Design, Just me, Styling
comments 34

From left to right

Vintage styling

You know every so often, I get an idea in my head, analyse and mull it over for weeks and then post it here as a long rambling blog? Well today is one of those days….

For a while i’ve been musing the concept of Left to Right and its use in Interior Design.

What’s that then?

Firstly, it’s the way that we write, as in we start at the left side of the page and scrawl across horizontally to the right. A lot of languages are written this way admittedly, but in this country we also drive on the left hand side. So it’s pretty hard wired into our lives to look left and keep left.

Here’s my hypothesis:

Because of our propensity towards the left, our eyes naturally scan from left to right (in this country anyway). Apparently, when us Brits go into a store, we subconsciously wander over to the left too… Weird!

So what’s this got to do with anything?

Well, i’ve noticed that when I layout a space or style a room afterwards, because my eyes scan left to right. I tend to set a piece to the left first to anchor the room and then work across.

Abigail Ahern x Wayfair

Midtown Magic Bedroom

The left hand side of most of my images have something large or dominant, and I think this is because we start our sentences with a capital letter. So again, we’re used to seeing something with more visual weight over to the left. Are you still with me here everyone? Am I blowing your mind or sending you to sleep? Well whatever, I’m absolutely fascinated by this concept…

Try it. The next new spaces you walk into, try and catch yourself, what did you clock first, where did you walk first? Genuinely, let me know!

A few more images to take a look at and discuss….

Sherwood Forest Project

My eye here goes straight to the table lamp and then kind of radiates outwards. There are more pieces of interest placed around the left of this music nook to make the piano less of a big rectangular object. By adding the gorgeous teal lamp on top of a tall plant table, the lamp stands tall, acting as the capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, as it were.

Ok moving on…

Mantle pieces, were traditionally “styled” symmetrically, (but sorry, symmetry is sometimes the most boring thing ever) where as I prefer work with asymmetry. Styling a mantle piece like a “shelfie” gives a more casual look. It’s more creative to play around with different heights, surfaces and shapes and generally much more interesting to look at. I’m a sucker for adding some kind of trailing plant to every mantle piece, and there’s a reason for this, it’s a) to add green, every space needs some and b) to soften the edges of a very hard edged feature. They’re nearly always on the left hand side…

Living Room Black Fireplace

Red Room Project

…because I want you to look at that first and then scan right.

To me, the image above is pretty balanced. The monkey on the hearth, bottom right counters the trailing ivy top left. And the rest of the styling is a relaxed mix of opaque and transparent reflective surfaces. Something all dark rooms need.

Now watch what happens when I do this:

Living Room Black Fireplace

I don’t know if you’re responding to this the same way I am… but looking at this image is making me feel lob-sided and very weird indeed. To me, the balance is all wrong and it doesn’t work at all. My eye keeps going left but it’s not hooking onto any one thing.

Let me try another….

Edwardian Cast Iron Fireplace

Upper Brook St Project

Balanced

Edwardian Cast Iron Fireplace

Weird!

Now onto a room with no mantlepiece at all….

Masonic Villas

I’ve already spoken about this image in the post “How to Choose Art“. I hung a small piece of art to the left of the fire. I didn’t want anything central on the chimney breast wall as I wanted the frieze and cornicing to be the feature, that and the gorgeous House Doctor Molecular light. The reason I placed a piece of art, to the left was to hold your gaze slightly longer before it finally scanned right to the TV in the right hand alcove.

Let’s flip it again and see if it messes with your mind as much as I know it will mine.

Oh my god, I feel drunk just looking at it. Anyone else feel discombobulated?? Or am I alone in this left sided bias?

Sherwood Forest Project

Sherwood Forest

I absolutely love digging down into the reasons why some things look right, purely on instinct. You might not always know why you prefer something one way over another, but it might just be because of the way your eyes take in the information.

Sherwood Forest Project

If anyone is still reading, and you don’t think i’ve completely lost my mind on this one, i’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts on my rather wacky theory. I might even do another post on this looking at countries that write right to left and top to bottom to see if this too informs the way their eyes scan and therefore the way they take in more visual information through design, photography etc.

I love discovering the reasons why one thing works and another doesn’t, and for me this explains a lot about my instincts for layout and placement of pieces; both within a room and within an image. Please do share this with your design-y friends. I’d love to get a bit of a discussion started on this as i’m genuinely fascinated. Photographers and interior stylists in particular, i’d love to know how you perceive and read an image.

Over to you…

34 Comments

  1. Gilly says

    Hi Karen,
    I’m completely with you on this. Just been looking at my own place and I’ve done exactly the same, if you flip it you feel a bit faint! Very interesting!
    Gill x

  2. I was really sceptical until I saw the pictures reversed, and then I got it! I looked up from my tablet around the room and realised I’d been doing this subconsciously, pretty much without exception. Fascinating and actually helpful!

  3. Anne Brown says

    Fascinating post.
    In art terms doesn’t this come under the golden triangle theory.
    Your point about left to right writing could be explained by right handed writers not wishing to smudge their ink as that wrote. However, you could test this point by ‘researching’ on non-writers – ie children – to see which of the pairs of pictures they preferred.

