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January 9, 2011

The Rule of Thirds

Who has heard of the rule of thirds?

 This important rule says that most designs can be made more interesting by visually dividing a wall or a photo into thirds vertically and/or horizontally; and placing our most important elements within those thirds. 

If you have a fireplace on a 12' wide wall, and perhaps the fireplace is 4' wide, well, you'd place the fireplace in the centre, leaving a 4' patch of wall on each side.  Thereby dividing that wall in thirds.   
We want the visual tension and excitement that the rule of thirds gives.

Another important design concept is Visual Center and Balance.

Placing important elements or the focal point of the design within the visual center of a piece is another design trick. We all know the actual centre of a photo is right in the middle of the shot. But, did you know the visual center is slightly to the right of and above the actual center of the photo?  This is the area that our eyes are drawn to immediately.

This "rule" originally was developed by photographers to ensure every shot looks great.  Don't we as designers, or homeowners want that as well?  Basically when you are composing a photograph, or a wall, imagine two vertical lines and two horizontal lines dissecting your image into nine squares as shown below.

Placing your most important elements at one or more of the four intersections of those lines, helps create interesting photos or design.


Most balanced designs (and even unbalanced ones) rely on a grid. This invisible structure  helps ensure that all the elements are placed in the right location, thereby achieving balance as well as  helping with continuity and consistency of design. These are design principles that help the professional designer achieve visual balance.

If you'd love to have a visually balanced room, one that is truly pleasing to the eye, please email me at


  1. Wow, I am going to learn a lot reading your blog. I learned about the rule of 1/3 in my pattern drafting courses and when I studied art. But I don't think about it, I am always trying to explain it to my husband when we hang art or arrange furniture. He just stares at me blankly when I try to explain an visually balanced space needs to be divided into 1/3's! I

  2. You're right Barbara, I bet it's essential in pattern drafting. I was explaining to my hubby how to take a good photo and thought hmmm... I use that in my design business.

  3. i find this explanation both practical and enlightening... it reminds me of the frustration of not being taught this technique in university art school... now that i look back at i realize that the rule of 1/3 applies to most if not all visual arts... whether they be interior design or even fine arts... i can correlate this to music engineering whereby you master the volume to be a slight bit higher in the left ear and give it a depth/reverb to give you the feeling that the music is not right in your ear but a certain depth away...
    love your blogs! you'd make a great design professor! Bear

  4. This is a great explanation. And something I think I inherently do but never thought about! Thanks Jill, your blog is awesome!


I just can't wait to hear what you have to say!