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Powers of Ten for Rooms and Furniture

by Dan Gregory last modified Jan 04, 2012 04:17 AM
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by Dan Gregory last modified Sep 09, 2010

Relating the Eames film Powers of Ten, about scale, to the way multifunctional furniture can affect the perception of room size. Continue reading →



Looking Up, Down, and All Around

Charles and Ray Eames were influential not just for the iconic modern house they built out of standardized parts (illustrated here by the set of blocks you can now

purchase from House Industries),  or for their Eames Lounge chair and other furniture, but for their films, especially Powers of Ten. This short movie is about seeing and understanding scale by adding another zero to a number (a larger power of ten) or taking a zero away (a smaller power of ten). As their grandson Eames Demetrios, also a filmmaker and author, explains on the Eames Office website: “Starting with a sleeping man at a picnic, the film takes the viewer on a journey out to the edge of space and then back into a carbon atom in the hand of the man at the picnic, all in a single shot. It is an unforgettable experience.”

(Image courtesy Eames Office)

One month from now — Friday, October 10 — is thus an important number sequence for Eamesians: 10/10/10, or 10 to the nth power. Numbers are not my strong suit but I am interested in how Charles and Ray help us see the world in fresh ways. Their single vertical tracking shot is essentially a Google map magnifier view (more than forty years before Google was founded) taken to extremes — from outer space to inner space.  You learn how small we are as humans in relation to the universe and how big we are in relation to our atoms and DNA.

The film is a useful way to think about home design: in other words, room size is always relative — both to other rooms in the home and to the elements within the room itself. As you explore our floor plans at note each room’s overall dimensions. See how key elements like windows, doors, and the fireplace, for example, will affect your perception of scale and comfort — their sizes help you judge the size — and thus scale –  of the room. In Sea Ranch Cottage Plan 447-2 by William Turnbull,

the living area (13′ by 12.6′) and dining space (8.8′ by 9′)  are small in dimension but feel larger than expected because they overlap and because the windows

are tall and slender, accentuating height, and set low in the wall to allow sightlines to the ground, helping blur the edges of the room. Wainscoting, molding, paneling — even paint — can help establish a room’s proportion. The so-called “Double Cube Room” at Wilton House in England, designed by Inigo Jones ca. 1653, is vast at 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high

but because of the equally large fireplace and portraits (around which the room was designed) it does not feel overwhelming (image courtesy RIBA). Everything is in proportion.

Furniture is a quick way to adjust a room’s sense of scale up or down. Use a lot of large heavy pieces and a room will feel stuffed and cramped; use fewer lighter pieces and it will feel more spacious.  Resource Furniture carries a particularly ingenious line of space-saving tables, sofas, and beds. For example,

here’s an unassuming coffee table

that morphs easily

into a desk. Or here’s a new twist on the Murphy bed, where even a small space can make room for both a bed and a  sofa.

See how the shelf remains level

all the way down to the floor. So cool! Although I would still add a little museum wax or something sticky to the bottoms of the vases (images courtesy Resource Furniture). Pull down to fill the room and make it feel smaller; push up to empty it and make it feel larger: Behold the Powers of Design!



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