Symmetry in Interior Design: How Does It Influence Us?

Toronto Life
Symmetry Lotus
Nature's best designs by robert7

One thing we learn quickly at quite a young age is that without balance, things tend to look out of place. No child can build a tower from wooden blocks if they're not mindful of balancing them. You can discover the same principle in learning how to ride a bike or knowing when to take a break from work to enjoy some leisure time. Symmetry — both literal and figurative — has a great impact on our lives, so it's no surprise that we want to translate balance into interior design as well.

Why Do We Love Symmetrical Spaces?

Why do humans find symmetry so appealing? Bi-lateral and radial symmetry resembles the human body. According to Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian Man, our navel is the centre of our body, and everything circulates from it. Our torso has a right side and a left, a back and a front. The power of symmetry is so strong that biological research shows that we value people more if they have a symmetrical face, as they are deemed more attractive. We can carry out a very simple test by ourselves: if we look at two stones of the same type, size, and quality, while one is raw and the other one faceted, we find the faceted one more appealing because its symmetry is very pleasing.

Our love affair with balance and symmetry has a long history and has been an integral part of design for ages. Symmetry evokes feelings of safety, comfort, and familiarity and therefore has its important role in interior design. In a symmetrical room, you can easily spot everything that upsets the balance. Houses without right angles and defined rooms are often found distressing by sensitive people because these places lack order and predictability. Symmetry has a profound effect on humans and will surely remain of great importance in the pursuit of beautiful objects and spaces.

Vitruvian Man
Vitruvian Man by Eric S.

Being off-balance in many aspects of our lives is uncomfortable, and so is living in an unbalanced interior. In certain cases, unbalanced interior spaces look chic and comfortable — but they require an incredible amount of taste and a really good eye for design. The majority of interiors are designed with one goal: visual balance. This balance can be achieved by distributing objects and accessories within a space to conjure a feeling of equilibrium. The size of the objects as well as their surface, overall shape, and colour all contribute to the object's visual weight. A complexly shaped, darker object with unusual surface design generally feels heavier than a translucent, neutral-coloured object of the same size. "Heavy" objects require balance through the placement of equally heavy objects or multiple light objects.

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Photography by Peter A. Sellar - www.photoklik.com

Understanding the basing principles of symmetry and balance can help you create a beautiful space. When a room is well designed, it is a pleasure to walk through and stay in. Sometimes a room's aesthetics feel so good that you'd love to stay forever. You can achieve this perfect balance in three ways: symmetrically, asymmetrically, and radially.

Symmetrical or Formal Balance

Symmetrical balance is achieved when items are actually repeated or mirrored along a central axis.

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Photography by Peter A. Sellar - www.photoklik.com

Symmetrical form is the easiest way to achieve balance because the same objects and design elements are repeated in each side of the room. The room is usually split into halves that mirror each other. The bedroom is the perfect place to apply symmetrical design. A double bed is usually placed against the wall and centred, while night stands and lamps are placed on each side of the bed together. On the facing wall, usually a chest of drawers or wardrobe is placed. This arrangement in interior design evokes a feeling of stability, calm, and dignity and suits rooms designed for leisure or sleep such as a library, bedroom, or bathroom. You can achieve symmetry through the use of patterns and furniture arrangement, fixtures and millwork, and the application of colour. In the bedroom, systematically arranged cushions and pillows on the bed along with two lamps on either side atop matching bedside tables help to maintain formal balance. Using large repeats of wallpaper will make a strong focal point in the bedroom. For the bathroom, carefully arranged ceramics placed on either side of the bathroom mirror create a very nice focal point.

2013 07 10 13 30 02 Peter Sellar  Architectural Photography  photoklik com
Photography by Peter A. Sellar - www.photoklik.com

If you want to use symmetrical arrangement in an entertainment room such as a living room or kitchen, be careful to include a moment of surprise as well, as the room may become monotonous and boring. An interesting piece of art work, designer ceiling lamp, or rug positioned off the axis can bring the desired moment of surprise and help the room maintain its visual interest.

Asymmetrical or Informal Balance

Asymmetrical balance is achieved with dissimilar objects that have equal visual weight or attraction.

Asymmetrical design presents more of an unexpected balance. Everything should still be balanced in scale and proportion as your eye travels around the room.

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Photography by Peter A. Sellar - www.photoklik.com

Asymmetrical design is generally created with an odd number of different elements. Each element — lines, colours, forms, and textures — is unique, lacking a duplicate within the space. This design relates strongly to the visual weight of objects, where different elements with similar weight achieve asymmetrical balance. Interiors where asymmetrical design has been applied are viewed as more dynamic and less rigid because a variety of objects and elements work together to create harmony. In this case, different elements with a similar perceived weight achieve balance on the opposing axis. As stated above, complex shapes often feel heavier and for that reason are commonly used to achieve asymmetrical balance. Asymmetry is more relaxed and tends to be used in more contemporary spaces. This scheme is perfect for a living room, kid’s room, hall, or kitchen.

Asymmetrical balance
Asymmetrical balance by Mazzali

There are endless examples of asymmetrical balance, such as a sofa paired with two armchairs on the opposite side or a dining table where each chair is different. Asymmetrical balance is harder to achieve than symmetrical balance, and it often requires an eye for design. On the other hand, it is a challenging, visually exciting, and dynamic approach.

Radial Balance

Radial symmetry is when all the elements of a design are arrayed around a centre point.

2013 07 10 13 20 27 Peter Sellar  Architectural Photography  photoklik com
Photography by Peter A. Sellar - www.photoklik.com

A well-designed room always includes one or more focal points, depending on its size and layout. In radial symmetry, a room has only one focal point, which is usually placed in the centre, and the overall design follows the central radiation and spreads either outward or inward. Good examples of radial balance translated into interior spaces are chairs positioned around a circular table, a rotunda, or even complex circular lighting. Lighting is a great way to subtly drag your attention to a certain point.

2013 07 10 13 22 38 Peter Sellar  Architectural Photography  photoklik com
Photography by Peter A. Sellar - www.photoklik.com

Even though most interior spaces using radial symmetry have their focal points in the centre, this is not a rule. Skilled interior designers can create very interesting interiors by dragging our attention to a spiral staircase, fireplace, work of art, or other interior element off to one side. This arrangement is all about repeating form, texture, and colour and is widely used in interior design.

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