    • Karen Knox says

      That’s a good idea actually, about asking small people their thoughts. And yes, I need to do more reading about the golden triangle theory… a few people have mentioned it to me since this post!

  4. Claudia says

    Well observed! It’s not just a British thing though. For some reason it’s how the human brain is wired. It’s not just a preference for looking left but also turning left. That’s why supermarkets are layed out a certain way. It’s something i learned in college when i was studying communication. I know, it’s terribly borring…

    • Karen Knox says

      I don’t think it’s boring at all. I’m fascinated by this kind of thing!

  5. I’m afraid I don’t really agree. I would argue that I look at the right side first because I’m right-handed? Or at at whichever object stands out the most (on the piano picture I noticed the map first, for example). Also, on my mantelpiece I have something at the right end only, which doesn’t look weird to me at all.

    • Karen Knox says

      Fair enough. We’re not all the same, so I guess we all see things differently…

  6. I just assumed it was because I overwhelmingly prefer my left side (except hoovering, I seem to that with the right but everything else I do left handed.). Proves my theory is wrong as I too felt a little discombobulated when you switched the photos. 🙂

  7. What a fabulous post! With you all the way. I used to curate art exhibitions and always followed this principle, assumed that visitors would travel clockwise around a space, that each wall would be ‘read’ from left to right. Unless I wanted to shake things up… then placing things in an unusual orientation could be used, for that very reason.

    If I was hanging a tall vertical piece I’d want to balance that with a long horizontal, which wouldn’t necessarily be a single piece but could be a horizontal grouping. I’d naturally want the vertical to be on the left like a capital letter.

    • Karen Knox says

      Yes. Yes! This is exactly what I do, but I didn’t know I was doing it.

  8. Tracy says

    I do the same thing subconsciously – it really does look ‘off’ somehow if you reverse things. Also, people tend to start looking at a room clockwise when first entering, so it makes sense that you’d want to ‘pull’ the gaze from left to right. Amazing how our visual brains work!

  9. Very interesting! Are you left or right handed?

    I didn’t think it would matter, but on most, it did. The one that didn’t; as much is the Masonic villas, and I think that is because of the white candles in the foreground.

    I am left handed, and read left to right, but of course, drive on the right. Now I am going to check this all out!

  10. Trish Mahon says

    Never though about this before but looking at the `wrong’ option actually feels like I have a headache coming on.

    • Language student says

      The Japanese actually read left to right as well, or top to bottom. Arabic and Hebrew are read right to left 🙂

  11. This is really interesting. I’m almost totally left-handed and I have a strong left bias. The reversed image that actually looked ok to me was Masonic – because of the tall white candles (which I’d barely noticed in the non-reversed image) and also because the window is on the left in the reversed image.

    However, in the research I’ve read about how people move in shops, they actually have a bias to walk to the right. There’s a ‘decompression zone’ for a few feet inside the shop door where people slow down (never display anything expensive in the decompression zone; folk walk right past), but then more people turn right than left. Weirdly, I find studies of retail behaviour fascinating (takes all sorts)

    I’d love to know how Arabic cultures style a room for bias. This is fascinating! Great post!

  12. Such an interesting read. I agree I veer left when I walk into a shop, but hadn’t really thought about it with how I layout my home. BUT, swapping those images round made me feel all wrong, particularly the first one. I found myself searching for something on the right to hang onto…. really fascinating article, thanks Karen.

  13. Mairi says

    This is really interesting! Speaking as a publisher of illustrated children’s books, we definitely design images on books to be ‘read’ with an assumption that the story ‘travels’ from left to right – so if a character is walking from left to right, (s)he is walking ‘forwards’ in the narrative. But playing with that introduces interesting visual tension, not ‘bad’ tension… All of your ‘wrong’ options look wrong to me too but I wonder in part if that’s because I’ve seen them all the ‘right’ way round. We’re both lefties in our house and we have a standard lamp and our Dansette on the right of our sideboard and it doesn’t look wrong to me at all…
    PS I’ve never commented before but I’ve been reading your blog for months and love it.

    • Karen Knox says

      Ah thank you so much. So glad you like it.
      And I love reading about your own experience of left to right with regards to publishing and print. Makes complete sense!
      With regards to your lamp/Dansette to the right of your sideboard, there’s always a reason why certain things are set one side over the other. 50% of the time it’s prob down to where the sockets are 🙂

  14. Ooh I think you’re on to something here Karen! I’d never really thought about this, but looking around my home, I can see now how my eye travels from left to right and how I style things starting from the left first. Fascinating!

  15. When training in picture framing I was taught that the eye naturally travels from top left to top right clockwise around the frame. Obviously it was important that all corners were neat and well finished but it was recommended to put the ‘best’ one top left, similarly with a mount. Errors are more likely to be spotted if they appear early in the eye’s journey round. Great post. Applies to so many areas of design.

    • Karen Knox says

      Really? This is so interesting to know. Well at least I know i’m not a complete loon to be thinking all about the left to right thing. Thank you for the info!!

  16. Love the mural on the Upper Brook Street project, do you mind me asking who did it? And I COMPLETELY get. I have been saying the same for years…

    • Karen Knox says

      Thanks Sarah. It’s a wallpaper, Upper Brook St by Little Greene 🙂

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