Symmetry vs. asymmetry – is it an either or? Symmetry and asymmetry are two fundamental principles of design used to create balance and visual interest in a space. The reality is, we need both when creating a visually appealing environment. Too much symmetry can result in a boring room and too much asymmetry can result in a space that feels unbalanced and potentially uncomfortable. Of course, we all have preferences – I love a good display of symmetry. But I know I need to add something that are a little “off-balance” will keep things feeling fresh and natural.
Symmetry vs. Asymmetry
Symmetry refers to the balance and proportion of elements on either side of a central axis. In interior design, this often means arranging objects and elements in the room in a way that is visually balanced, such as this formal living room I did in a brownstone in the South End of Boston (and published in The Boston Globe). As this was a classic 19th century brownstone, creating a balanced space on either side of the fireplace was practically required. It was also a fairly small living room, so balance and symmetry creates ease in a small space.
The mixed-use living room I did in Hingham a couple of years ago takes advantage of a sort of double-symmetrical layout. The back part of the space is balanced on either side of the French doors and the seating area in the foreground is centered on the large wall unit. In order to leave a walk-space from the stairs, the seating area could not be balanced on the French door and open lattice work room divider.
Symmetry can create a sense of stability and order in a space, and is often used in traditional or formal design styles. However, it can also be used in a more contemporary or modern context, as long as the elements are chosen and arranged in a way that is visually pleasing and cohesive. In the image below, the center round mirror is flanked by the sconces. The steel band detail on the left side of the table balances the vase with branches on the right – all creating a very symmetrical vignette while not being at all traditional.
Asymmetry, on the other hand, refers to the lack of balance and proportion in a design. In interior design, this often means mixing and matching different elements in the room, such as using a variety of furniture styles and textures, or pairing a large, bold piece of artwork with a smaller, more delicate accessory much like this vignette I created several years ago for my digital magazine Surroundings. The bold modern painting was very large and created in interested imbalance against the delicate, very traditional chair. Additionally, the faux-bois console table was a rustic touch against the formality of the chair and glossiness of the crystal lamp base.
Asymmetry can create a sense of movement and energy in a space, and is often used in more eclectic or modern design styles. It can also be used to add visual interest and break up the monotony of a symmetrical design. In the bedroom below, the racing horse image on the wall is literally racing off to the right. Had it been centered over the bed, it would have felt more static. But the off center placement truly plays up the motion intended in the piece.
Ultimately, the choice between symmetry and asymmetry in interior design comes down to personal preference and the desired look and feel of the space. Do you love cohesion and balance? Are you excited by movement and flow? These are all questions to ask when making your design plans.
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