Monday, June 1, 2015

Catch Your Balance: Symmetry vs. Asymmetry

One of the primary elements of design is symmetry...and by extension, its opposite, asymmetry. Symmetrical rooms are most often blessed with good bones: a central focal point such as a fireplace helps to balance a room and achieve a settled, classic, sometimes grand effect. These rooms are lucky enough to feature fireplaces centered on a wall, evenly spaced between windows.

A room doesn't have to have a fireplace to have a focal point. Generally speaking, the place where your eye falls first when one enters a room is the "focal point." This can be a wall, or a set of windows, or a single large window...

Here we see a wall large enough to accommodate a king size bed which is naturally the focal point of the room. Bedrooms are easy spaces in which to create symmetry since beds most usually have two night tables, a fact which lends itself to a pleasant layout.

This next living room has a similar presentation: the largest wall is nestled between sloping ceiling planes, focusing attention to the center. This space has created symmetry in that one can practically draw a line down the center, divide the space in half and come up with nearly the same pieces on each side.

Thankfully the windows in this rustic room below are balanced, leaving a generous space for some long format art in between. The art echoes the window shapes and creates even more balance for this lovely focal point.

This living room received a focal point from Scot Meacham Wood when he created a balanced arrangement highlighting shape and placement instead of the television which reads as another piece of this tableau.

Natural symmetry in a room feels stable and established, with an almost calming quality. But what of asymmetry? Well, it depends upon your approach. Asymmetry has been used for centuries in Japanese design which values negative space almost more than objects. I wrote about this in a previous History of Furniture post here and you can see this at work in the image below.

The alcove to the right is larger and cuts the wall roughly into a two-third/one third ratio (known as The Golden Mean) but somehow the space doesn't feel out of balance. This has to do with how expertly the negative space is handled: the smaller alcove has a raised platform and a black iron bell hung high which gives it more visual bulk, balancing out the larger space next to it. It is a visual trick that anyone can utilize to make asymmetrical spaces feel equal.

Let's take a look at a room that indeed has a central fireplace for a focal point but the room is weighted in the direction of the window. In order to fix this imbalance, pieces of a darker hue--an antique portrait in black and a dark wood chest--give weight to the "blank side" of the fireplace, achieving symmetry.

But what to do when a fireplace is not centered? This is so often the case and a good approach is to trick the eye, as we have seen. Below we see two versions of achieving balance with darker pieces (an armoire in the first image and a dark lamp and table in the second).

In the bedroom below, the pair of windows on the left could wreak havoc in any other room but the sparse platform bed evokes a Japanese, Zen-like feeling by weighting the other side of the windows with more night table bulk and a horizontal piece of art, again adding weight for balance. There is symmetry even in asymmetry!

Happy designing!

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