Sign up ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

“Oh I would never dream of assuming I know all Hogwarts’ secrets, Igor,” said Dumbledore amicably. “Only this morning, for instance, I took a wrong turning on the way to the bathroom and found myself in a beautifully proportioned room I have never seen before, containing a really rather magnificent collection of chamber pots. When I went back to investigate more closely, I discovered that the room had vanished. (Harry Potter 4 [US Version]: p.417)[Bold font is mine]

A dictionary says proportioned is

(used especially after an adverb) having parts that relate in size to other parts in the way that is described

Considering the above explanation, I tentatively understand ‘a well (or beautifully) proportioned room’ has nicely balanced lengths of each side, as one large box. Also, I’m thinking ‘beautifully proportioned’ is a kind of compliment.

To be frank, however, I’m feeling a little strange about my understanding. The relation of three side lengths in a room doesn’t matter so much to me, because Japanese rooms are basically made of unified standard of tatami mat or fusuma screen, which automatically make rooms some-extent-proportioned ones. When I speak my mother tongue, I wouldn’t bother to explain how the room is proportioned unless I am an architect or unless the room is a special art. I would praise not the proportion of the room, the container, but the color or material of the accessories mainly (or only).

So, I’m curious about what “a beautifully proportioned room” really means. Here are my questions;

  1. Does it mean that the room has golden ratio in three sides?
  2. Does it mean the room is a great artwork which you would like to put in a museum?
  3. Does it describe (or praise) only a room as a box? (I’d like to know if the concept of a room includes the accessories of the room; furniture, border, curtains, or fireplace. If so, does it refer to only their layout?)
share|improve this question
Sometimes it can be beneficial to look at image search for the exact phrase: , however I am not sure how helpful it is in this case. – Unreason Jul 21 '11 at 8:10
Well it means it's a double-cube if you own a rectory! – Joe Blow Aug 20 at 16:52
The fact that it is the Room of Requirements, or even that it appears in the Harry Potter novels, is totally irrelevant. It's a commonplace way to describe, particularly in the "English country house" milieu, a room with good proportions. – Joe Blow Aug 20 at 16:55
I find questions like this wholly confusing. Because (1) even if you are just learning English, the phrase is wholly self-explanatory and (2) there is zero "idiomatic" content (an idiom "needs explaining"; this is just two English words you can look-up in a dictionary. Yes, you might have to point out to a non-nateve speaker, "Sure, that's a common phrase. It just means what it says." ... but what else can be said? – Joe Blow Aug 20 at 17:06

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

First, we are speaking of the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter series. One of the characteristics of the room is that it will present itself in time of need to someone who needs it, and that it will be sized and equipped to match those needs. It has been everything from a broom closet to a coed barracks (apparently for at least a couple of dozen people) over the course of the series. (Sorry if that's a plot spoiler, but you did ask.)

We cannot assume the golden ratio, but we can assume that the relationship of the length, width and height would have been something Dumbledore would have found pleasing to the eye. At various times, European design has had a number of different views of beautiful proportionality. It may even have been a circular room at the time, since Dumbledore's office (and, one would assume, living quarters) seem to have been circular.

We can assume, however, that the room would have been neither too small nor too large for the purpose it was fulfilling at the time. Exactly what that size might have been is difficult to say, but keep in mind that it was (at the time) a lavatory for one person, but with a selection of commodes arranged (given the urgency of the situation) so that one could easily choose a favorite design without having to wander through a great warehouse to find it. I may imagine exactly the right size differently from the way you would imagine it, but the room would have been exactly the right size for Dumbledore. And yes, it would have been equipped with whatever furnishings Dumbledore would have thought appropriate for a lavatory.

share|improve this answer
What a marvelously-proportioned reply! I can't help thinking Rowling's idea owes much to prior familiarity with Doctor Who's Tardis which is also appropriately and variably sized according to requirements. – FumbleFingers Jul 25 '11 at 16:47

"proportions" means the ratios of the height to the width to the length.

"beautifully" means appealing.

In describing architecture, it is common to talk of "well proportioned" or "beautifully proportioned" rooms.

It's a totally commonplace phrase, and has no further puns or implications.

In practice, modern-day building produces practical, but basically very ugly, rooms. When you speak of well-proportioned rooms, in the British experience it immediately suggests pre-1900 "country house" type architecture, as opposed to the ordinary mass-market apartment blocks and so on of today, which have purely practical layouts with no thought at all to the aesthetics of the spaces. (A handful of the most expensive new flats or houses for the very rich, will be advertised as having "high ceilings" or "beautiful proportions" or perhaps "classical proportions".)

Note that you can picture Dumbledore being in to the finer things such as classical country houses, so of course He sees the room of requirements in that way, and that phrase comes to mind for him. It's a completely commonplace phrase.

share|improve this answer

It means a room, the proportions of which are beautiful. There is no ulterior or secondary meaning here.

For example in English "classical" architecture, example or example. It's that whole, you know, Enlightenment thing.

A "double cube" (the ultimate in beautiful proprtions) room is a shibboleth, or cartoon reference, for the British "country-house set" .. example.

There are any number of famous well-proportioned rooms from Inigo Jones, blah blah.

The idea that "those Easterners" would somehow not know about room proportions seems, well astounding, as for the odd thousand years in the "West" "we" have slavishly doted over the astounding centrality of mathematical proportion and all-around general awesomeness proportion-wise in Eastern architecture, Japanese architecture, arabic architecture, Indian architecture etc etc etc.

share|improve this answer
Entirely true, but not necessarily helpful. It might have been worth explaining how in the West rooms can be considered beautiful in themselves, regardless of what they contain. – TimLymington Aug 1 '11 at 22:17
TimLymington: That rather presupposes that that is not something non-westerners would have occur to them. In any case, it would not add one more piece of information, as if rooms could not be beautiful in themselves, I couldn't have written the first sentence above. – Marcin Aug 2 '11 at 6:50
This is the full and complete answer. – Joe Blow Aug 20 at 16:52

An RIBA policy paper in 2007 included this:

Good design contributes to a sense of wellbeing – statistics have shown that over £2 billion per year is spent treating illness arising from poor housing stock – more than is spent by local authorities on the building stock itself.

If you feel good / feel a room is good / on entering maybe that is "beautifully proportioned. Or maybe, as I've noticed, a number of well known designs have been built using things like "golden ratio", "golden rectangle", "golden section" and this is the criterion.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.