How to start a room with a scale ruler

by Laura Casey Interiors on March 15, 2010

Often times people say to me that they want to buy new furniture or are moving into a new house and they don’t know where to start. One of the most important parts of starting a project is having an exact floor plan to be your guide. Every wall, window, doorway, floor vent, outlet should be taken into consideration. You wouldn’t build a house without plans so why not use plans when creating a room? Whether you need to buy a sofa, dining table, light fixture ¬†or are redoing a kitchen or bathroom understanding your dimensions is the best thing you can do to not make a costly mistake. If you are already working on a project understanding how to use a scale ruler will give you greater understanding of each decision you make.

Two of my most important tools are my scale ruler and my measuring tape. I draw my floor plans in an architectural program on the computer, but I first learned the basics of hand drafting in design school which you can easily do. If you don’t have a scale ruler I would encourage you to get one and understand how to use it. Michael’s sells them and so do most art supply stores. They have tons of numbers all over them but over time can be a great tool to understand. Here is a classic six sided 12″ trianglular scale ruler which has twelve scales. I usually use only two or three of them (1/4″, 1/2″ & 3/8″) , but if you have a house plan on one large piece of paper it will be in a smaller scale so that you can see it all at once.

Up close a 12″ standard scale ruler looks like this. If you want to make your scale 1″=1′ (meaning one inch on the piece of paper corresponds to one foot in your room). If you take a piece of paper and want to draw a room that is 10’x15′ in one inch scale you use the side that has a big 1 on it (below left). I think that it is easiest to learn with the 1″ scale and then move to the others. The portion before the zero is to use if your wall or furniture is not on a perfect foot mark, for example 4′-6″.

The basic principle behind the scale ruler is being able to put the dimensions of a room onto a piece of paper and see it all to scale (floor plan). If your floor plan is not to scale correctly, you might think you might have room for a bigger sofa than you do. While this all sounds like common sense, I stick to it down to the half inch. I have had many conversations with clients, contractors, architects and vendors about inches on coutertops, furniture, lighting etc. Every item needs a dimension and a plan. This is the beginning of a harmonious and balanced space. I have a few scale rulers so I am going to show you that sometimes you read them left to right (as above) and sometimes you read them right to left (below) depending which scale you want and where it is placed on the ruler.

When plans are drawn the scale is always given in the title block. This means that the scale below in the plan I drew one quarter inch on the plan equals one foot in a room. Once you understand how to draw with a scale ruler you can dimension walls, doorways, windows, where outlets are in the walls, where AC vents are on walls and floors, and then you can draw in your furniture. When drawing furniture in a room use the outermost dimensions. If legs on a chair flair back use them instead of the back of the chair, those few inches could take away from pass through space around a table.

This is a 10′ x 10′ room in a 1/4″=1′ scale. Once you start to add in your furniture to scale you can see how much room you have to work with.

You can also use scaled graph paper and there are web sites which allow you to print them out for free. Click HERE to get it.

This is a close up of the shot of the dresser in a teenage boys bedroom. I know exactly what dimension I need. I don’t have any wiggle room.

If you want a better understanding of proportions and how to make a room right I highly encourage you to purchase a scale ruler and work on it. Sorry no pretty pictures today, but I hope that this post is helpful.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jean March 15, 2010 at 9:08 am

Oh, my!!! This is so wonderfully helpful. The mind’s eye is nothing compared to the mind’s ruler. Thank you!

2 Splendid Willow March 15, 2010 at 10:11 am

I will come to yo for my next big design project! I will let you figure it out! (:

Happy new week, dear!

ox Mon

3 cristin @ simplified bee March 15, 2010 at 10:17 am

Although I loved my drafting class, it is much easier to use a computer!

Very nice post!


4 Chic Coles March 15, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Great information! Thanks so much!

5 Nancy March 15, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Thank you so much for this! I bought a scale ruler a while ago, and I never could figure out how to use it!

6 Sarah Pribyl March 15, 2010 at 5:20 pm

So helpful! Thank you!!!

7 style court March 15, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Excellent post Laura! (My dad still has his scale ruler.) I’m always impressed with your attention to detail. The illustrations helped a lot here too, I think.

I feel lost if I leave the house without my measuring tape.

8 seleta March 15, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Wonderful post!!!

9 Fran March 25, 2010 at 6:10 am

Thanks so much! This is a wonderful post and so helpful! I would love to learn more!

10 Sue Johnson May 4, 2015 at 12:47 pm

exackly what I was looking for on how to use a tris ale

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