Rethinking decorating's 'Rule of Three'

By Rose Bennet Gilbert
Posted5/31/2014 12:01 AM
  • Two-by-two: Noah's equation beats the odds when it comes to decorating, too.

    Two-by-two: Noah's equation beats the odds when it comes to decorating, too. Pearson Furniture

Q. I am told that three is the magic number in decorating: three ... or five ... any odd number, rather than even numbers of things. Where did this notion come from? Does it really look "wrong" to use even numbers of elements?

A. You're questioning the so-called Rule of Three, which holds that details and objects arranged or grouped in odd numbers are more appealing, memorable and effective than even-numbered pairings.

Obviously, it is easier to create symmetry by balancing elements in twos, but artists have long held that odd numbers create harmony and force movement and visual interest.

In feng shui, for example, it's odd numbers that energize yang, while even numbers animate yin. Yang expands and moves. Yin contracts and condenses.

Also, a grouping of objects should offer variety, that is, different heights, textures or shapes that provide more visual interest than a grouping of all-alike elements.

That said, have a look at the room setting we show here, which was organized and harmonized by the totally talented Jennifer McConnell, vice president of design for Pearson Furniture company. McConnell merrily tosses aside the Rule of Three in favor of two-by-twos: two jaunty little ottomans (in Bohemian patchwork velvet); a matched pair of lamps and metal end tables; two cushions, two vases and an even number of pictures, four, hung over the singularly attractive sofa (all from Pearson,

McConnell also uses her version of the No. 1 Color, "Radiant Orchid," anointed by Pantone as the 2014 Color of the Year.

Bottom line: Decorating is not a numbers game, but there are certain guidelines that add up to a more successful outcome. The Rule of Three is among the top five on that list.

Q. What's making news for your home?

A. If you think, as King Solomon did, that there's nothing new under the sun, you should have been with me last week at the New York Hilton Hotel, site of a phenomenon called the Home & Garden Speed Pitching Media Event.

It works like speed dating, only it's writers, editors and bloggers who sit at small tables while a steady stream of public relations reps rotates around the room, giving their "elevator" introductions of what's new and coming for today's home.

What I found most newsy: Mirror Mate. A why-didn't-we-think-of-this-before idea by Lisa Huntting, an MBA and "serial entrepreneur" who has devised a way to retrofit handsome frames on tacky "naked" mirrors. She offers some 65 different styles from $99 to $300. See them yourself at

From Kohler, king of bath fashions: an LED night-light toilet seat ($66) and a no-touch motion-sensor toilet flush button (under $100). From Waterpik, a DIY adjustable spray showerhead -- flip its side panels to shape the spray to your liking ($49.99). From Moen for residential use: a tension shower curtain holder curved to add 5 1/2 inches of elbow room for the shower-taker. And from 3M: Scotch tape dispensers shaped like flower pots or a little elfin creature named -- are you ready? -- Spencer. For $9.99 and $14.99.

© 2014

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