carlyn yandle/for metro vancouver
I find repetition tedious. Really tedious. Repetition is really tedious. Really.
Except when it comes to design. Repeating certain forms can make spaces sing.
Imagine the difference between one small seashell on a bookshelf and a row of similar shells.
Suddenly that humble shell is seen in the context of the others.
It’s not just about the shell anymore, but the relationship between the shells, the difference in their contours and the rhythm in their shared forms.
As one architect friend puts it, the forms start talking to each other.
The area they occupy — a.k.a. “negative space” — is also important. Depositing a shell among the usual household debris almost makes it disappear, but clearing out a shelf to feature a simple row of shells creates a framed, open breathing space that celebrates their humble beauty.
The same effect applies to any object that falls into the ‘overlooked’ category, like, say, a potted plant.
A row of four different herbs or cacti in the same terra cotta pots on a windowsill focuses the viewer’s interest in the foliage of each herb against the uniformity of the smooth unglazed clay pots.
It’s all about reducing distractions by controlling visual clutter; in this case, repeating the pots and the row.
Replace the plants with a collection of pencil crayons and the terra cotta pots with recycled tin cans and suddenly the eye is captivated by the colour of those bright wooden pencils against the shine of metal.
Even empty tin cans can command attention when they’re grouped together haphazardly to accentuate their different volumes, from cans that contain tiny tomato paste to Costco-size ketchup. Stacking a series of large tin cans or paint cans floor-to-ceiling or counter-to-ceiling is reminiscent of a Roman column that could be the focal point of a modern living space. (It’s something to do on a rainy Saturday, anyway.)
Some other neat repeats:
•Several round rug mats on the living room floor instead of the usual area carpet
•A dozen or more paper lanterns of different sizes hanging from the bedroom ceiling (check out the photo at my blog,
•Tins of tomatoes with cool Old World labels along the top of kitchen cabinets (seek them out at import-food meccas like Bosa Foods on the East Side: 1465 Kootenay St., near East 1st Avenue and Boundary; and Parthenon Importers on the West Side: 3080 West Broadway).
Carlyn Yandle is a Vancouver journalist with her own room-planning business, Home Reworks (www.homereworks.com). She dwells on urban-home issues every Thursday in Metro.