When most people look at a design, they can immediately sense whether it feels right, but might not know why. Often times, the feeling of whether something is right is determined by a design’s balance.
Balance is easy to spot when it’s symmetrical, or a mirror image, such as two matching lamps on the entryway, an identical arrangement of seating on two sides of a room or candlesticks on a mantle.
The designs below all feature symmetrical balance:
In the image above from Kelley & Company Home, notice the matching lights and boxwood topiaries flanking the fireplace, as well as the matching seating arrangement.
Again, we see identical lamps on either side of the cabinet giving us symmetrical balance.
Although this image from Zuniga Interiors isn’t quite a mirror image from side to side, overall it is symmetrical given the use of matching lamps as well as the matching trays of seashells underneath the console table.
But what if you don’t have two matching items? What then?
Personally, while I like balance in design, I often prefer something called asymmetrical balance, meaning that you have balance even though the two sides aren’t mirror images of one another. Asymmetrical balance tends to be a bit more informal and a little more unexpected.
I typically shy away from things that are too matchy matchy, as I sometimes feel they are predictable. But when trying to create balance without using identical items, the key is to find objects of similar weight, form or scale. Think of it as a scale with a 5 lb. bag of sugar on one side. To balance it, you could use another 5 lb. bag of sugar, but you could also use two 2 1/2 lb. bags of flour!
Here are some examples of what I mean:
The bedside chest from The Virginia House is balanced even though there are not two matching lamps. Notice the use of the topiary stacked on the books? The provides a similar height to the lamp and while the lamp has a larger overall shape, it is balanced out by the use of the darker colors on the books and topiary, thus achieving balance.
This design from Ryland Peters & Small features a leaning ladder on one side of the bed, balanced by a small nightstand with lamp and antlers on the other. The antlers provide the height needed to balance out the ladder and the combined weight of all objects on the left-hand side roughly equals the objects on the right.
In this vignette from Rossana Novella, the heavy black phone is balance by the use of the books and the flower. Notice that one of the books is black to complement the black phone? Imagine if both books were brown. Would it still feel balanced to you? Probably not.
This design from Jonnie Anderson features a very intricate headboard but it is balanced by the smaller, black objects on the left. Similarly, the gold frame helps balance out the mirror. And can you tell from this image that the idea of asymmetrical balance can also apply to your picture gallery walls?
What’s interesting about this image from Mustard Seed Interiors is that it contains elements of both types of balance. The lamps provide a sense of symmetry, while the hydrangea and cloche are asymmetrical, as are the chair and the dress form. This design is both harmonious and unexpected!
So the next time you pass up that gorgeous vintage lamp at the flea market because there is only one, remember that there are other ways to achieve balance and harmony in a room and snatch up that lamp before someone else does!