Organize & Clean

The Rule of Threes: Why You Should Know It, Love It, & Use It

published Apr 13, 2015
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(Image credit: Leanne Bertram)

Now we know you all hate it when we say you SHOULD follow this or that rule, so call this post the Guideline of Threes in your mind if you must. Because there’s a good reason that sitcom wasn’t called Four’s Company, or there weren’t six blind mice. And that same reason can help you create an interesting home that’s not just functional, but also has visual depth and satisfaction.

It’s pretty simple: The rule guideline of threes say that things arranged in odd numbers are more appealing, memorable, and effective than even-numbered groupings. Three seems to be *the* magic number, but 5, 7, or 9 work nicely as well. The principle holds weight in interior design, to be sure, but also pops up in graphic design, photography, storytelling, etc… (so you know it’s really a thing).

What is it about the odd numbers? Apparently, it’s just how our lovely brains work. For one, three is the smallest number that can be used to form a distinguishable pattern in our heads. Also, when you see an odd number of things, your eye is forced to move around more, which makes for a more interesting visual experience.

Here are a couple of ways to harness the power in your own home:


(Image credit: Shay Spaniola)

When hanging artwork or decor, two of one thing is merely a couple. Three items — like the cowboy hats above — automatically make it a collection.

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

The same goes for gallery walls, like this one comprising seventeen hanging pieces.


(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Choose three objects of varying height to style stuff on tabletops, nightstands and any other surface.

(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

Clusters of things can be grouped or highlighted in odd numbers as well. In this case, the largest of the things in this arrangement — the lamp, clock and plant — form a triangle that works.


(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

If you have a little area that feels off, choose three items to fill the space. This chair, cabinet, and artwork all fall at different heights and look great in this section of the room.

(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

Think how different this space would feel without that lamp on the side — a small but significant addition. Any easy symmetry and perfect balance is offset by the tension and energy that the lamp provides.


(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

Choosing only two colors, tones or shades in a room can make it feel flat and not fully dimensional. A third takes the space to a different place that feels fuller and more complete.

(Image credit: Sophie Timothy)

There isn’t a lot of color variation in this living room, which could get old pretty quick. It’s saved from looking blah by varied textures in three major elements in the space: the slatted wall, linen sofa, and nubby rug.

So, the rule of threes is something to try when you are fiddling around with your stuff at home.