The Importance of Balance and Symmetry
How Smart Designers and Builders Bring Perfection To A Home
No one’s perfect. We’re emotional creatures moving through a messy world. But what if we told you there’s a place where you can experience perfection around you, a space where things are within your control, and where the right combination of know-how and technique can bring about restorative calm and tranquility. No, we’re not talking about the spa at the Ritz-Carlton. In fact, you don’t have to travel far at all. It’s the place we always come back to. Home.
What’s Perfection Anyway?
We like to think of perfection as the complete fulfillment of a design’s goals. It’s the cherry on top of an otherwise effective design, a state where everything comes together. We measure it by how a homeowner’s delight doesn’t leave them, even years after a project ends. Now, you might think that achieving perfection comes down to understanding design and materials—and you’d be right. But it’s far more than that. It’s about deeply comprehending the importance of balance and symmetry in the application of those materials.
Balance And Symmetry
In many ways, balance and symmetry come natural to us. We’re split down the middle, our features balanced on either side. We innately yearn for symmetry in our closest surrounding. We balance our wardrobe, even our diet (sometimes). All to reach toward the perfection that symmetry and balance bring. Yet when it comes to homebuilding, we don’t always follow through. Let’s examine a typical home’s construction to see what goes wrong.
In the good-enough school of home building, a foundation is poured, framing goes up, then sheathing and drywall. Pop on the roof, rough in the electrical and plumbing—done! All it took was the yellow flash of a tape measure, a pencil, some tools, and hours of labor. This will give you shelter, no doubt, but your home won’t achieve architectural perfection this way. Here’s why:
If the floor, walls or ceiling aren’t plumb, square, level and flat—and they won’t be with traditional methods—then every additional component attached to those surfaces will suffer from that poor foundation. To achieve perfection, we need to up our engineering game. This means using modern tools like laser levels and digital measuring devices that make an offset of a quarter of an inch feel like a foot. It also means having a laptop on-site with access to the CAD (Computer-Aided Design) plans for the project, putting brains and brawn together, at every step. What does this smarter form of home-building look like?
Hamster Bedding, Anyone?
For one, modern measuring techniques let us achieve a perfectly level foundation. And while other builders next put up framing and then the sheathing and drywall, we instead enter what we call the Hamster Bedding Stage of the project. Guided by lasers, we hand-plane the interior and exterior framing, leaving shavings on our construction boots and perfectly plumb surfaces behind. Why do we do this? Well, it isn’t for the hamsters. Lumber is often slightly bowed or curved. Your eye might not see it now, but the laser does—and you would too in the finished product. Without intervention, these imperfections carry through to a finished interior, giving walls the same bowed or curved appearance as the studs behind them. What you end up with are walls that slightly ripple where they meet the ceiling, or that don’t seem to run perfectly parallel to flooring.
Sweet Laser Action
Digital tools like laser levels enhance our ability to measure small increments with tremendous accuracy. But it’s up to everyone working on a project to carry that accuracy forward. Our drywallers get it. They run a second independent straight-edge test on all ceilings and walls to double-check the accuracy, while also inspecting corners for squareness and plumb. Lasers are also used to establish the alignment of recessed ceiling lights, as well as window and door heights throughout a project, giving us not only interior perfection, but ensuring that all alignments are also consistent from an exterior perspective.
All that fine measuring work pays off as we build inward. It means:
- Custom cabinetry fits perfectly into a kitchen, bathroom, or walk-in closet
- Flooring flows seamlessly from room to room without small “oops” pieces filling in gaps—or worse, becoming tripping hazards
- Shower heads emerge smack dab in the center of a shower tile instead of off center
- Moldings around doors and windows are perfectly centered
- Tile dimensions look custom made for the surface on which they’re applied
Bonus Design-Builder Challenge
Already in a project? Challenge your design-builder to align the grout joint of your vanity’s backsplash tile directly behind the sink faucet. It’s easily accomplished if they’ve already done it in CAD.
The Unbearable Noise of Imperfection
Perfection is funny. When it’s there, you don’t notice it. It’s quiet and unseen and carries that quiet into the mood of a room. Imperfection, on the other hand, has a set of lungs on it. It starts at a whisper, sure, but let it continue and it’ll shout or, worse yet, yodel. Those generous tolerances (a nice way of saying low accuracy) at the beginning of a wall? Well, after 12 feet you’ll notice a misalignment with the wood flooring that’ll be impossible to ignore. To be sure, this is fine if you’re living in a farmhouse from the nineteenth century. It’s historic, even charming. But in a modern house there are no such excuses. It’s just sloppy.
Tips For Achieving Architectural Perfection
So you’re thinking, October 5: How can I make sure my new home construction or remodel doesn’t end up looking like it was slapped together?
Hey—glad you asked.
