One thing I notice about pre-1970 interiors is the rather rigid symmetry on and around fireplace mantels. I suppose that one reason for this is because rooms used to be more formal than those of today, and formality many times begets symmetry. The other explanation may have been the popularity of garnitures- porcelain or other decorative objects that were sold as a group and meant to be displayed together. Many of the garnitures I've seen are comprised of two identical objects plus one central object. I suppose garnitures have gone the way of period rooms- out of style. Still, they did make an impact.
Today, I still like a symmetrical grouping of objects on mantels and flanking fireplaces. There is something very calming and orderly about this fireplace-centric symmetry. That said, things do have to be loosened up a bit. Call me uptight, but I have to have bookend symmetry, meaning that the outermost objects on a mantel have to be identical and symmetrical. I then loosen things up by displaying unique items in between, placing them to the right or left of an imaginary central axis. Basically, the central objects are artfully off-kilter while the outermost objects serve as sentries. Heaven forbid if this formula is reversed and the symmetry is in the middle rather than the ends- that would truly send me into orbit!
So after that little explanation of what my symmetry sensitive mind can and cannot handle, I'm curious if you decorate your mantels using strict symmetry, relaxed symmetry, or absolutely none at all!
(All images are from Decoration (Vol II); the book goes to great lengths to explain the importance of symmetry.)
The composition at Petit Trianon, Versailles was as tight as a drum. According to the book, "The objects surrounding the centre piece are strictly aligned like soldiers on parade."
The drawing room at Château de la Lorie, where the symmetry was described as being "precise".
Château de la Verrière. Woah! There is a lot going on here. The author wrote, "A profusion of ornaments creates a fantastic display on Romantic mantelpieces. The little symmetry that remains is hardly perceptible: small objects are huddled together, merging with the background so that they become almost indistinguishable." Do you agree?
While I think there is too much stuff on the mantel, there is some symmetry here which I do find appealing- like those two candlesticks at both ends of the mantel. The off-center fireplace and the varied composition of paintings keeps things from being too rigid. (Room by J.P. Hagnauer)
Image at top: The drawing room of Charles de Beistegui. Major symmetry here...and yet, it looks fabulous.
(All images from Decoration (Vol II), Librairie Hachette, 1963)