The art of measuring - Part I - Imperial vs Metric

For all our fellow European expats: a first post about the imperial vs. metric system and how to live with it (as ultimately, yes, if you live in the US, you will have soon or later to deal with it). 

Unless you make all your purchases at Ikea (where all measurements are given in both systems and the imperial measurements displayed seem to compete for the oddest fraction of an inch), you will have to figure how it works OR measure and convert everything all the time, at home, in stores, etc. So here are our tips to make the best of it:

1/ Get your ducks in a row and have an idea of the equivalences (see the table below).

equivalent imperial vs metric

Our trick is to think in reverse: do not start with a inch but with a yard, which is about 1 meter long (easy to remember). 1 foot if then 1/3 of a yard (consequently about 1/3 of a meter), and then 1 inch is a 1/12 of a foot, about 2.5cm (yes, you have to learn this one). Divide a square foot by 10 and you have its equivalent in square meters. That was easy!

2/ Get accustomed with what is measured with which unit, which is a very doubting task, regardless of the system you are using (ask Americans about metric and they will tell you it ain't easy either): what is measured in inches vs. feet? So here is a simple rule: the majority of furniture stores on and offline will give you measurements of their items in inches EXCEPT rugs. For one simple reason: walls' length and height are typically measured in feet (as there are bigger), that is why, rugs' dimensions, supposed to cover entire surfaces will most likely come in feet so that you can easily evaluate whether this will fit your room or not (one odd thing here: windows are also typically measured in feet but window treatments always come in inches. Go figure...). So here is a tip: if you go furniture shopping, have the measurements of your wall in inches so you can assess how a bed, table etc will fit in. If you go for a rug, have your measurements ready in feet.

Yards are used mostly for measuring and selling fabrics: a store will sell you a minimum of 1 yard for instance. However, the width of the roll of fabric will be given in inches (little help here: 36 inches = 1 yard).

3/ Last trick: make friends with the imperial system by thinking on how easy it is to divide 12 by 2, 3, 4 or 6. Similarly to a pack of eggs that you buy in Europe or in the US by 12. 12 is a friendlier number to divide items in general and pretty handy for interior design.

We agree it might not be the best choice for precise measurements but it surely will help you when purchasing items and dealing with furniture retailers in the US.

Little bonus: while we are at it: a single apostrophe is for feet and the double apostrophe '' is for inches (we cannot figure the logic in here either by the way).