Symmetry is one of the oldest tricks in the design books. The charm of symmetry is its permanent power to please because it balances the tensions of the eye. Our eye and hand tend to discover objects from side to side, not from top to bottom. Providing balance in the eye is one of the great values of symmetry. When an arrangement is symmetrical, it will always contain at least one pair of items. Our house is our refuge, a place where we invite our soul to enlarge. We want to be soothed by the peacefulness that results from symmetry. Here are some examples:
Everyone instinctively wants to arrange the objects on a mantel in a symmetrical way. Begin by placing two matching objects on the left and right of the mantel shelf. A pair of cachepots filled with ivy or topiaries is appealing year-round. Add a pair of decorative plates of similar size or pattern. In the space between, select objects that are like-spirited. They don’t have to be in pairs as long as they are of the same family. For example, you could have two brass boxes or two paperweights, etc. Each object can be unique but should be connected to its partner on the opposite side of the mantel.
The same principle can be applied to create symmetrically appealing arrangements on any long surface—a sideboard, a serving table, or a front-hall table. The candlesticks, lamps, or vases that you place on the far left and right should be a pair. These “anchor” the symmetry of the horizontal axis. The center object is your focal point. The other objects do not have to be in pairs but should be of the same spirit and balanced compositionally. The arrangement on the left should be repeated, with flexibility, on the right.
The arrangement of pillows on a sofa should be symmetrical. If you want a center pillow, it should not be identical to the pillows on the right and left.
Whether you have two candles or four on a table, they should line up symmetrically. Votive candles, because they are low and less conspicuous, can be placed where you want to highlight objects.
Generally, what you display on one window ledge should be repeated on the others. If you have two window ledges on either side of a wall, the object on the far right of one ledge—perhaps a cachepot with flowering plants—should be repeated on the far left of the other. This will make the two windows appear to be one whole unit, creating a sense of spaciousness in your room. Place similar but not matching objects on both ledges. I like colored glasses holding one or two flower blossoms, small pots of African violets, crystals, small paintings on easels, vintage poison bottles, etc.
The Danger of Too Much Symmetry
Strict symmetry, when things are too matchy-matchy, can seem cold, even redundant. Think of symmetry in the larger context of balance and harmony, as a series of beautiful associations between the parts. Move away from absolute symmetry toward a more flexible but balanced arrangement. In the earlier example, on your mantel, you could have two identical cachepots placed on the ends, and in the center, three porcelain objects that belong together but are not identical. There should always be something whimsical, something unusual or even humorous in your arrangements. When arrangements are too symmetrical, they feel sterile, and the atmosphere in uninviting. Establish symmetry as a framework, then creat relief and variety within it. Nature has laws, but within those laws there is almost unimaginable variation. Symmetry, too, should contain surprises.
To keep the world from chaos, forms must be repeated. But beware of too much repetition in form. Both a picket fence and an iron fence are symmetrical. Though they may be charming and attractive because of their endlessly repetitious forms, they can also become somewhat boring and do not sustain our interest. When forms are repeated over and over, something more visually interesting is needed to engage us and heighten the impact of the whole. Adding some rosebushes to the picket fence, using the symmetry of the fence as a frame for their profusion.
Simple classic symmetry is beautiful to the universal eye. Studying and appreciating symmetry and the necessary role it plays in providing us with order and stability in our everyday lives allows us to find harmoney and comfort at home.