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Design Dilemmas #1: Fearful Symmetry

August 3, 2010

via - House of Turquoise

As a design element, I find Symmetry – the arrangement of paired decor items – both seductive and frustrating. When it is done well – as in the above photo – it lends drama and structure to a space. But when done poorly (as in the case of one of my living room incarnations) the space feels unfinished and drab.

Stylish, symmetrical design has less to do with cashmoney and more to do with careful study of three basic design elements: scale, color and texture.

  1. Scale
    The glass and iron console table require lamps that provide a strong counterpoint without upstaging the table. In this design vignette, the mirror is actually the focal point and it well served by substantial pieces, which are also visually “light”. The objects don’t even have to be twins, provided they share the same “visual” weight. In fact, the only thing I find kind of boring about this vignette are the matchy-matchy lamps! I would probably have done different bases with identical shades and the effect would be equally as chic. Possibly even more chic and realistic. I believe (like eyebrows) lamps should be sisters, but not necessarily twins.

  2. Color
    One of the easiest ways to create symmetrical design is by limiting the color palette. The colors aren’t as important as the ratios in which they are utilized. Strong use of gold, black, cream with a single pop of turquoise in the center, unifies all the elements, in spite of the use of different patterns. Another sweet trick to add instant symmetry is use of strong graphic elements such as black and white combos. The “Beetlejuice” effect can be avoided by opting for a bit of Zebra print, though this is just my opinion. Zebra print can certainly be polarizing, but it’s one of the few prints that can function in a variety of spaces and reflect a variety of tastes – from haute couture to hot tub – based on the way in which it is used. To de-cheese it, go for cream/black rather than stark white/black versions of the print. Even two handmade pillows can tie a space together!

  3. Texture
    The best way to connect seemingly unrelated objects is via texture. The metal on the console table talks to the metal frame of the mirror. The gold talks to the gold on the bench. The glass lamps are chatting up the glass in the mirror and on the table. While even I wouldn’t think to put these object together in the same space, they do work together to create a striking vignette!

A sweet reader named Andrea asked me to write about this topic and hopefully, I provided useful information, based on my love of decorating and despite my lack of formal training! My apologies to non US based readers. I’m going to provide Andrea a list of budget friendly resources for similar objects to the ones in the picture!

Mirror: Home Depot $20 – 40 range. I scored one similar in weight and size for about $20.
Lamps: Wally World, Marshalls/TJMaxx/HomeGoods, Christmas Tree Shop, Target – usually in the $10 – 20 range. Definitely shop the CLEARANCE section first.
Console Table: Wally World, Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Christmas Tree Shop, Big Lots. I scored one exactly like that (only smaller) for $30! Also check out garden sections of big discount department stores, particularly in September. Lots of stuff there that would easily approximate the look of this table and priced to move!!!
Stool: Definitely a TJMaxx/HomeGoods/Marshalls piece. Wait until the end of the summer season (like I am) and score something similar in the $30 – 40 range. If you hit up the bathroom section, they always have some kind stool that looks like that one for under $20.
KnickKnacks: Thrift Stores, CLEARANCE sections of any discount department store, Michael’s, JoAnn’s and so forth.

If you’re patient, cheap and savvy, you could approximate this look for under $75 bucks! Good luck! Thanks for sending me the photo and asking the question!

If you have design questions you think I’d be able to answer, drop me a line! I love these. I am looking forward to a painting tutorial for the Machinists who wanted one!!!

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Imogen Quest permalink
    August 3, 2010 10:07 pm

    “I believe (like eyebrows) lamps should be sisters, but not necessarily twins.”

    I love this– thank you!

  2. Octavia permalink
    August 4, 2010 4:38 am

    Yus painting tutorial!

    I love that look, it is super sweet. But a complimentary but not matching lamp would be better, agreed. I’ve been playing with texture a bit in our space recently and it’s made a huge difference.

