This Simple Design Rule Ensures a Well-Decorated Home, Pros Say

Well designed kitchen with rule of thirds at work.

Pure Salt Interiors

When it comes to styling homes, there are very few rules interior designers adhere to. Instead of rule-following, designers like to present ideas, advice, and trends that could bring your style to life. But, there is one insider rule that everyone from scientists, math scholars, and interior designers can agree on: the rule of thirds. 

Photographers swear by it, and so do painters, architects, illustrators, cinematographers, and even Mother Nature. So what is the rule of thirds, exactly, and why is this a fundamental rule we should be considering as we furnish and decorate our spaces?

We asked a few (three, actually) interior designers to explain the rule of thirds and how to apply it to our homes.

Meet the Expert

rule of thirds in home design

Design by Amanda Barnes Interiors / Photo by Alyssa Rosenheck

What Is the Rule of Thirds?

The rule of thirds actually links back to the golden mean or ratio, rooted in mathematics and noted through history, interior designer Melinda Trembley shares with us. Don’t worry—you don’t need to have aced calculus class to apply the rule of thirds to your home.

Think of the rule of thirds in terms of snapping a photo, like the handy grid you may have on your phone’s camera. Interior designer Amanda Barnes defined the rule of thirds like so: “The rule of thirds is a guideline that divides a frame up into three planes that places something in the left, right, or center of an image,” she says.

Just remember this: the human eye prefers groupings of three or other odd numbers. Then, apply that to the scale of items in your space or actual pieces of furniture or accessories. Either way, using the rule of thirds adds visual depth, and simply makes a space more satisfying to look at and live in. 

“It's like a designer's cheat sheet,” Trembley says. “You can't really go wrong—it's scientifically proven.”

“In design, using a pairing of three can also create balance and symmetry," Barnes says. "Visually, we process information through pattern and recognition, with three being the smallest number to create a repetitive composition,”

rule of thirds in home design

K+Co. Living

How to Use the Rule of Thirds in Your Home

The rule of thirds applies to just about everything, according to Barnes, who uses odd numbers in any room of a house, from a vignette on a shelf to hanging framed art in a hallway to adding pillows on a sofa. “It makes it easier to anchor the space, as there is always a center to work from," she explains.

Not sure where to begin? Start small—say with your coffee table or bookshelf. Arrange items in a series of three with varying heights, shapes, and textures to add interest. The ingredients could be a trio of vases, a coffee table book, and a meaningful decorative object. Play with the arrangement until it looks good to you.

On a bed, toss three pillows. Behind your headboard, hang three pieces of art. In your garden, plant three colors of tulips. The options are endless. The items don’t have to be matching either. In fact, the more variety—heights, sizes, textures, tones—the better. 

“Introducing three of anything allows you to create a pattern without restraining you from keeping everything the same,” Barnes says. “There is freedom in the power of three, which is both beautiful and memorable. 

Sofa with three pillows in neutral living room.

Pure Salt Interiors

The rule of thirds can also be used to determine the scale of your furnishings, or the height of your wainscoting and other architectural details. Just think of your space as a whole in thirds, including walls and furniture. 

For instance, designer Karen Wolf of K+Co. Living suggests hanging art at eye level, which is about two-thirds the size of an average-height wall, or choosing a coffee table that’s around two-thirds the size of your sofa. The same goes for light fixtures; selecting one that’s about two-thirds the size of your table is often ideal, Wolf says.

“This design principle brings balance to a space,” Wolf says.

Ultimately, don’t get too stuck on adhering to the rule of thirds, but use it as a starting point—rules are sometimes meant to be broken, after all.