The Rule of Three and Odd Numbers
First, let’s start with a disclaimer – I always break the rules. I get excited, bored, change my mind, move something, buy something, sell something, break something – you get the idea. My home is ever-evolving and in the process, rules (and many other things) get broken.
So, when it comes to accessorizing, I want you to know that YOU can break the rules too. These aren’t so much RULES as they are guidelines, and once you understand some of these guidelines, you’ll find it WAY easier to decorate any surface in your home!
I use the Rule of Three daily; whether I’m hanging artwork, adding toss cushions to a couch or dressing a mantel. It’s a great way to create interest and add a dynamic and decorative touch to a room without running the risk of ‘over-decorating’ or breaking the budget on a whack-load of new decor (sorry for the super technical term).
Generally, things that appear in threes are more appealing, memorable and definitive. Three also helps us with the illusion of symmetry or balance. Now, you might think you’d get more symmetry with two items – left/right, top/bottom, first/last. However, in decorating you need to tweak your thinking to accommodate a ‘center’ with a balancing item on either side – aka – symmetry or balance.
So, let’s do this!
The Rule of Three and Light Fixtures
Depending on the size of the surface you’re hanging the lights above, light fixture placements are usually limited to one or three fixtures. In these gorgeous kitchens below, two pendants wouldn’t have been enough, four would’ve been too many. In the words of the late great Goldilocks – three is juuuuust right (and they make sense with the three stools, just sayin’).
Read more: The Right Height to Hang Light Fixtures
Groups of Three and Decor
In this first photo, there are two groups of three – the candlesticks and books on the left AND the overall display. That’s right, the left side decor, center art and the vase on the right side = three pieces and they ALSO create a wicked decorative triangle.
In this next photo, just a nice simple group of three on the countertop…
This next little side table is the perfect odd number example. The key is to have small/medium/large pieces that you can stagger and layer, with the large/tall at the back, small in the front and medium in the middle.
In this next photo, you can see how there are three clear sections. The left side with the candleholders, the center with the box and the right with the plant. The plant is ALSO sitting on a stack of two books, creating another group of 3. Even the top of the cabinet has some good flow (I could do without the dancing fish though…).
This next bookcase is FULL of glorious things…
Just look at all of the examples of stacking, layering and decorative triangles (there are way more decorative triangles in there, I’ve just pointed out a few (stacks of books/pieces of art).
Read more: How to Decorate a Mantel – these tips will also come in handy for bookcase decorating!
In this next photo, you’ve two single items, as well as TWO groups of three – one on the left and the total of the clock, lamp and left-side display. It also shows an AWESOME decorative triangle, with the clock being the peak.
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Now let’s look at odd numbers (insert photo of myself here…)
Odd numbers pop up ALL the time in decor, whether it’s a single piece of artwork on a wall or a collection of five+ items. Once you get above five though, I don’t know who’s REALLY counting.
This accent table was just begging for a plant for a few reasons…
1 – The shape of the plant complements the round top of the table while still letting the wood show and…
2 – With all of the warm tones around it, the cool tones of the plant add balance (also notice the group of three books under the table – I’m so sneaky smart).
This hanging fixture looks awesome with five pendants…
HOWEVER, there are always exceptions!
In this next photo, three lights would’ve looked silly, but one light wouldn’t have been enough/proportional…
In this next photo, two lamps make total sense, but if you add in the centrepiece, you’ve got a group of three (and no, I’m not counting the speaker).
The waiting room at Eddins Counselling
What I’m trying to say is that while the Groups of Three rule is a great place to START, you have some SERIOUS flexibility and can use your own creative license to figure out what makes sense for you and your home.
Well, I have exhausted my brain and my math skills with this one – hope you enjoyed it!
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Originally written in 2014, awesomely updated in 2019