How to Decorate Using Odd Numbers: Design Basics

Did you know that one of the most basic rules of decorating is that you should decorate using odd numbers? Whether it’s a small vignette or a large wall grouping, odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye.

I’ve had conversations with many of you over the last year and one of the things you’ve asked me to talk more about are design basics. From the right rug size, to how to place furniture, to basic design rules, these are things that so many of you struggle with. And I get it! I also struggled for years with a lot of the same issues.

But through trial and error in my own home, lots of design study, as well as working on other homes in my design business, I feel like there is so much I have to share with you!

So… I’m starting a new series titled Design Basics where I’ll be sharing fundamental rules and basic design knowledge that you can apply to your own decorating. And today I’m starting with one of the most basic design rules, and that’s the rule of decorating with odd numbers. 

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how to decorate using odd numbers 3 items on mantel two urns and print

When it comes to decorating, I’ve often said there are no rules. And that’s mostly true. 😉

No one should tell you what to love and you definitely don’t need to decorate the way that everyone else does. In fact, I would argue just the opposite! Decorating should be unique to you and reflect your own personal style.

But there are basic decorating rules that everyone should know and apply. And one of the most important ones is to decorate using odd numbers. The idea of odd numbers has been studied and it turns out as humans we naturally gravitate to that pattern and find it more aesthetically pleasing.

With odd numbers your eyes are forced to move around more and thus, it brings more interest to the display. This is why it’s used not only in interior design, but in everything from graphic design, to advertising, to photography. 

 

french farmhouse vignette bread board with vase of flowers, pitcher and vintage marmalade jars

You may even have heard or read about the “Rule of Three” when it comes to decorating. Three is a universally pleasing number because it’s the smallest number in which the brain can recognize a pattern. And groups of three create visual balance.

The Rule of Three is a great way to start decorating using odd numbers and it can be applied anywhere. But a larger number like 5 or 7 works equally well and is useful when decorating large areas such as a long mantel, console table, or wall. 

And oddly enough, (haha, see what I did there?) odd numbers create symmetry! It’s counterintuitive, but true. A mantel with a mirror in the center and two candleholders on each end has three items and perfect symmetry. A bed flanked by two nightstands? Also a grouping of three, and also symmetrical. So you can love symmetry and also use odd numbers in your decorating!

 

 

Vignettes

Vignettes are probably the place where the odd number rule plays out most effectively.

how to decorate with odd numbers vignette with olive plant, silver pitcher and vintage ironstone pitcher

Whenever I create a vignette I almost invariably decorate using odd numbers, most often three. 

 

 

bread board, crock with flowers and bread board in French farmhouse kitchen beautiful vignette

Just be sure to vary the heights, shapes and colors of the objects in your display, which adds visual interest.

 

 

Coffee Table Styling

how to decorate using odd numbers 3 items on coffee table wood finial vase of flowers and candle

When it comes to the coffee table you may have more than just ‘three’ objects depending on the size of your table. You can see more details on how to style a coffee table here.

 

 

how to decorate with odd numbers coffee table styling in gorgeous French farmhouse living room

On this coffee table, there are five ‘footprints.’  A stack of books, even if there are two or more books, only counts as one item. And a stack of books with an object on top is still just one item. Your brain registers a stack as just one visual ‘item.’

 

 

table vignette display vase, marble statue and stack of books

 

 

Mantel Styling 

A larger mantel may need more than three items, but still should consist of an odd number.

how to decorate with odd numbers gorgeous mantel styling French farmhouse inspired living room

In this spring mantel, there are 5 footprints:

1. urn on the left

2. books with shell

3. mirror

4. painting

5. pair of candlesticks (because these are thin, they count as ‘one’ object).  

 

 

stone fireplace with wood mantel gorgeous French farmhouse inspired living room

Here my friend Kaitlyn has 3 footprints on her mantel. The candlesticks on the left are the first (even though they are a group, they are seen by the eye as one item), the painting in the middle is the second, and the vase on the right is the third. And note that even the group of candlesticks is an odd number, there are 5. Which means even if you count every item, there are 7. Still an odd number!

 

 

Wall Decor

When arranging paintings or groups of art, I almost always use the rule of three. A group of three will look much better than two or four.

odd numbers create gorgeous gallery wall grouping

And a gallery wall is always better with an odd number. Even if you don’t think your eye notices the difference between 12 or 13 photos, your mind’s eye does notice. A grouping of odd numbered objects will always register as more pleasing. Above, Suzanne Kasler has 11 items in her gallery wall, via Ballard Designs

 

group of 3 intaglios on wall in French farmhouse master bedroom

In our master bedroom there is a group of three intaglios on one wall. 

