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Does the living room couch look a lot bigger than the one that graced the living room 40 or 50 years ago? What about the kitchen cabinets — do they seem to be higher than ever? It’s not a trick of the imagination: Furniture size has, in fact, seen a marked increase over the centuries.

Why? The simple answer is evolution. Humans have grown taller over the centuries (look to any house built in the 18th- or 19th-century for evidence), and the last 50 years alone have seen the average human’s height rise by about 10 centimeters. However, the rise of Modernism, with its studies of human interaction and relationship with space, have also caused a shift in the way people decorate their homes.

Before the late 18th century, the human body was used as the primary system of measurement — a “foot” was the length of a person’s actual foot, for example. It wasn’t until 1791 when the French Academy of Sciences introduced the meter, which a more precise set of guidelines began to take shape. However, the discrepancies between the two led to confusion between countries who followed differing systems.

Enter Le Corbusier, mid-20th-century pioneer of Modernism, who created “a range of harmonious measurements” he called the Modulor. The Modulor was based on the average human height of 1.75 meters (increased to 1.83 meters in 1946) and was meant to promote spatial harmony by focusing on the body’s interaction with space, rather than sets of numbers. Therefore, as the human body continued to grow, so did the corresponding furniture.

The increase in body size hasn’t been restricted to height alone, either. It’s now standard for furniture manufacturers to post a weight limit on their products — something that would have been unthinkable just a century ago. Another relatively recent standard? A variety of product size. William Howard Taft, for example, had to have a custom-made bathtub to accommodate his girth. These days, larger fixtures are widely available. This is more than just a result of the obesity epidemic, however; individual tastes are also a factor.

In short, the large furniture trend isn’t likely to go away. With the range of products available, however, those who want to downsize will also have the freedom to do so.