Scale crucial to mix-and-match style

The era of the matched-furniture suite came to an end some time ago. And creative types say “good riddance” to it.

Anyone with a discerning eye, or a generous grandmother, finds today’s mix-and-match look a pleasure to put together. Antiques and collectibles now typically get combined with new pieces, either high quality or utterly ordinary, as well as with interesting junk discovered at second-hand shops.

But successful designs of this kind aren’t built on an anything-goes premise. Selectiveness matters, as does a sense of scale, which is as important to attractive interiors as salt is to tasty cooking.

An understanding of proper scale can be gained by studying the appearance of rooms with well-balanced furniture arrangements. One will see, for example, that the high-back upholstered chair in the family room has not been situated beside the lightweight iron chair. Conversely, a group of seating pieces similar in height and not of a size that overwhelms other elements in the room makes it more pleasing to the eye.

Q: My king-size bed matches the paired night tables in its traditional styling but still looks awkwardly large. Can you suggest something else serviceable to put beside the bed? About 4 feet of space is available on each side.

A: I regularly encounter something like the situation you describe. My standard solution is to introduce a couple of unmatched tables — a writing desk and chair on one side, for example, and a smaller piece on the other.

Do keep in mind that the bed does not have to be centered on the wall; extra space becomes available on one end if you move the bed closer to the other corner.

A writing desk has a practical advantage over a night table in that it offers additional surface space for books, a lamp and even a bedside laptop. The desk’s size will also serve as a visual counterbalance to your large bed.

Something more traditional can meanwhile be placed on the side that may now have only 2 or 3 feet of usable space. And you’ll still have an opportunity to choose an interesting piece of furniture that suits your own taste.

The accompanying photo presents one such possibility. It’s inspired by the English butler table, which essentially consists of a case placed on a collapsible X-shaped base. This good-looking and versatile piece is offered by J.D. Young & Sons, a company that distributes high-end furniture for bedrooms and other parts of the home.

While this night table won’t make a king-size bed appear any smaller, you’ll probably find that it is in scale, height-wise, with your own bed.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at

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