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The Art of Balancing Ornaments

Updated on April 3, 2017
Nathanville profile image

Arthur strives to balance aesthetics, functionality, and quality with costs when planning DIY projects in the home and garden.

The Art of Displaying Ornaments
The Art of Displaying Ornaments

Nostalgic Bicycle Décor Iron Plant Stand

Add a splash of colour to your décor with this rather quant and functional ornament with a potted plant in flower; a great gift idea.

The Oddity of Even Numbered Ornaments

I was inspired to write this article after putting into practice a comment I once heard on television stating the importance of making sure there are always an odd number of ornaments on display; whether it be on a shelf, the mantelpiece or in your display cabinet.

Since picking up this handy tip we've tried to adhere to this guideline as a principle when displaying our ornaments; and it works like a charm. We also use other general principles as a helpful guide; many are instinctive and most are common sense e.g. matching size, colour and type when possible to achieve a reasonable level of symmetry.

Why an even number of ornaments don't work as well as an odd number wasn't obvious to me at first, but while analysing the photos I took of some of our ornaments in preparation to writing this article what works and what doesn't work and why became increasingly clear. In particular, my observation is that symmetry and balance (rather than chaos) is important and is partly achieved through symmetry and balance in colour, size and shape; very much like balancing the ornaments on either side of a hypothetical or imaginary pair of scales. But I also noted, in looking at the photos that the eye is looking for a centre point (a focal point) for the ornaments e.g. the ornament in the middle which cannot be achieved where you have an even number of ornaments on a shelf. The focal point ornament often being (but not always) the largest, most colourful or most distinctive ornament.

In this article I take a look at a number of ornament displays and examine what works, what doesn't work and why and how the display could be improved; I also take the opportunity to offer you a choice selection of decorative ornaments available on Amazon that maybe worthy of display in your home.

Making Ornament Displays Work

Looking at this display of six ornaments at first glance it may seem to work, mainly because the cat is over twice as long as any other ornament, taking the space of two ornaments thereby acting as two ornaments in one and by doing so places the duck as the central piece visually.

However, simply by removing the rabbit on the right the duck still remains the central point and the display looks less cluttered even though the remaining ornaments are all still in the same position. Although the duck is the tallest ornament which makes it a natural choice for centre piece, swapping it with the cat an moving the cat to the centre of the display would also work and with the cat being the longest ornament would help to balance both sides, as if displayed on a pair of scales.

Centre Point of the Display
Centre Point of the Display

For the china ornaments shown above what do you think would work best?

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Cat and Duck competing for focal point of display
Cat and Duck competing for focal point of display

The Odd One Out

Difficult Choice on Centre Piece

Five tankards in a row and the fifth one is too alien to be the centre piece in that it would split up the display dividing it into two pairs of jugs either side (an even number); although if there were three tankards on each side (an odd number) it would work.

Tankards on display
Tankards on display

For the Tankards displayed above what do you think would work best?

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Beyond Single Numbers the Odd Rule Becomes Less Important

At a glance the mind is subconsciously aware of even and odd numbers when the display is in single numbers, but get much beyond seven then the odd numbers rule becomes immaterial.

Once the collectables or ornaments reach double figures they become less of a display and more of a collection of mugs. At this point evenly spaced and not overcrowding the ornaments on display becomes more important.

So no rule is set in stone, at the end of the day it’s what’s pleasing the eye that counts.

The Limit to the Odd Rule
The Limit to the Odd Rule
Gifts & Decor Lucky Elephant Wood Look Statue Figurine
Gifts & Decor Lucky Elephant Wood Look Statue Figurine

Quite a popular elephant figurine statue, made from polyresin with wood effect, 11.5 inches by 10 inches high.


Avoiding Clutter

Clearing the decks for Ornaments

All too often with deep shelves it’s tempting to put one row of ornaments in front of another or to place your collection of ornaments in front of other things; and it rarely works, so try to avoid the temptation of cluttering up your shelves with one set of ornaments in front of others or placing ornaments in front of things. Where it can sometimes work visually is when placing ornaments on deep shelves used as a bookcase or for DVDs and CDs; except for the big drawback that each time you want access to the DVDs, CDs or book you have to move the ornaments, this drawback can be minimised if the keepsakes are just a few soft cuddly toys or teddy bears which can be easily pushed to one side when access is required.

The ornament display could easily be improved tenfold in the example photo by a few simple steps as follows:-

  • On the top shelf remove from the back the bottle on the right and the lead crystal bell on the left.
  • Remove all the small ornaments from the front on the bottom shelf and bring the Shire horse forward; the Shire horse, like the clock, is a big centre piece that should take pride of place.

