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The Power of Threes


Why Do Groupings Look Better in Threes?

by Tammy Adamson-McMullen

As many designers and design books will tell you, groupings of accessories look better in threes. Why?

Some will tell you that the look is more informal and homier than groupings of twos or fours, which are more symmetrical and therefore more traditional in appearance.

Others say that "three' has been ingrained in our psyche from spiritual and cultural motifs, from the Trinity of the Bible and the Three Universal Truths of Buddhism to the "Three Stooges," "Three's Company" and The Three Little Pigs. It's also the first odd prime number in our numerical system.

But "threes" also add dimension—by giving objects a fore-, middle- and background—and are therefore more pleasing to the eye.

"Three's" also look good juxtaposed against "one." It's called the "Three Plus One" scheme and works especially well in hard-to-decorate places, such as mantels.

Here's how this might look, as suggested on After positioning some sort of a centerpiece for the mantle, such as a large painting, mirror or sculpture, place a tall candlestick, topiary or other sizeable accessory on one side. Then, "For the 'three' part of the 'Three Plus One' scheme, select three related, similar objects and place them on one side of your fireplace mantel. The three objects should not be of identical height, but, then again, they shouldn't vary too much in size," the website suggests.

"When you group your three selected objects on one side of the fireplace mantel, don't line them up like soldiers. Think in terms of layering. Experiment with bringing one forward, one visually overlapping another, or tucking one a bit behind another. Instead of having the three objects face straight into the room, experiment with having them face a bit toward the center of the fireplace mantle."

In general, much of what we call "good design" is accomplished in threes. Unlike the number itself, the different ways to incorporate "threes" into your decorating scheme are limitless.

As you shop for home furnishings, you'll see "threes" everywhere. Candle sets are almost always sold in threes, or a number divisible by three, as are towel sets (wash cloth, bath sheet and hand towel) and lamp sets (floor lamp and two end-table lamps). Sofas and chairs are usually grouped in threes, as are the pillows tossed on them, and so are bistro table sets and most bedroom furniture suites.

While "threes" are a design staple, odd numbers in general are good for decorating. Judy Spours, in the Ultimate Decorating Book, notes that symmetrical groups can be pleasing, but "a well-balanced asymmetrical display can be more intriguing."


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