The secrets of symmetry

April 21, 2015
formal symmetry

You know a room works when the space has achieved symmetry.  Symmetry is just a fancy word for balanced. Simply put, a symmetrical room features visual weight in appealing manner.  The space is not chaotic, or busy.  Designers place each piece strategically with an overall symmetrical plan in mind. To understand how to achieve balance with your design plan, you first need to know the secrets of symmetry.

formal symmetry
photo via Thibault

Formal Symmetry

Formal symmetry, a hallmark of traditional design, is the easiest to achieve, as it is also the easiest to understand.  A loveseat with two identical tables placed on either side with matching lamps place on top is an example of formal symmetry.  If you were to draw a line down the middle of the loveseat, you would see one side is a mirror image of the other.  Formal symmetry relies on the repetitiveness of furnishings and accessories. You could further enhance the symmetry by adding identical throw pillows, one on each side, to the loveseat.  When using formal symmetry, it is important to find ways to add visual interest to avoid a monotonous look.

informal symmetry

Informal Symmetry

Informal symmetry, also known as asymmetry, is more about shaking things up a little.  If you took the same loveseat and traded out an accent table for a floor lamp, then removed one throw pillow and replaced it with another one in a coordinating fabric you would create an asymmetrical look.  Asymmetry is more taxing but it creates a more robust design in the end. Unlike formal symmetry, asymmetry avoids repetitive elements yet includes the lines, textures and colors with similar visual weight and appeal that a design plan requires. Today’s casual designs use the concept of asymmetry more often than that of formal symmetry.

radial symmetry

Radial Symmetry

Radial symmetry, summed up, is the use of a focal point and other repetitive elements radiating around it. A dining room table, for example, would be the focal point of your dining room with matching chairs flanked around it. Each chair, a duplicate of the one next to it, keeps the form and repetition consistent in the room.  This approach, rarely used in interior design, can work. For a more formal approach in a sitting room, for example, you could center a round ottoman and place matching wingback chairs, equal distances apart, on the perimeter of the ottoman.

Any of these three approaches will work well depending on the space and function of the room. For traditional symmetry, just remember each side of the room is a mirror opposite of the other.  End tables are the same, lamps are the same, and even the accent pillows are a match. For an informal look, remember each side of the room does not match the other. Keeping things within scale and complimentary is more important. Both of these are perfect for family rooms. Radial symmetry, on the other hand, is best reserved for the formal dining room or eat-in kitchen. It relies on the use of a set of matching chairs placed around a matching table.

I hope that the secrets of symmetry have taken the guesswork out of creating your next floor plan. It may seem complicated but really, it isn’t with a little consideration.

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