Symmetry vs asymmetry – which styling works best?

5 years ago
3 minutes

Furnishing and styling your home is definitely the most fun thing about moving into a new place – working out what looks best where and what colours suit which rooms. The process, however, can be a bit daunting when all the images on Pinterest and in Vogue Living look so perfectly pulled together and cohesive.

Essentially, there are two ways to style furniture and accessories – symmetrically or asymmetrically.

Symmetry is the balance of shapes and colours. It brings order and harmony to a room and is one of the most important tools of interior design. Decorators often use pairs to create a polished, professional look. Asymmetry is where the more casual, creative look comes in and things aren’t quite so perfectly balanced.

Too much symmetry and the room will be rigid and boring. It’s the thoughtful combination of both that makes an area look welcoming and cohesive. Work from a symmetrical base and layer your own creativity on top of that.

Pairs make symmetry work – two identical sofas facing one another or a sofa with two chairs opposite. Or identical bedside lamps and two similar cushions against the pillows, but selecting one that contrasts in colour and shape.

It’s a balance that is easy to achieve. Apparently, our brains love balance and harmony and it works with every style, no matter how ornate or minimalist.

First, find a focal point. This will usually be the heaviest object in the room, such as the sofa. Add two end tables with table lamps, or art on the wall behind, and choose a coffee table that is appropriate for the size of the couch. This will immediately make the living room look balanced.

Work out from there and try to vary heights and shapes. Add a chair in a contrasting shape and colour or a round ottoman. Try to vary the heights in the room, say with a standard lamp, a tall narrow piece of art on the wall, or a tall pot plant. Think about the scale and the balance of shapes and colours.


Using a symmetrical design approach can solve a number of problems. It can help balance strong features, such as a fireplace or large television. Using this as the centre of a symmetrical arrangement can make the focal point, whatever it is, look more at home in the room – something that is often hard to achieve with a large TV. Perhaps the TV could be balanced with poster art, with shelves above and at the side, or incorporated into bookshelves. If you have furnishings from different styles and eras, look for potential symmetric arrangements, in function, shape or colour, and work from there.

A symmetrical base can also anchor eclectic art or a prized collection. Start with neutral colours for large items of furniture and the art or collection will provide interest without visual competition.

A small room can make a greater impact if it’s decorated with symmetry in mind. Don’t think, “small room, small items”. This will only look cluttered and emphasise the lack of space. Balance the couch or bed with a large piece of artwork above. Keep the floor quite clear, which will create a feeling of space. Maybe use shelves beside a bed instead of bedside tables or a glass coffee table for visual space if it’s a living area.

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