When you think of rhythm, the first thing that comes to your mind is probably the beat of music. Rhythm, however, is not confined to music, it’s everywhere: just think of your breathing, your heartbeat, ocean tides, the arrangement of leaves on a plant stem… they all have a pattern, a repetitive arrangement that suggests movement. And that’s what rhythm is: organised movement.
As a design principle, rhythm can be defined as the repetition of visual patterns in space. Rhythm creates visual unity and movement, and leads the eye, and mind, around the space.
The repetition of structural elements creates rhythm in three-dimensions. Just think, for example, of colonnades, exposed ceiling beams, windows, stairways…and how they create a sense of movement and make the space interesting.
The simplest form of repetition is the regular placement of the same element in a linear path – a border, for example, or a trim. Window panes can create simple grid patterns that provide a pleasant background rhythm.
You can repeat a colour, a shape, a pattern, or any other element, alone or in groups. For example, in a monochromatic interior you can introduce a colour and repeat it regularly to lead the eye through the room.
To make your rhythmic pattern more interesting, you can vary the space of the recurring element, and so create a “pace” for the visual rhythm, either graceful and calm, or sharp and stimulating.
You could also vary a characteristic of the recurring elements to create visual interest. For example, if you want to arrange a series of picture frames in a linear pattern, you could choose picture frames of the same shape and size, but in different colours, or in different materials, to add complexity to your rhythmic pattern. Or in a series of cushions, you can keep the shape constant, and vary tone and texture.
Another way to achieve rhythm is with progression, when you gradually increase or decrease the characteristic of an element. For example, you could arrange vases of the same colour and shape in a succession of decreasing, or increasing, sizes. Another example: choose picture frames of the same shape, size and colour but decreasing – or increasing – tones (from dark to light). You can use progression to give a sense of direction to the sequence of elements, and lead the eye towards a focal point.
If you want to add interest to rhythmic patterns, you could try introducing a contrasting shape, colour, texture, etc. in the sequence of elements; bear in mind, though, that too much contrast can produce a discordant, chaotic rhythm.
Finally, keep in mind that light can create rhythm too. For example, you can place spotlights at regular intervals to create repetitive patterns of light and shadow. Spotlights are very effective for adding interest to a room, and so are recessed lights, especially when they’re positioned along stairways, corridors and hallways. In the dining area, you can use a series of suspended lights to juxtapose the rhythmic pattern created by chairs or stools placed around the dining table.
In the next post of the Design Basics series I’ll talk about Emphasis and its role in interior design.
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