Have you ever had the experience of walking into a room and feeling like something is missing or out of place? I'm not talking about an intruder messing with your stuff but those times in design when you can't quite arrange the furniture in a way that feels complete. Sometimes the hardest part of design is putting your finger on what needs to be adjusted. Below is a short course on the principles of balance so you can diagnose what's causing the issue in your room.
Now, "design balance" may sound like a phrase you'd hear when talking about feng shui. It may feel a bit spiritual or like a hoax. But your eye will tell you otherwise. When I talk about interior design balance, I mean that feeling when everything fits and works together in a room. There are three elements of design balance: size, color and structural weight. This may sound vague but let's use a case study to identify how to balance a room. What would you say feels off about the image below?
Principles of Interior Design Balance
This principle is typically the first thing that comes to mind when you think of interior design balance. Size refers to the scale of a piece of furniture or decor item. Often I work with clients that have a couch or bed that is too large for a room and it dwarfs the whole space. Another common size issue is nightstands that are too small for a bed frame, though this is often a result of online purchases where the scale can be deceptive. If you are buying new furniture for your house, make sure to measure the space before purchasing the anchor pieces. Once you have the right size couch, table or bed the other elements are easier to scale. In the picture above, I would say the size of the navy chairs are proportional to the sectional but why does the room still feel off?
Many people think of color as whether or not a piece matches or complements other colors in the design. While this is a valid way to think of color, it's also one dimensional. Color also has an impact on balance. Darker colors feel heavier and white pieces feel lighter. This may seem obvious initially but often this element stumps people as they try to pull a room together. In the image above, the scale of the accent chairs are right but the navy color makes them feel heavier than the sectional. So does this mean that you can't pair navy and off-white furniture without skewing the balance of design? Of course you can, but stay with me!
This final element of balance is slightly different than size but plays a distinct role. You could have two side tables that are similar in size but one that has skinny metal legs and another that is a solid wood column. These will have different weights when in a room. The skinny legs will look better next to a plush couch and the wood column better with a low profile love seat. In the image above the chairs have a heavy structural weight due to short legs and a large cushioned frame. In contrast, the coffee table has a lighter structural weight because of the open leg formation. If the chairs had a lighter structural weight then navy chairs could work across from the off-white sectional.
Combining the Elements to Create Balance
So what would you do to make this room feel more balanced if you had to keep all the current furniture? There are several solutions but all of them consider how the three elements work together. You could flip the room so the accent chairs are on the back side of the room. This would help the accent chairs feel smaller since they would be further from where you enter the room. Or you could break up the color of the accent chairs by adding a lighter colored blanket along the backside. Another way to balance out the color would be incorporating darker accent pillows on the couch so that it complements the accent chairs. We didn't use all of these adjustments but we were able to achieve a more balanced feel.
Now that we've seen this first example, let's look at one more case study. Let's switch it up to an entryway. How would you classify the furnishings below in regards to our three balance elements?
The size of the side table is right for the wall space. In the area of color there is a lack of anything distinct besides the greenery. And the structural weight is light due to the glass shelves and the small metal frame of the side table. This isn't necessarily a bad entryway but it does feel a little cluttered and if we remove some of the decor it would lack presence. So how would you update this space? Where would you start to create balance in a room?
For this entryway we added a side table that was slightly wider and has thick textured drawers. We added some color around the mirror to draw the eye up the wall and created balance on either side of the table with a tall lamp and vase.
So after these case studies do you feel like you could answer the question, "what is balance in design?" It is how you combine size, color and structural weight through furniture and decor. Balance can be a tricky thing but don't be afraid to play around with arrangements. Now you know the principles of design balance and it's time to test your knowledge in that room that feels "off".