Math enthusiasts around the world celebrate Pi Day on March 14th (corresponds with 3.14…get it?). I don’t claim to be a math enthusiast, but the event did start me wondering whether there is a mathematical equation of some sort that I have found helpful. I’ve decided to give this honor to the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio, a concept I wish I had learned about much earlier.
If you’ve formally studied art or architecture, you know the Golden Ratio well. If it doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve still no doubt noticed objects that were pleasing to you or have felt comfortable in rooms that felt satisfying although you couldn’t quite describe why you found them to be so. Most likely your positive impression was a result of the Golden Ratio at work; it is the classical proportion that is evident in nature and the basis of many designs.
Where is all this leading? Once you are aware of the Golden Ratio, you can use it on any rectangular shape to be sure it is not too wide or too narrow. Determine with confidence, for example, the most appropriate length for a backyard deck, the best proportion of rug to floor, or the most pleasing size and positioning of shelving on a wall.
This specifc ratio is 1 to .618 (and then some), but forget that and think in terms of two-thirds to one-third. Two-thirds of the floor should be covered with one-third hardwood exposed around the perimeter, and the shelves should cover no more than two-thirds of the wall, as two overly generalized examples. Just as easily, you can multiply the width of a feature by 1.5 to find its best approximate length or divide the length by 1.5 to find its best approximate width. A 10 foot wide deck would look best built to a length of about 15 feet.
When you’re determined to notice these proportions, you start to see things click into place. While a professional designer can certainly help you use proportion to create a pleasing environment, anyone can enhance her space with awareness of the Golden Ratio. Unlike Pi Day, you don’t have to be a math nerd to appreciate the beauty of 1.618.