 

 

how to decorate with odd numbers console table styling with flowers and ginger jars

And two pieces of artwork layered vertically also count as one rather than two (just like books on a table). If you only have two pieces to work with, you’re better off stacking them rather than hanging them side by side. 

 

Throw Pillows

When using throw pillows on a sofa or bed the same rule of decorating with odd numbers applies. Whether it’s 3, 5 or even 7, it will always look more balanced with an odd number.

throw pillows on sofa gorgeous Farmhouse style family room neutral living room decor

Five pillows is usually the perfect amount on a sofa. Via Studio McGee.

 

how to decorate with odd numbers pillows styling in gorgeous French inspired bedroom

If you’re someone who loves more pillows, you can add more just stay with the odd number rule. More of this gorgeous home here.

 

The Rule of Three plays out in furniture as well. Take for instance the classic combo of a sofa and two chairs, or a corner grouping of two chairs with a small table in between. These are classic combinations for a reason!

 

how to decorate with odd numbers French inspired living room gorgeous neutral decor

 

Bear in mind there are exceptions here and there. For instance, two chandeliers over a table or two pendants over an island might be ideal. Sometimes one is too few and three is simply too many. 

Also, when styling mantels or tables it can be confusing depending on whether you include the mirror or artwork as backdrop or as part of the ‘set’. Use common sense and your eye to tell you what looks balanced.

“Decorate using odd numbers” is meant to guide you and will usually be the way to go. But play with groupings and see what you like best. And as time goes on and you experiment with styling a little more, you’ll find it becomes easier and easier to see what works in your home!

 

I hope this has helped you better understand how to decorate using odd numbers. And I’ll be back from time to time with more design basics posts! 

Sheila
xo

 

How to Decorate Using Odd Numbers graphic on Maison de Cinq

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts about design below:

Five Essential Textures that Every Room Needs

Five Tips for Decorating with Art

How to Add Character to a Dining Room: Mixing Dining Chairs

20 Essential Decorating Measurements 

 

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18 Comments

  1. Marika Diamond says:

    I always think the taller piece on a vignette looks more pleasing on the left side..and then size down from there.
    You can certainly balance the other side of a table or mantle with something a bit taller.
    I always decorate with neutral colors for the most part and change accessories with pillows, love a bit of leopard in a wall print, throw or pillow.
    As long as you LOVE your rooms, that is
    what is MOST important.

    1. You’re so right Marika, I couldn’t agree more! And I go with higher on the left too!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Sheila

  2. Rita m Dina says:

    I have a coffee table with a glass top but it is divided with wood between the two sides forming two halves and I don’t know how to decorate the top. I hate everything I do and have wasted so much money. What would you suggest? Thanks for any help, I love your decorating style.

    1. Hi Rita! Thanks so much for your kind words.

      I’m sure that can seem frustrating, but I think it’s doable! I would start with stacks of books on both sides, and then add from there. Add a vase with flowers, plants, a pretty bowl or a statue/object on those stacks.

      Check out my post about decorating a coffee table here: https://maisondecinq.com/how-to-style-a-coffee-table/

      Since yours is already divided into two halves, part of the work has been done for you! Hope that helps!

      Sheila

  3. Thank you! Very interesting and helpful too. I knew the concept of planting in odd numbers but had never thought of it decorating.

    Looking forward to your next inspiration!

    1. I love that you found it interesting Gaynor! Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by!

      Sheila

  4. Linda Thompson says:

    I love the basic white, jute/sisal rugs with earthenware, pottery; all are what I would love to have….however I
    have invested in other styles etc., I’m trying to reupholster, replace some of my darker lamps, decor, but having trouble doing so. You are an inspiration!

    1. I think many of us struggle with those same issues Linda! But you have an idea of your direction which is half the battle, believe me! Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words – and happy decorating!

      Sheila

  5. Sheilah Burroughs says:

    I just LOVE all your decor wisdom! I so enjoy reading your posts ♥️
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    Fondly,
    Sheilah

    1. Aww thank you Sheilah – that is so sweet! So appreciate it!!

      Sheila

  6. Love this. Thank you for doing the basics for us!

    1. Yay! so glad you found it helpful Angie! And you’re welcome! 🙂

      Sheila

  7. I so enjoy your writing style and all the ” goodies” you share.
    Lovely.

    1. Aww thank you Mollie! I’m so glad you enjoy the blog and find inspiration here!

      Sheila

  8. Thank you for all of your tips and ideas. I love to read and look at your post. I truly enjoy and get excited when it is posted. God bless you and your family.

    1. Wow thank you Karen – what a wonderful comment to wake up to! Thank you for your kind words!

      Sheila