Friday, September 14, 2012

Consider New Ways to Balance

Balance is a fascinating concept because we think of it in terms of design and also in terms of living. Both suggest a psychological sense of equilibrium, or evenly weighted tension.  When it comes to design, balance is a concept that isn't as well understood and applied as it deserves to be, and when it's missing, a room will look wrong, although you may not know why.

Types of Balance in Design

Symmetrical balance


Most used in traditional design, symmetrical balance is formal and intentional, based on repetition of elements, as in this picture, and therefore more predictable. If you're not careful, symmetry can be boring, like the ubiquitous pair of candlesticks on either side of the mantle. 

Asymmetrical balance 

Achieved through using items of similar weight without repetition, asymmetrical balance is more informal, modern, dynamic and interesting. Here you see the weight of the couch balanced by two chairs instead of using a pair of couches as in the picture above.

Radial balance

With radial balance there's a center point and items radiate around it, or from it. Look at all the curving elements in this picture, from the rug to the carpet to the windows which all appear to radiate from the visual center of the room.

Ways to Create Balance

You can use the things you already have to create new ways to balance. First decide if the impression you want, is formal or informal, traditional or modern. If you want to be formal, make conscious use of repetition by working with one or more pairs of accessories, such as by placing a red cushion on either end of the couch, or hanging a pair of paintings on each side of a doorway. Informal balance is trickier since you have to achieve equivalent weight with dissimilar objects, as with the couch and pair of chairs in the example. If you want to create radial balance, you can do it either formally or informally.

Here are a few factors to consider when evaluating visual weight to create asymmetrical or radial balance:

  • size - large is heavier than small
  • color - dark is heavier than light
  • quantity  - one large can be balanced by two or more small, and so forth
  • placement - foreground looks heavier than background
  • texture - coarse or complex looks heavier than little or no texture
  • pattern - detailed looks heavier than simple
  • shape - irregular shapes appear heavier than regular ones
  • orientation - vertical is heavier than horizontal
  • density - solid is heavier than open
  • preconceived idea - a plate looks heavier than a fork 

Experimentation is the best way to come up with a new arrangement, and the most fun. When I do a redesign or staging consultation, working with balance is one of the tools I use to give a home a fresh new look without spending a penny. Try it!