As humans, we tend to have a natural tendency towards symmetry. We find balance and order comforting and as such we replicate it in our designs. Often it also makes the most practical sense; just look at bedrooms for example – headboard against the back wall, bedside table on either side, alcove shelves in the opposite two corners. It’s simple, formulaic, and it looks ‘nice’ – but what symmetrical designs lack is any significant talking point. As design goes, they are pretty unnoticeable.
Are you changing your furniture to keep up with the trend and using all the ‘in’ colors on your walls, only for your bedroom to still lack that exciting, contemporary look you crave? Well, your use of symmetry in interior design may be the problem. While the architecture of our homes can sometimes limit us to a symmetrical floor plan, a less formulaic layout of your furniture arrangement can be the answer to a more visually intriguing and modern look.
I know what you’re probably thinking – asymmetry is risky and can make a room look out of balance; only true designers know how to pull it off. We hear to tell you that’s not the case, but don’t just take our word for it. We’ve rounded up some top designers to offer their reasons why symmetry should be avoided, as well as some tips on how to achieve a more flattering, asymmetrical look.
Lilith is an expert in following news and trends around the world of interiors. She is committed to helping readers make the best design choices by writing practical tips and guides that help them master a contemporary and modern style in their homes. For this article, she spoke to top designers for their advice on how to embrace asymmetry for a more modern look.
1. Symmetry is dated and overused
Symmetrical designs have a long history stretching back millennia. Ancient palaces and temples are usually architecturally symmetrical, and this is a form that also translates to their interiors. Symmetry is traditional (and some would say timeless), but it can also contribute to a dated look. There’s a reason those hotel rooms you walk into look nice enough, but always seem a little behind the times. In addition to the printed curtains, the answer is probably the symmetrical design.
“Symmetry is more of a noble classic—it’s extremely beautiful, but in its formality and seriousness it can feel a bit stiff and will never feel cutting edge,” says New York City-based designer Susanne Fox, owner of Susanne Fox Design (opens in new tab). ‘There aren’t many risks with symmetry. In fact, the principle of symmetry essentially gives you a formula to follow, which guarantees a certain type of result.’
While there is some good to be said for symmetrical designs, as Susanne points out, they will never be showstoppers. That’s because their easy-to-follow formula is the default for the vast majority of people who don’t give their interiors that extra thought. It is overused and limited, limiting the creativity of our designs, and should therefore be avoided if you want a modern interior design style. ‘Asymmetry lends itself to a more abstract and avant-garde appearance than the formality of symmetry,’ explains Susanne.
2. Symmetry is predictable
While there is beauty in symmetry, it is incredibly simple. As such, it offers little in terms of visual interest because it is so predictable. For example, if your eyes noticed a bookshelf on one side of a fireplace, they won’t be surprised when they see another bookshelf on the opposite side (a popular way to decorate a room with a fireplace in the middle to decorate). Asymmetry on the other hand is more intriguing, liberating and unexpected, therefore much more likely to catch the eye.
While you may find the idea of predictability in design more secure and calming, it can actually make us feel less relaxed because of the associations with formality. “If you’re aiming for a laid-back, relaxed living space, it’s best to avoid symmetry altogether,” explains London-based interior designer, Shanade McAllister-Fisher (opens in new tab). ‘Opt for asymmetrical balance instead to achieve a more informal design.’
3. Symmetry can feel too regimented
Commercial and public spaces are more likely to follow the safe rules of symmetry due to its predictable and simple nature. It is also a popular feature of more traditional styles. Because of this, we tend to associate it with formality and rigidity, something we don’t want in the comfort of our own homes.
“Symmetry is calming, pleasing to the eye and will never truly go out of style, but you can have too much of a good thing,” says interior designer Rudolph Diesel (opens in new tab). ‘Going overboard with symmetry makes your space look clinical, rigid and boring. It feels more like an office than a living space.’
It’s true – symmetrical designs don’t feel particularly homely or full of character. Aesthetic appeal is a natural consequence of the way asymmetry allows us to embrace individuality and self-expression. Formulated arrangements of living room furniture, for example – rectangular table opposite sofa surrounded by floor lamps – make a space feel much more regulated.
As Rudolph adds: ‘Symmetrical furniture placement itself won’t make your room look smaller, but you should avoid being too regimented with a symmetrical layout, otherwise you’ll make the room look too boxy. Instead, place a coffee table between two sofas and a small table on the side of one sofa to throw off the symmetry a bit and make the space feel cozier.’
How should I embrace asymmetry?
So how should we use asymmetry in our designs for a more contemporary feel? Contrary to popular belief, asymmetry does not have to mean imbalance. In fact, just the opposite. Think about it – when decorating bookshelves, you don’t want symmetrical decor on every shelf of the same height, size and shape. Assembling shelves with decor spread evenly across them actually has the effect of making it look more balanced.
This also applies to furniture arranging your furniture. ‘By using asymmetrical balance, a room is still balanced by a repetition of similar lines and colours, but you avoid mirroring and unpacking a room with multiple unnecessary pieces of furniture that can make the space look cramped,’ explains Shanade. “For example, an asymmetrically balanced living room can have one sofa with an end table on one side and a floor lamp on the other.”
Experiment with different heights in your space to achieve this asymmetrical yet balanced look, and let texture and material play into it as well. Use a tall floor lamp on one side of the room and a heavy stone table on the other, with a curved bench in the middle.
‘Creating a beautifully composed, harmonious space in a way that is asymmetrical yet balanced requires a lot of skill, vision and a bit of tinkering to get it just right,’ notes Susanne. ‘But when it’s done well, it’s always fresh and innovative. It challenges convention and pushes boundaries.’ Since fresh and innovative are everything we want from our spaces, we reckon asymmetry design is worth that extra effort.