The rule of three is one of the most important tricks in the design world, and it applies to everything from architecture to table arrangements. Put simply, it’s the idea that a cluster of three things is always more interesting looking than a bigger or smaller arrangement, whether it’s bay windows or candlesticks.
This rule is pretty much universal because the human eye responds to threes and finds them inherently appealing. What this means for you is that the simplest way to take your home decor to the next level is to think in threes, and pay attention to how many items you put in a display and how they interact with each other.
Three of a Kind
If you want to start applying the rule of three to your home, the first thing you need to do is take a look around and figure out where you already have decor items. This can be obvious places, like a fireplace mantle, accent or console table, or coffee table, or even things you might not normally think of as decor, like the toiletries in your bathroom or even the jars or canisters in your kitchen. Wherever there’s a group of more or fewer than three things, add or cull as needed. Ideally you want to choose items that coordinate in some way – multiples of the same kind of object, the same color, or just items that are thematically linked. Clustering groups of decorative glass bottles filled with pantry items (like rice, beans, pasta, and so on) is becoming a particularly popular option in kitchens with open cabinets, but just about any mix of items will do.
Three Different Heights
That said, while you want items that have a similar look and feel to them to give your arrangement unity, you don’t want three items that are the exact same size and shape. To make the most of the rule of three, you actually want to vary the height of the three objects, to give the cluster of items a staggered or tiered appearance. This helps emphasize the items as a trio, gives the display a little height and shape, and makes the whole thing look more like an arrangement and less like haphazardly piled items. Now, the easiest way to do this is, of course, to choose three items that are each a different height. But if you already know what items you want to put on display and they aren’t quite distinct enough in height, you can use other items – like stacked books – to help stagger the heights for a more eye-catching look.
Three Different Colors
Typically I think the rule of three works best with three items that are the same color or in the same color range, but this isn’t always the case. If you’d like to make a more colorful display, choosing three items that are each a different color can work, provided the items are visually linked in some other way – either items that are very similar in shape, thematically similar, or clearly part of a unified set. It’s important that the items clearly belong together at a casual glance, and choosing a multi-colored arrangement definitely makes that a little more complicated. If you don’t make sure the items are well coordinated otherwise, having too many colors can make the rule of three work against you, as the display won’t look unified and can even feel a bit busy. That said, if they do match well, a tri-colored set of decorative figurines can add a bright, cheerful pop of color to the room.
Three in One
In a small or limited space, the rule of three can even work for individual decor items. For example, a tiered, three-pronged candle holder, while technically a single object, has the composition you want to aim for: three similar items clustered close together, but at varying heights. Candle holders, small statuary, or even vases or planters that mimic this three part design can all stand well on their own in a small space. They’re also a great choice for anyone who dislikes the idea of buying an out of the box set-of-three decor items, but also isn’t entirely confident with pairing or arranging items on their own. The rule of three can work with just about any items you want to pair, but choosing a single item that mimics the look is a great way to get a similar style without the fuss.
A Three Piece Set
The rule of three is often applied to either small decor items like the ones I’ve mentioned here or large architectural features, like French doors, arches, or beams. But it can also be used to great effect with artwork as well. Admittedly, an abstract or mixed-and-matched collage of three might not be the best choice, but choosing matching paintings, photos, carved panels, or posters (either with the same theme, in a series, or a single image divided into three panels) not only provides a fantastic sense of balance and unity, it also keeps a cluster of artwork from feeling crowded, or what is ultimately a large painting or print from feeling too large for the room by adding in a little white space.
The rule of three is a great way to add a fresh, designer feel to your space, and to make simple choices feel stylish and intentional. And the best part is, you can easily do it with items you probably already have on display.