Decorating Rule of Thumb – Rule of Threes

Are you trying to decorate your room but something just feels off? There are some pretty standard decorating tips that all designers use. These rules, when you use them, can really help your room look more designed and thoughtful.

I’m going to share a design rule of thumb each week. This week we are starting with a magic number design rule called the “rule of threes”.

What is the Golden Rule of Threes

The rule of three is a concept that interior designers use to make sure a room doesn’t feel too staged. If you walk into a room and there is too much symmetry it can feel boring and uninspired.

Here’s an example of the rule of threes. There are three framed prints instead of two. If there were two it would look too symmetrical. The rule doesn’t mean that you literally need to use three of everything exactly. It means that a room will look better if you use an odd number of things to break up the symmetry and provide visual interest.

How can you apply the rule of threes in your home? The easiest way you can do it is with furniture groupings, art, accessories, fabrics, lighting, and more.

living room couch

Where to Apply the Rule of Threes

You don’t need to apply the rule to everything in your room, just pick one or two places.

ARTWORK – The classic decor rule is that art tends to look better if it’s hung in odd numbers. Three framed prints can look better than two. If you aren’t using art, it works the same with any groupings of items you are hanging on the wall. If you have an arrangement of baskets or hats, odd numbers tend to look better than even numbers.

ACCESSORIES – An easy way to apply the rule of threes without spending a lot of time is to apply this simple rule to home decor or accessories on a shelf, mantle, or coffee table. If you have an arrangement of candlesticks, it looks better if there are three vs. two. Any type of table arrangement, vignette, or collection looks better if there is a little bit of asymmetry rather than even-numbered groupings. Target knows this rule, and that’s why they sell some of their vases in sets of three.

Target rustic candle stick set

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TEXTURE/PATTERN – The rule of threes can also be used with patterns and textures. If you are using a group of throw pillows on a couch, try having three different patterns instead of two. If you have an all-white room, make sure there are three textures such as a wood coffee table, rattan baskets or nubby linen fabric on a pillow or throw, and a natural seagrass rug to provide visual depth.

The examples below are three different pillows, but that’s just an example of how different fabrics can go together. You don’t have to use three different pillows, you can use some of the fabric for drapes or shades, some in a pillow, and another for upholstery.

fabric combinations

FURNITURE – The rule can apply to furniture arrangement. For example, you might have a sofa and two chairs (three pieces). Or you might have two chairs in a reading area with one floor lamp. Your eye really wants the lamp to break up the complete symmetry.

COLOR SCHEME– The rule of three can also apply to color in a room. Designers call this the golden ratio. To achieve an integrated look you should choose colors in proportion to the 60-30-10 rule for your color palette. You can read more about choosing your color palette here. It is no accident that there are three colors in this formula and your eye wants to see all three. There is the main room color or dominant color, a secondary color, and an accent color

This even applies in a room with a neutral color palette. Instead of three colors, you might have a touch of black as your 10% accent color and two different neutrals as your other two “colors”.

LIGHTING – I’ve said this before, but not specifically in the context of the rule of threes, but it applies. Every room needs three light sources. This can be two table lamps and a chandelier or a table lamp, a sconce, and a floor lamp. This is in part about making sure the room has enough light, but it’s also about making the room feel more designed and decorated.


Have you applied the rule of three in some of your rooms? If you have a room that feels off, a great way to figure out the problem is by taking a photo of the room with your phone. Do you see the pattern of threes? If not, try bringing in an odd number of items and see if it makes the room feel better.

There is such a thing as too much symmetry and using this rule can help you make sure your home feels well-designed and just off-balance enough.  

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  1. Andrea, as I am redoing the guest cottage, I am noticing the lack of 3 lights per room…and as a result the lighting is dingy. Didn’t really think about it until reading your post. Also, your link to the percentages of paint colors isn’t working.

  2. I think somebody already mentioned this, but there is no link in this sentence;

    COLOR – The rule of three can also apply to color in a room. Designers tell you to choose colors in a proportion of 60%-30%-10% for your color palette. You can read more about choosing your color palette here. There is no accident that there are three colors in this formula and your eye wants to see all three.

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