2. Position your furniture according to the golden ratio

To try and simplify the ratio, when you're organising your space, follow a two-thirds or one-third rule. For example, aim to buy a sofa that takes up approximately two-thirds of the available space. 

Or, when purchasing a coffee table, try to get one that's two-thirds the size of your sofa. You can also section off the room in this way, taking up two-thirds with the main furniture, and the other third with accent seating or storage.

The room above, designed by Jake Arnold, shows how it can create a perfectly-balanced space.

3. Hang art with the help of the golden ratio

When considering which pieces of art to buy for your space, think about the golden ratio to get the perfect proportions.

Look at investing in a piece that's one-third or two-thirds the size of the wall space for brilliant balance. If you like large pieces of statement artwork, choose the latter, like Sarah Sherman Samuel has done in her own living room to great effect.

See: Living room ideas – clever ways to decorate living spaces

4. Consider the golden ratio when styling your coffee table

For a styling scheme that's really aesthetically balanced, choose objects to display on your coffee table that are one third of its height. Again, if you prefer larger pieces, opt for two-thirds.

Studio McGee often shows us how to create a beautiful display of pieces that are always well balanced.

5. Use the golden ratio as a guide only

The image of a perfectly styled console table by Studio McGee above shows how you can follow the golden ratio – but add your own little twist for extra oomph.

The baskets are two-thirds the size of the console, as is the vase of flowers, while the bowl and book/candle display are one-third. The statement oversized lamp doesn't follow the ration but sits perfectly within the carefully curated and well-proportioned space, and a frisson of pizzaz. And, if you look closely, you'll see the designers have been rather clever as the lamp is around two-thirds the height of the round mirror, keeping the ratio close.

Ruth Doherty

Ruth Doherty is an interiors writer who has worked for Homes & Gardens and Ideal Home magazines among many others.