Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thinking in threes

And other decorating tips to help you make your home beautiful

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Something as ordinary as setting up a living space can be looked upon as a pleasant task or a frustrating trial. It might be time to re-arrange furniture in the living room, or add a chest of drawers to the bedroom. Company is coming and you want the dinner table set to please, to welcome, even to wow! Your valued collection of ceramics is looking messy rather than magnificent in the curio chest. And you just might be saying to yourself that you can't get it right, you don't have the knack, but you do. You can create a harmonious home by following a few decorating tips that will guide you toward setting up rooms that feel balanced, restful and show off your personal belongings at their best.

Tim Turner is an industrial and graphic designer, a builder and an artist and educator. He is also an avid historian and is the author of Early American Country Interiors. What is exceptional about his book is that it is not just a roundup of the best in the décor of that age, but also it is a well-laid-out decorating textbook. Although I'm not one to follow many rules, there are tricks of the trade that are worthy of note. And one of these described in Turner's book is called The Rule of Three.

The concept says when objects are presented in groups of three, they are more memorable and visually appealing. In decorating the rule can expand to other odd numbers - groups of five, seven and so on, but start with the basic idea of three. The objects, whether they are pieces of furniture, accessories and collections or the surface of a wall, can differ in size and shape. It is the visual grouping that we are building. Turner uses the example of how to position wainscoting or a chair rail on the wall. Whatever the height of the wall, break it into thirds. Place the wainscot on the bottom third, or if you prefer, from the floor to two-thirds up the wall, and leave the top third for paint or paper. Your room will feel balanced and pleasing.

Arrange objects in groups of three, and vary the size and height to create visual depth and interest. The shelves shown hold crockery rich in history. Shapes and colours vary, but the grid, which has been divided into three sets of three, allows each plate and jar breathing space and an opportunity to be seen. Overcrowding causes chaos, and too few items would feel sparse and incomplete.

Once you start thinking about the rule of three, you will be interested to note that the rooms that appeal to you most likely fall within these guidelines. The cozy bedroom featured here, decorated by Marise Craig, has the bed centered, flanked by windows and bedside tables. The feature wall has been divided into the three by three grid, with overlapping elements to soften the lines.

For those who choose to decorate in historic early-American style, Turner gives suggestions that will help create an authentic look while enjoying the comforts of electricity- old light fixtures can be wired, and there are excellent reproductions available. In the bedroom, headboards that were handmade 200 years ago for smaller mattresses can be reproduced on a larger scale, or cleverly added to with rail extensions. It's also fun to be creative when hunting for antiques, and when you discover a special find, repurpose it for use anywhere in your home. In his bedroom, Turner uses a grain bin salvaged from the barn for a laundry hamper, and stores sweaters in an antique pie safe.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to You can follow Debbie on Twitter at, and visit Debbie's new website,

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2013 F10

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