Balance is an interior design fundamental that addresses the distribution of visual weight within a space to achieve a feeling of equilibrium. Balance is something that often guides us inadvertently when we're arranging furniture, displaying art, and creating decorative vignettes. That said, when we are putting conscious thought into achieving balance, the default tends to be literal balance: symmetry. But symmetrical balance is just one of three types of balance.
In this guide, we will be talking about symmetrical balance's edgy counterpart: asymmetrical balance. Asymmetrical balance involves the use elements with cohesive visual weights to create a visually pleasing, well-integrated space, without mirroring or exact duplication. Asymmetrical interiors tend to feel more dynamic and imaginative than symmetrical ones, but they can also be more difficult to execute because asymmetry isn't as intuitive as symmetry. For that reason, mastering asymmetrical balance in your own interior space can be extremely rewarding.
Using asymmetry over symmetry in interior design.
In the context of interior design, asymmetry is inherently more interesting than symmetry because asymmetry is unexpected. Because of that surprise factor, our brains have to take more time to process and appreciate asymmetrical design—and believe it or not, the human brain generally likes to be challenged in that way.
Asymmetrical design also allows for more creative liberty. Think about it: genuine symmetrical design is contingent on repetition and the creation of a mirror effect, which sometimes requires you to have two identical objects. This can be restrictive. Meanwhile, asymmetrical design isn't bound by the same level of exactness. It's open to unique and unconventional interpretations. As such, genuine asymmetrical design can take on many different forms.
Finally, asymmetrical design can come off more relaxed than symmetrical design, making it a good fit for spaces that are meant to be informal and intimate, such as living areas, recreational rooms, and childrens' playrooms and bedrooms.
Pay attention to visual weight of objects.
With asymmetric groupings, there is less of an emphasis on literal evenness. Because of that fact, you'll want to achieve a sense of evenness through the visual weight of all of your objects. In general, an asymmetrical arrangement should have equitable visual weight on both halves of the design, even if you're using an odd number of objects that aren't particularly uniformed.
Oftentimes, visual weight relates to the actual weight of objects. But this is not always the case. Items that are opaque will appear heavier in a visual sense compared to objects that are skeletal and allow light to pass through. Dark-colored objects will also look heavier visually than light-colored objects.
The height of an object also plays into its visual weight. Height should be varied in asymmetrical spaces to create a dynamic look. Things like tables and plant stands can be used to elevate objects and give them the perception of height. You can also hang lighting fixtures or planters from the ceiling, which will draw the eye upwards in a similar manner to a tall piece of furniture.
Use an odd number of objects…
The general perception of symmetry versus asymmetry is very similar to the perception of even versus odd numbers. Symmetry and even numbers are easy for the human brain to digest. Conversely, it takes the human brain longer to process asymmetry and odd numbers, but the experience of doing so can be quite rewarding. Simply put, odd-numbered groupings and asymmetrical design are a natural match.
Odd numbers also allow for a less literal interpretation of equitable weight distribution, which is what asymmetrical design is all about. Think a sitting room with two armchairs on one side of a coffee table, and a two- or three-seater couch on the other side. The two armchairs combined may have an equitable visual weight compared to the multi-seater couch, but it's not exact, which keeps the layout from looking too predictable.
…but give them something in common.
Although asymmetric design isn't reliant on uniformity, it still benefits from some degree of visual continuity. Continuity can be achieved by giving the individual elements within your asymmetrical arrangement something in common. A literal way to enforce cohesion is by repeating colors, forms, materials, textures, or design styles. Another way to relate the individual elements within your asymmetric design to each other is by using complementary colors.
Giving items a common aspect or a few common aspects will give your asymmetric arrangement a sense of intentionality and an overall polished look. Without it, asymmetric design runs the risk of looking random and ill-conceived.
Trust your gut.
Even without a technical knowledge of symmetry and asymmetry, we tend to have a natural sense of when things look balanced and when they don't, even if it's tough to pinpoint exactly why. This is because we encounter professionally-curated symmetry and asymmetry in all aspects of our daily lives. Designer clothing, retail stores, websites, food packaging, company logos, and the interior spaces we see in television shows and movies—all of these things tend to employ some degree of symmetrical and/or asymmetrical balance. As such, our relationship with both concepts can actually be quite innate.
In other words, trust your own perception. If you're experimenting with asymmetry and are not sure if you're doing so effectively, take a step back and survey your design from a distance. Or better yet, remove yourself from that space and come back to it later. Ask yourself, does anything feel "off"? If so, your design might need some rejigging. On the other hand, if looking at the space makes you feel happy, calm, and satisfied, perhaps you've cracked asymmetrical balance.
If you're still not sure, enlist a second set of eyes. Without telling that person that you're trying to achieve asymmetrical balance, simply ask them if them if there are any aspects of the room that look incomplete. If the fact that you are trying to achieve asymmetrical balance is imperceivable, you're probably on the right track.