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Case Study 13 - The balance aesthetic of space design in <Why women kill >

The first season of <why women kill> has come to the end. As a designer, apart from its great story-lines, I also enjoyed very much of the design aesthetic in the show. The house has demonstrated three styles of décor in three ages.

The first house which dates back in 1950s has traditional styles. The grey-ish color tone and symmetrical layout are strong symbols in space design at that time.

We can find similar layout with furniture laid symmetrically in other tv series, like <the marvelous mrs. maisel>.

Simone, as the second owner for later years, preferred bolder color and texture while keeping the symmetry in layout.

Symetrical space can easily create visual focus and order that brings calm and security.

For example, the pyramid, forbidden city and Versailles palace, all of them have their architectural forms in symmetry to enhance the sense of security towards nature.

Nowadays, a strictly symmetrical space is hardly seen. We tend to build more irregular shapes with flexibility and freedom in some form.

Like in the third renovation of the house in <why women kill>, the designer used plenty of asymmetrical furniture and lighting to balance up the the symmetry needed in the space. We can sense the modernism and tradition at the same time.

If you watch closely, there are scenes that you might not notice before, such as walls and windows. I believe the theory of space balancing can be simply achieved by arranging the furniture layout and color tones.

1 - visual weight

why can a symmetrical space create a feeling of stability?

Before answering this question, I’d like to introduce a concept – visual weight.

Visual weight is not the weight that we measure from a scale. It’s more like the delusional weight that we estimate from what we see. Take the picture below as an example, with given same sized balloons, black balloon seems heavier than the white one.

The foyer at the left picture shows stronger visual focus on the shoe cabinet. But when we paint the opposite wall into darker color, the image is balanced up a bit. The shoe cabinet is no longer the eye-catcher.

Similarly, larger items will seem heavier than smaller ones. The pendant lamp at the left catches your attentions while dining furniture does the trick at the right image.

Rough textures feel more weighted than smooth textures. For example, velvet is heavier than silk and rough-surfaced stone is heavier than smooth one.

Like the image below, if we expose the original house beam in concrete form, the ceiling is much heavier.

Bearing this theory in mind, we can establish a visual scale. The center point of this scale is our visual focus. By adjusting the weight, we can make the space visually balanced.

2- symmetrical balancing

To create visual balance, one common way is to lay the furniture symmetrically, such as the bed and its two bedside cabinet.

And the typical living room layout of <sofa – coffee table – tv set>

To enhance the symmetry, loose furniture isn't enough. We need to embed the symmetrical element in during construction stage.

For example, arch shaped corridor can make space more solemn.

Windows and doors are also the kernels for creating orders in the space. Like these two arch windows in the scene below.

If there are two parallel doors in the house, we can make them symmetrical so it doesn’t just serve as doors, but more like decoration.

Sometimes, the reality isn’t so ideal. But we can make it seem so. Like the living room layout below, there’s only one entry at the left, the designer particularly makes the cabinet into the same arch shape to integrate the elevation.

3- the unofficial balance

The different colored two doors make the space more interesting.

It might seem casual as it looks, but there’s logic behind it.

The symmetrical balance need two identical items at both sides. For the unofficial balance, you can place two different things at two sides, as long as it looks in total the same weight.

Like the space below, the focus tends to lay at left with the rubber tree there. But the dark wall can balance it up.

If we exchange the two walls, it doesn’t work.

The third house in <why women kill> also applies the unofficial balance theory. The big table lamp at the right shows great contrast with the black armchair at the left but balance it visually.

We have more tips to learn this trick in real case.

1. Use odd numbers

If the quantity of the loose furniture is an odd number, no matter how we lay them, you won’t be able to make it symmetrical. Like the five chairs below.

With same chairs, we can use wall paintings and plants to achieve the same effect.

2. Place the items at diagonal line

It’s a dynamic balance in space form.

The dining table at the right and the wall painting at the left are in dynamic balance.

3. Pay attention to color tone and textures

in case you didn't notice, but in the image above, the blue in the wall painting is actually echoing the plate sheet on the dining table.

Using same colors, shapes, or lines as cipher to connect the space can also improve the integrity. You can feel it’s been considered carefully, rather than mix and match without logic in it.

4. Trust your feelings

Sometimes we believe we have organized the space according to all rules. But there’s always something wrong. No need for self-doubt, it’s a common thing, even for designers.

If this is happening to you, just trust your feelings. Adjust the chair angle or move the painting a little bit, til it feels just right.

And trust yourself, you will eventually get a space you like.

about the author

草三冉 Cao San Ran

is an interior designer and writer, based in Canton area, China.  He has been working in design industry for over a decade both in Japan and China. His works are always well-thought-out in layouts and details to ensure the unique and best hierarchy solutions for each client. His great writings also put an in-depth theory into an accurate but simple explanation that made me a big fan of his. 

If you read Chinese, scan above QR code to read more articles in Chinese from 草三冉. 

I will be happy to translate more of his works to share with English readers. 


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