Also avoid overcrowding of ornaments; if the space between ornaments is less than half the average width of the ornaments then it’s going to look too crowded in which case it would be better to remove one or two of the ornaments (to achieve an odd number) and spread them out a bit.

Westminster clock and ornaments
Westminster clock and ornaments
Combining Ornaments to make them bigger
Combining Ornaments to make them bigger

How to Make Smaller Ornaments Bigger

Combine two or more to make one larger ornament

Sometimes ornaments lend themselves to make one ornament from two or more ornaments making the ornament bigger and more interesting.

In the two example here:-

  • The lead crystal glass with an etched image in the middle is enhanced by simply standing a watch clock set in lead crystal on top; each on their own are small and can get swamped by other larger ornaments on the same shelf display but together they enhance each other and become more of a substantial stand piece.
  • A Koala bear holding a boomerang is hugging a lead crystal bell, again each enhancing the other and making what on their own may otherwise by small ornaments lost on a display shelf together becomes more substantial.

Small watch clock
Small watch clock

Side Pieces Complementary to a Central Ornament

Have one pride of place ornament filling most of a small shelf, then with a bit of space on the sides a pair of smaller ornaments matching each other in style, colour and size placed either end can counterbalance each other on the imaginary pair of scales for displaying ornaments in a symmetrical way; particularly useful when at Christmas you’re trying to mingle Christmas ornaments with your all-year-round day-to-day ornaments as shown in these examples.

Ignoring the clutter at the back the two father Christmases in the above photo counterbalance each other on either side of the small Shire horse and cart.

Pairing Ornaments to complement a centre piece
Pairing Ornaments to complement a centre piece

Ornaments Paired

Above, the two Christmas ornaments counterbalance each other on either side of the Westminster chimes clock; the clock itself being both practical and acting as a display item.

Clock centre piece to display
Clock centre piece to display

Getting the Balance Right

Working an oversized ornament with other ornaments

You may have your ornaments displayed to your liking all year until it comes to Christmas and you unpack your Christmas ornaments; then it’s all change and you either just dump Christmas ornaments anywhere and everywhere or you spend ages trying to carefully arrange them.

It’s at this time that a lot of time can be saved if you remember the golden rule of odds rather than even and balancing your ornaments as if they were on an imaginary pair of scales as in the example photo above where the oversized snowman paired with the small father Christmas candle on the right counterbalances the two ornaments on the far left quite well leaving the ornament in the middle as the centre point.

Oversized ornament
Oversized ornament

Unbalanced Ornaments

Of the two photos below:-

  • The first photo with just three ornaments doesn’t work because the snowman is far too big making the whole display lopsided, and
  • The display in the second photo doesn’t work firstly because it’s an even number of ornaments so there is no natural central focal point and secondly (in this case) the three ornaments on left act together as a display with the father Christmas candle acting as their centre point with the oversized snowman on the right being isolated and out of place.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ornament on the right is too largeOne ornament too many
Ornament on the right is too large
Ornament on the right is too large
One ornament too many
One ornament too many
Crystal African Elephant Figurine By Crystal Florida
Crystal African Elephant Figurine By Crystal Florida

Handcrafted African Elephant crystal figurine, 2.5 inches high made with 24% Turkish Lead Crystal.


Ornament Orientation

Which way should ornaments face?

Getting the orientation of the ornaments correct, especially the outermost ornaments at both ends, has an impact on how well a display works.

My general guidelines where possible are based largely on the context of the ornaments as follows:-

  • Place family subjects such as people and pets facing inwards to bring the family together, as demonstrated with the dogs in the above photo. To swap the two dogs around so the they were facing outwards would make them more of guard dogs looking out into the world and protecting the family rather than (as shown) pets looking in on their family home and owners.
  • Place subjects travelling in the same direction, such as the two swans in the photo below or with trains and planes etc. so that they are travelling together.
  • Place Explorers, outward looking people and worldly objects facing outwards in opposite direction, as if they were facing out and exploring the four corners of the world.

Facing Ornaments
Facing Ornaments
Turn the swan around on the left to face the ornaments in the right direction
Turn the swan around on the left to face the ornaments in the right direction

Your views, comments and tips on Ornaments in the home

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Nathanville profile imageAUTHOR

      Arthur Russ 

      2 years ago from England

      Thanks Stephen and Elaine for your feedback, which is greatly appreciated.

    • Elaine Chen profile image

      Elaine Chen 

      6 years ago

      as Chinese new year is approaching, we are busy to do house keeping and re-organize ornaments that store in living room's cabinet. Great to find this lens about ornament display ideas.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      You had me at odd. SquidAngel Blessings.


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