One option when displaying art is to start with a symmetrical foundation then throw in a few unbalanced pieces -- perhaps even layer in many asymmetrical elements. This almost always makes a room feel visually harmonious, yet not too contrived.
At first glance, the room above appears to be all about pairs, but a closer look reveals some unexpected twists. Obviously there is architectural symmetry with the recessed bookshelves flanking the fireplace, and two decorative fan-shaped paintings offer more order. Above the mantel the homeowners have centered a mirror, adding to the composition a pair of framed works on paper plus a pair of candlesticks.
Irregularity comes in with the sculpture placed on the floor, the works hung low on either side of the fireplace, and the non-matching recessed spaces below the bookshelves. Also eye-catching is the asymmetric grouping we see reflected in the mirror. (Click image to enlarge.)
Instead of flanking one or two large works with smaller pieces, here the homeowners opted to hang a series of six diminutive works in the center of a classic "cross formation." Larger framed pieces hang above and below. Note that the art on the top and bottom is framed and matted to best compliment the work itself, not to match anything in the grouping.
Sometimes furniture can provide the symmetry. Here Peter Dunham has a pair of chairs flanking a very bold artifact hung on the wall (his central focal point) but all of the other objects and framed pieces are not matched or placed for perfect balance.
This arrangement put together by Nina Campbell is interesting because initially it appears so harmonious. At least to me. However, the only pair present is the set of candle holders. Although the art forms a rather tight rectangle, it's not an ordered grid, and each piece is framed a bit differently -- again to complement the art itself. The grouping looks very personal, as if it evolved over time.
In other cases a perfectly ordered grid is desired. Angele Parlange says that she came across a large set of unframed prints at a New Orleans antique shop. (Each one appears to be slightly off in size.) Needing to be budget conscious, she went with ready-made, very simple black frames available at a mass retailer. This enabled her to frame numerous pieces at once and bring unity to the disparate shapes and sizes.
Of course, the grouping in Suzanne Rheinstein's dining room is breathtaking. She's taken pieces that are ubiquitous in a traditional house -- bird watercolors -- and made them dramatic and memorable. Shown here are 100 18th-century watercolors from the same folio framed in a style authentic to the period with wavy rolled glass.
Another Rheinstein grouping of botanicals is very classic, yet the cozy way the frames are clustered keeps the arrangement from looking hotel-ish.
Credits: Images one, two and four are from Displaying Pictures; The Dunham image is from domino; Parlange's sitting room is from Creole Thrift; Rheinstein's dining room was photographed by Tim Street-Porter and the other Rheinstein interior, the Daniels' house, appeared in House Beautiful, May 2002.
Revisit this post for more about Lady Annabelle's room. Again symmetry with a twist.
Afterthought: Here's another nice example of a classic, symmetrical cross formation by Urban Grace Interiors. Framed curiosities and nature prints are wonderful in a series like Erika's. In this case unified mats and frames are perfect. When working with hallways, some designers prefer to hang pieces on only one side.