How to Decorate Using Balance and Symmetry
Creating a furniture layout or decorative display without balance or symmetry is like writing a blog post without drinking wine. While one requires a measuring tape and the other a straw, it’s all necessary to create a finished product that has flow and purpose.
The two chairs are a GREAT example of symmetry in action
What’s the difference between balance and symmetry when decorating?
Balance = One side is the same ‘visual weight’ as the other, although the pieces are different from each other
Symmetry = The anal-retentive sister to balance where one side is the mirror image of the other
In the above image, the artwork represents symmetry (even though the prints are different), the buffet display represents balance.
- A balanced space can be a bit more casual and relaxed and is a fave of the ‘eclectic’ home as it allows more room for creativity and spontaneity (definitely had to spell-check that one)
- An arrangement with symmetry can often look a bit more formal, but it TOTALLY depends on the type of decor used
Why should symmetry and balance matter to you? Well, knowing your preference will help when it comes to the following:
- Furniture placement/layout
- Accessorizing (mantel, bookcases and more…)
- Lighting and artwork placement
Let’s do a little case-study of a photo that’s a great example of balance and symmetry in action…
Darker colours carry more visual weight than lighter colours
In the above photo, it would be best if the two accent chairs have dark cushions on them (although we won’t EVER know). Without dark cushions, the visual weight of the sofa would be MORE than that of the two chairs and the far side of the room would look heavier. Because not only are the decor pieces adding balance/symmetry to the room, the large furniture pieces ALSO need to add balance or symmetry to the room as a whole, so that one side of the room doesn’t feel overly heavy compared to another (it’s hard to do this with some rooms/layouts, so don’t stress about it).
Dense objects carry more visual weight than shiny/reflective objects
Because solid, non-shiny items reflect light, they carry more visual weight compared to reflective items that bounce light back into the room. While the toss cushions and lamp bases in the above photo are the same colour, the cushions carry more visual weight than the lamps via their lack of sheen.
Main furniture pieces also offer balance or symmetry in how they relate to each other
You’ll see that the two chairs opposite the sofa are also adding balance to the room, while the two chairs themselves are symmetrical in how they relate to each other – they’re the same! If the two chairs were different from each other, they would (hopefully) still offer a balanced look when compared to the sofa. If there were only ONE chair, the room itself would be off-balance with the weight heavily on the sofa side. You can give a furniture piece more or less visual weight using toss cushions that are light/dark/shiny/matte as well as by adding side tables/baskets/etc…
A few more things to notice…
- The side tables and lamps are symmetrical as they are the SAME on either side of the sofa
- The artwork is adding symmetry. If it were more of a random gallery wall, there would be balance, not symmetry
- A round ottoman in the center would really anchor the space
Let’s look at a few more examples of balance and symmetry in action…
In this next photo, the left side of the mantel has the same visual weight as the right side – even though the objects are all different from each other. This shows balance. It’s also a GREAT example of decorative triangles.
Read more: 4 Easy Tips to Decorate Your Mantel
Next up, the two sofas carry the same visual weight as they ARE the same. They also have the SAME toss cushion layout, so the two pieces are totally symmetrical to each other, even though they aren’t opposite each other.
In this next example, you’ll find symmetry in the two framed photographs on the wall, but the furniture layout is an entirely eclectic, but balanced look. Even balanced looks can use a little bit of symmetry to add some calm.
In this next photo, the two chairs WOULD represent symmetry if they a) were balanced evenly on the rug and b) both had the same toss cushion. Right now they are somewhat symmetrical but off-balance as their visual weight isn’t the same, although the pup adds a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. Hey, put HIM on the right-side chair and you’d be that much closer to symmetry!
This next bedroom shows a beautifully symmetrical display…
- Side tables and lamps are the same (the book throws it a bit, but it’s a small detail)
- Toss cushions are perfectly symmetrical on both halves of the bed
- The throw adds a touch of whimsy to break up the more anal tendencies of this symmetrical display
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Originally written in 2016, updated in 2019