    Ha, so true about eyebrows. This is a disagreement I have with the woman who threads mine (I can’t do my own, sight/glasses issue). I like that my left brow is sliiightly higher at the point than my right. It’s my look, don’t you go threading above my brow line!

  3. August 4, 2010 6:47 am

    I love that look, it is super sweet.

  4. hsofia permalink
    August 4, 2010 10:03 am

    The eyebrows line is just perfect. My eyebrows are sisters, definitely not twins.

  5. August 4, 2010 10:29 am

    personally, i feel like the image above is really heavy. i would probably have eliminated one lamp and moved the vase to that side, to open up the middle a bit. and maybe add a smaller vase in the same color (or a few small bud vases in black, white & turquoise) on the side with the lamp, to balance it and eliminate the slanted angle. i just don’t like having so much of the mirror blocked, and the table feels VERY full.

    i like to think in terms of balance, rather than symmetry. if you kind of envision your stuff like a mobile that has to hang, you can see how you need to move things around to balance, without it being exactly symmetrical. i wish i had some photos to illustrate, but i don’t. sorry.

  6. August 4, 2010 12:41 pm

    Infamous – I definitely agree with you. Personally, this isn’t an aesthetic I find appealing – not a huge fan of matchy lamps or glass/overwrought iron furnishes. I would have chosen to use the stool to make my color statement, rather than the vase. I also wouldn’t have the tschotkes either! I don’t like them much. More things to dust and I don’t like dusting.

  7. IrishUp permalink
    August 4, 2010 1:59 pm

    Yay for decidedly non-neutral bright elements framed by high contrast neutrals! Yay for critter-prints, which I have always loved with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns!

    Unfortunately, I must boo the utter lack of functionality of this arrangement. I guess I would feel differently if I had ever lived in the kind of space where one has big useless but beautiful furnishings just-acuz. But even then, I doubt my practical side would dedicate this much floor-space to something you can’t use. With all the stuffs on the table, who is gonna sit at that bench? With the lighting at that angle – not to mention the flowers – you can’t even use the mirror for quick looky-looks at your quaff or make-up or check for unwanteds in the teeth area. Also, I’m agin wrought-iron in fully indoor spaces (but that’s just me, ymmv, of course).

    Eyebrows are like the crown-molding of the face: unless the space is absolutely perfectly flush/level/plumb, you’re going to have to do some trimming up on that molding to make it look good.

    Eh, the metaphor worked better in my head, I think.

  8. August 4, 2010 5:31 pm

    @Irish Up. Ha. I totally am with you on the utility of this vignette. I think with some modifications it could be a nice landing strip or entryway vignette, but this looks like a high end hotel lobby with some “quirky” accents to make it appear less “HoJo-ian”.

  9. IrishUp permalink
    August 4, 2010 6:10 pm

    LOL – I will be visiting inlaws soon, and where they live, “HoJoian” will see some USE!

    Ah, a hotel lobby/hall makes a bit more sense w/r/t filling the space but keeping it NOT useful.

  10. August 4, 2010 8:29 pm

    I tend to refer to any kind of overly matchy, game show furniture showcase type arrangement or style of decor as HoJoian.

  11. IrishUp permalink
    August 5, 2010 6:53 am

    “game show furniture”

    I’ll take the ceramic Dalmation for $154, Chuck. It will go with my black-lacquered credenza.

  12. August 5, 2010 9:37 am

    I’ll put the remaining $28 on a gift certificate, Pat.

  13. August 5, 2010 12:37 pm

    1) The title of this post is also the title of one of my favorite Justice League Unlimited episodes, so yay!

    2) I love the eyebrows analogy as well – my eyebrows are like 1st cousins whose moms look a lot alike.

    3) When I get my own li’l place (I am working on finding a studio), will you be my design guru?

  14. August 5, 2010 3:34 pm

    @Chriso, oh totally! I love helping people with decor. It’s so much fun.

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