Interiors: Pattern play and symmetry in your home
Geometrics shaping the way we design our homes
'Are you symmetrical?" asks the interior designer Gwen Kenny as I glance anxiously at the mirror. But she isn't talking about my eyebrows. Kenny is talking about symmetry in the home.
"One of the first questions that I'd always ask a client is 'are you a symmetrical or an asymmetrical person?' It's always one or the other." This is a bit like being asked if you're introvert or extrovert. How are you meant to know?
As it turns out, there's a simple test. "Take a clock, two ornaments and a pair of candlesticks. Then arrange them on an empty mantelpiece," Kenny says. So I take the test. I put the two candlesticks on either side of the clock with an ornament at each end of the mantelpiece. There's no escaping it. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool symmetrical. An asymmetrical person would have grouped the candlesticks together and not put the clock in the middle.
Understanding your relationship with symmetry, in Kenny's opinion, is the key to using geometric patterns in the home. If you're a symmetrical person like me, the simple rhythmic pattern of a parquet floor will make you happy. But a rug with a non-repeating pattern of random shapes will upset you. I totally get this. If I'm faced with one half of a pattern I worry about what happened to the other half.
These days it's hard to get away from geometry. Throw a stone into any interiors shop and you'll probably hit a geometric cushion. "The main mistake that people make with geometrics is that they overdo it," says Kenny. "It can end up being quite loud. I like to have a focal point in the room and if you're using pattern as the focus, you should have one main pattern. Everything else needs to relate to that."
In a recent design for a kitchen dining room, she focused the room on Roman blinds in a zig-zag pattern. "The fabric was from Osborne and Little, so it was expensive but it was a fraction of the price of curtains," she explains. "Another advantage of blinds is that you enjoy the pattern much more when it's flat. You'd lose it on the folds of a curtain." Although the floor tiles and the upholstery on the chairs are also patterned, the entire palette is in earth tones and the walls are white. "You can get away with a lot of geometrics when none of the colours are fighting," she says.
There is also strong trend for geometric tiling, but Kenny advises that you approach this one with caution. "Unless you do it sensibly you'll get sick of it in no time," she warns. "Doing up a bathroom is a 10 year project. If you like geometric tiling you might be better having tiles arranged in a geometric pattern, rather than going for a pattern on the tiles themselves."
Fancy tiling, we agree, requires a tiler who knows their business. Off kilter geometrics don't satisfy the eye and, for geometric patterns to work well, they have to be perfect. Mistakes tend to show.
Surprisingly, geometric shapes can work well with metallics and Kenny is currently excited about a range of mirrored furniture with a repeat pattern in a gold finish, available from Divine Design. It's expensive stuff. The Celeste decagonal mirror, which is 41cm in diameter, costs around €639 and the Verbier console table with geometric mirrored shapes costs €849. On the plus side, the mirrored finish will pick up whatever colour you have in the room.
For those who want to explore geometrics without making a huge purchase, cushions and lampshades are a gentle way to bring geometric pattern into a room. Ikea has good value with the multicoloured Tulpantrad and monochrome Malisen cushions (€15 each). Or you could splash out on a cushion (from €42) or lampshade (€46 to €118) from the Welsh designer Sian Elin.
Geometric patterns have been around for centuries and are a big feature of Islamic architecture, which is one of the main inspirations for Elin's work. "The main idea is to have Eastern-inspired patterns with Scandinavian styling in terms of colour and graphic shapes," she says.
"There are different cultural influences going on."
The names of her patterns, like Alhambra and Agra, hint at where the patterns may have come from. "My Rosette pattern comes from the tessellating rosettes in the Alhambra in the south of Spain, but I've made it a lot simpler." All her work is made in the UK.
People with asymmetrical leanings may find all of this a little too balanced. One designer who strikes a balance between symmetry and asymmetry is Claire Alderdice, originally from Armagh and now based in Bedford. Her bespoke rugs, cushions (€90) and lampshades (€118) are based on what she describes as a "morphing rhythmical pattern".
The pattern itself is geometric but the colour changes across the piece. "It's a way of expressing colour through non-repeating pattern," says Alderdice.
"I trained as a weaver but the idea first came to me when I looked through a toy kaleidoscope in the science museum. I realised I was looking at geometric patterns that were infinite, but there was a sort of chaos to the order."
Her current collection, Peggy, is named for her grandmother and the colour palette is based on the hydrangeas from her garden.
"She grew masses of them and my mother used to dry them. The colours go from mossy green to deep magenta, but I always balance my colours by using grey as a base. It calms them down."
For more information see sianelin.com, divinedesign.ie and clairealderdice.com.