Rule of Three and Odd Numbers

A couple of readers have asked me to explain the Rule of Three more specifically.

The Rule of Three is a principle used in various aspects of design:  architecture, graphic design, photography (though, in graphic design and photography, referred to as the Rule of Thirds).  With interior design, the Rule of Three can be considered in progression and spatial composition;  the Work Triangle in kitchen design; color and fabric schemes; arrangements with furniture or groupings of accessories and vignettes; balance within symmetry using a focal point – just as a few examples.

Today’s explanation will focus on the use of threes and odd numbers.  The basic idea of the rule is that details and objects that are arranged or grouped in odd numbers are more appealing, memorable, and effective than even-numbered pairings. While it is easier to create symmetry by balancing elements in twos, odd numbers create harmony and force movement and visual interest.  In Feng Shui, odd numbers give Yang energy and even numbers, Yin.  Yang expands and moves.  Yin contracts and condenses.  Within a grouping there should also be a hierarchy (i.e. varying heights, textures or shapes) and think about grouping like things or items that have the same elements or materials.

Here are examples by interior design firm, Gauthier-Stacy

photo by Sam Gray

The three glass bottles in varying heights are beautiful in their simplicity and color.

photo by Sam Gray

One starfish, three white vases on the window sill, five flowers in the vase.

photo by Sam Gray

Again, like items in three (globes);  2 stacks of five books.

photo by Sam Gray

Besides the singular grouping of 3 colorful figures, there are a total of arrangements on the dresser:  the lucite lamp, the yellow roses, the colorful figures – all with varying heights.  The white coral mirror adds another element, creating a visual triangle within the vignette.  (Love the striped walls too!)

This vignette, by Tim Clarke Design, is one of my favorites…

via Tim Clarke Design

Amongst the pair of photographs and the brown barrel and bucket pair on the console, there are 3 groupings of like things and like colors/textures/materials (the 3 shell balls, the 5 blue wine cups/grails, and the barrel and bucket pair in brown) and repetition of color (blue: vases and console, brown: photographs, frames and cylindrical bucket pair).

By no means, do I intend for you to go back and re-arrange everything in your homes in “threes”.  The rule is a guideline, and may not work in some instances.  That said, I believe the best design comes not from following rules, but rather from your gut.  My interior designer mom, often surprises me with her own home.  (Since the arrival of the triplets, visits home for me are rare, and when I do get there, usually something is always “different.”)  I’ll see a wall of artwork configured in a way that may not seem “balanced” to me, and when I question my mom as to why she did something, her answer will be, “…because I like it, it makes me happy.”  Truth is, our homes are our sanctuaries, so it’s more important to be surrounded by things that make us happy, rather than to follow rules.

photos courtesy of Gauthier-Stacy, Sam Gray Photography and Tim Clarke Design

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>