- You know those concrete expansion joints in a patio or lanai that keep unsightly cracks from appearing? Align them with the exterior frames of the patio doors. Instead of noticing that they’re strangely unbalanced, your visiting friend will just be jealous of your sweet lanai.
- Don’t stick exterior wall-mounted lighting just anywhere. You’re not hanging posters in a dorm room, for heaven’s sake. This is your dream house! Align those exterior fixtures with door and window headers and make the lighting positioning consistent around the house. When you drive up in the evening, you don’t want to see one light higher than the others. C’mon—you deserve better than that. On the subject of lighting, pay attention to how light falls on the large canvases of ceilings, walls, and flooring. Make the lighting consistent.
- When designing a kitchen, you may want to install something special, like a large double oven. But you’re worried it’ll look off-balance with the surrounding cabinetry, right? First, ask your designer-builder to produce an elevation. If they’re savvy, they’ll know to also download CAD blocks of the appliances from the manufacturer so that nothing is left to chance when the appliance arrives to fit into the custom cabinetry. Gaps and shims around an oven, microwave, refrigerator, or wine-cooler? They’re all avoidable with planning.
- Houses breathe and shift, expand and contract. If the natural fluctuations in materials isn’t taken into account from the start, you’ll get gaps, squeaks or premature cracks. Work the materials’ attributes into the design and construction process so perfection can be maintained.
- You know your jealous friend, the one still standing out there on your sweet lanai? Pull him into the kitchen. He won’t notice the tile that’s off balance around and above the door—and not just because of the Mai Tais you’ve been serving. It’s because your professional designer-builder drafted that wall’s elevation in CAD and applied any adjustments to the door’s position ahead of construction, ensuring a perfect fit.
Whoa, you’re saying. I can’t take all this balance and symmetry. Hey, we get it. Not everything has to be perfectly balanced. But if an element is going to be off center—if it’s going to break from the lines created by the structure around it—then it needs to do so for a reason. It needs to be specifically and purposefully un-balanced. There are often good reasons to do so. Maybe there’s some fantastic morning light that a mitered glass corner could bring into a bedroom. Awesome. Go for it. Or maybe there’s an outdoor mountain range you want to frame by off-setting a door or a window. By all means, bring that vista into the home. But otherwise? Stick with balance and symmetry and let it guide your decision-making. That window at the end of a hallway? Center it and let the hallway walls frame it as you approach. A large garage door? Make sure it’s balanced. But putting an inset of obscure glass on one side of that door can be amazing—or not. Make sure it’s in the CAD elevations first and decide from there.
Extra Credit Assignment
By now you should have a good idea of how balance and symmetry are essential to achieving perfection in a home. And how a successful incorporation of balance and symmetry is often best judged by being unnoticed. Now, before you hop over to another article here at October5.com, take a moment wherever you are—bedroom, kitchen, coffee shop, business meeting (we won’t tell)—and look around. Examine the space between windows and doors. Look at where water and light fixtures are positioned in relation to tile, and how tile or wood flooring meets walls. You’ll either find that a surprising amount of perfection has been achieved (and you can now appreciate the work that went into it), or you’ll notice the unbalanced asymmetrical construction and won’t be able to unsee it. (Sorry about that.) Now, as you move through your day, keep this exercise in mind and glance around at the surfaces around you: the flooring, the walls, windows and doors, the lighting fixtures—even the ventilation vents. Chances are that the spaces that make you feel the calmest, the ones where you want to linger, won’t have much to snag your eyes. They’ll be perfect.
Take Your Project Up A Notch
Some of the most important work we do here at October 5 is the planning and craftsmanship that attracts the least notice. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We know that it’s better that homeowners enjoy the intangibility of perfection than stare at reminders of unremarkable work.
So don’t let poor planning and workmanship come between your home and its perfection. Be sure to hire professional designer-builders in your area who use CAD elevations of all interiors, who plan for their materials’ changes over time, and who share a commitment to achieving the balance and symmetry that makes for a truly remarkable home.
Now excuse us. We have some hamster bedding to sweep up. Anyone need some hand-planed shavings?
Fine Home Building with October 5
Each month in OCTOBER 5 STORIES, we publish an illuminating article on one of the many facets of designing and building a fine home. Choose from the articles below.
The proper use of balance and symmetry turns ordinary projects into extraordinary homes. Learn what steps all fine home builders should take to reduce the unbearable noise generated by imperfection.
Learn more about the practical, real-world improvements the process of subtraction can lend to your remodel or fine home construction. We’ll look at lighting, textures, and much more.
Incorporating subtractive thinking into the design process enables fine home builders to create a home imbued with a sense of calm and purpose from the start.
There’s a healthier process for designing, budgeting, and building your dream home. It’s called Design-Build and it’s revolutionizing how fine home construction and remodels achieve success.