Design Recipes: The impact of pairs and threes

Cathy Hobbs
Tribune News Service

Open nearly any design magazine or shop in any furniture retail store and you are bound to notice that decor pieces are seldom displayed by themselves. Indeed, you are more likely to see items displayed in groupings, typically either two identical items side by side or three in a row. The power of the pair and using three identical items in a series has long been a trick of prop stylists, and the technique can be easily translated into your own home.

Why groupings?

In general, many items look barren or isolated when displayed by themselves. Instead of having the single lonely item that may get lost or hidden in a space, creating individual groupings of decor items is a powerful design tool.

Where to begin?

Groupings are different or similar items that may or may not have any relationship to each other, but look cohesive and attractive together. Begin by incorporating your favorite decor items or those that inspire you. Be sure to use items purposefully. Too many items can be just as unattractive as too few items.

Pairs and threes

Pairs and threes are the secret weapon of the styling world. A visual impact occurs when items are displayed as a pair or in threes that doesn’t occur with a single item or when you group large amounts of items together. Placing two identical items together often creates a look of simplicity and elegance.

Three identical items such as artwork placed in a series can actually trick the eye. Looking for a large piece of art to display on a wall? Simply place three identical pieces of art side by side and it will appear as if the art pieces are part of a series. Similar techniques can be used when displaying decor items.

Cathy Hobbs, based in New York City, is an Emmy Award-winning television host and a nationally known interior design and home staging expert with offices in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. Contact her at or visit her website at