Before purchasing every piece of furniture on your wish list or finalizing the plans for your home remodel, you need to consider the most crucial element of any home: the moving, stretching, sitting, standing, walking human body. Our body is naturally proportioned in much more complex ways than we might imagine. Our arms spread out are roughly the same length as our bodies are tall, our feet are roughly 1/8th of our height, while our heads are roughly 1/6th. Anthropometry is defined as the study of the measurements and proportions of the human body, and it is essential to keep in mind when deciding what goes into your home and how it all gets arranged.
Some have built a whole philosophy around the measurements of the human body; the architect Le Corbusier spent years trying to perfect Le Modulor, an intense drawing of an entire architectural ordering system based on the hundreds of proportions that make up the human body.
Photo By Markus Kuhn, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Human body measurements come into play in a number of ways – from architectural design to selecting furnishings for a home. For example, finding the right depth for a coffee table can be a challenge set up by the needs of the human body. With a couch on one side and the television on the other, the correct dimensions for the desired coffee table in the middle can be determined by sitting on the couch and measuring about six inches in front of your knees; this is where the long end of the coffee table can be placed.
Anthropometry becomes especially important in very small living spaces, where not a single square foot can be spared in all three dimensions. Installing shelves is an excellent way to increase storage space, but their placement and usefulness depend on the residents’ measurements. These shelves can be difficult to use when they’re placed too high on the walls to access. If you think you would need a step stool or a ladder to access the items on the proposed shelves, then it’s best to avoid installing them there unless absolutely necessary.
Doorways in new constructions are typically at least 36 inches wide, and it is a good practice to maintain this width when placing furniture.
Of course, while this width is the agreed-upon average for movement through and between rooms, there are exceptions to the standard. A basketball player, for example, may request larger door and hallway dimensions, while a shorter man might require lowered cabinets and countertops. Anthropometry becomes even more essential when creating universal or accessible designs. For example, the dimensions required for a person in a wheelchair are much more varied, and virtually every element of a typical house has to be reconsidered.
There are a number of things to consider when selecting furniture or working with a renovation professional to design the plans for a space about to undergo a renovation. Don’t be afraid to get out the tape measure, and keep anthropometry at the top of your mind. This will help you create a home that’s not only beautiful, but also as comfortable and functional as possible.