Golden Means to an End

I spent a fascinating Saturday morning with Chris Barber of Barber Woodworking (pictured here), discussing the timeless beauty of Classical design proportions and the soul-crushing frustration of SketchUp software.

Seriously, SketchUp is enough to make you want to knock yourself unconscious with your wireless Logitech mouse. But once you figure it out—with help from Chris and the other Chris at Barber Woodworking—SketchUp can be a powerful 3D tool for designing houses, kitchens, furniture, you name it. My Buttercup buddy Pat McFadden and I are currently using SketchUp to design a hexagonal bench to surround a tree. Stay tuned for more on that project.

The reason the SketchUp class was a hybrid workshop—with two hours on design theory and two hours on modeling software—was because one feeds the other. For example, if you’re designing a kitchen and you’re trying to decide what size all the cabinets and drawers should be, the permutations are endless. So it helps to rely on the same tried-and-true principles that make the Parthenon look perfect.

“When in doubt, Fibonacci it out,” says Chris Barber, referring to the Italian mathematician, who figured out that the most visually pleasing forms in nature and the manmade world occur when dimensional ratios are the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger number.

There is a mathematical explanation for it all, and I encourage you to treat yourself to a workshop with Chris Barber, who can explain infinitely better than I can. For the poets among us, let’s just say that rectangles work well when one side is 1.618 times longer than the other, a proportion that yields a so-called Golden Rectangle, Golden Section or Golden Mean. Using this 1.618 factor, you can turn a kitchen into a harmonious space as aesthetically pleasing as a Parthenon.

Of course, the Parthenon was not limited by modern conveniences such as dishwashers and refrigerators, which are tethered by framing members and the placement of GFCI sockets, waterlines and whatnot, so you might not be able to get your 1.618 ratios exactly where you want them. But at least you know what you’re trying to do, and as Barber says, ” ‘Intention’ is the word for all of this.”

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