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Why Our Brains Love Symmetry in Design


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We all know an example of good interior design when we see it. In fact, most of us can make that judgment almost instantly. Have you ever wondered why that ability seems to come to us so instinctually, even though we may not be professional interior designers?

It all has to do with symmetry or a sense of balance, that has been achieved within a space. Symmetrical design cues effect our subconscious, even when they are too subtle to be consciously acknowledged with our first glance. All of us are drawn to balanced images and tend to think them more aesthetically pleasing than their off-kilter counterparts.

As for why we love symmetrical spaces so much, you’ll have to read on to find out. Plus, you’ll discover how to bring a harmonious feel into your own interiors, regardless of your personal style. Check it out.


It Feels Familiar

The answer is simple: We love balance because it is right in front of us. The next time you look at your body in the mirror, imagine drawing a line directly down the middle, splitting yourself in half at the navel. Odds are, you’ll find your right and left halves to be fairly symmetrical.

However, we aren’t the only creatures who are inherently balanced. Scientists have found that a closely mirroring ratio – often dubbed The Golden Mean – of 1:1.61 that occurs over and over again in nature. Not only do our bodies meet these proportions, but so do the curvature of seashells, the formation of clouds, and even the circular pattern of our universe.

Since this type of balance is so familiar in our lives, it is easier for our brains to process. Symmetrical interiors are often viewed as more restful and peaceful than their artistically asymmetrical counterparts because we don’t have to work as hard to figure out the use and flow of the space.

When you are designing your interiors, consider the mood that you are trying to achieve in your space. If you want your home to feel like an oasis away from the outside world, balance is key.

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Balance Fits All Shapes

Of course, when it comes to interior design, balance doesn’t just have to refer to a line that’s been drawn directly down the middle. No, that would get boring pretty fast. Instead, interior designers have come up with a few ways to achieve a symmetrical feel in a space while still maintaining the visual interest. Check them out:

  • Reflection: The most common type, as was mentioned above. It can be either vertical or horizontal such as two couches that are divided by a center coffee table or a chair rail that separates the room into a top and bottom half.
  • Rotational: Refers to objects rotated in a particular direction around a central focal point. Think of a round dining room table or, on a smaller scale, a wreath that adorns your front door.
  • Transitional: Creating the illusion of motion by repeating the same pattern multiple times within the same space. It’s most commonly seen in tiled floors, backsplashes, and wallpaper.
  • Asymmetry: Purposefully breaking an established pattern of symmetry in order to draw attention to a particular design element. These are often things like a piece of statement furniture or an expensive work of art.

When trying to decide what type of balance to employ in your spaces, first consider the how much room you have to work with. Rotational and transitional do well in large, open areas like foyers and expansive dining rooms, but can feel overwhelming if there is too much repetition crammed into a small area. In tight spaces, reflection symmetry and asymmetry are your best bets since they often feature simpler designs.


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Symmetry is Easy To Achieve

Luckily, you don’t need to be a professional to create balance within your interiors. Anyone can bring a harmonious feel to their space by taking these three things into account:

  • Focal Point: The center point in your design. It should be the element that immediately draws your eye upon walking into the room – fireplaces, built-in storage, architectural detailing.
  • Visual Weight: While your focal point should be the heaviest object in the room, you can balance it out by framing it with a similarly heavy object on either side as in a fireplace that’s been flanked by matching sofas. Alternatively, you could balance it by offering groupings of visually lighter objects like a heavy dining room table with chairs filling either side.
  • Scale & Proportion: Try to keep your design elements to scale and proportional with the space an each other. Proportions of 2:3, 3:5, or 5:8 work best. When it comes to measurements, aim for ottomans that are two-thirds the length of your sofa and artwork that fills three-fifths of a wall.

When all else fails, take a step back – literally. As you are designing your interiors, remember to occasionally step outside of the current detail you are working on and view the space as a whole. When you view the room from an outsider’s perspective, you should instantly be able to get a sense of its balance. If things aren’t symmetrical enough for you, keep tweaking the positioning of your design elements until you achieve a flow that feels right.

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It Works With Every Style

Usually, when it comes to interior design, personal style is a big point of contention. Some people love the lavish feel of ornate interiors while others consistently find themselves drawn to a more modern aesthetic. It may seem like these two camps will never find common ground, however, when it comes to a fundamental design principle like balance, necessity begets personal preference.

Here’s the deal: No room would be complete without a certain amount of symmetrical concentration. Could you imagine a room where a cabinet was placed dead center in the room with a sofa pushed off into one corner and a painting skewed on the opposite wall? What a mess!

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Think of balance as a useful tool in creating the framework of your interior design. Then imagine your personal style elements as the filling that fleshes the room out and makes it uniquely your own.  That pair of lamps to decorate your bedside tables will look just as even weather they sport Asian influence or a classical marble flair.

Whether your style is more modern or traditional, use symmetry to make your design pop. Image Via: Streeter & Associates, Inc. As far as the world of interior design is concerned, balance is key. Our brains find it pleasing and, as a result, we tend to rank symmetrical spaces as more attractive. Follow the tips above as you work on the rooms in your own home. By incorporating balance into the framework of your design, you can create a space that everyone will find pleasing, regardless of their favorite style. Your friends and family will be asking for your secret weapon. We won’t tell if you don’t!

How do you feel about symmetrical designs? Do you actively try to bring balance to the rooms in your home? How?

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