The Space Between

“To discern form, the necessary element is space. Absence, then, is as essential as presence.”

by Jan McCollum

It is said that no two snowflakes are alike. This is a difficult reality to comprehend when looking at a mound of snow, but an evening walk under a soft winter’s snowfall with large fluffy flakes landing verifies each snowflake’s uniqueness.

To discern form, the necessary element is space. Absence, then, is as essential as presence. It is the space in between that allows us to interpret shape and line, discern edges and boundaries and appreciate form and structure; so let’s take time to focus on nothing.

The temptation when faced with an empty space is to see how quickly we can fill it up. Whether it’s the top of the cocktail table or an entire room, the void can feel unsettling. Incorporating things into our physical space that define us helps us create home. Putting those things together in a thoughtful and cohesive way helps us enjoy home.

One of the best ways to start is to completely empty the space. Notice the architecture: Where are the windows and doors? From what direction does light come? Is there a natural focal point (fireplace, large window, etc.) in the area? Taking a few moments to stop and really see the structure of a space is central to designing and furnishing it effectively.

Consider function next. Select anchor pieces, such as sofas, chairs and beds and place them out of the way of major traffic flows. Arrange them in a way conducive to the function of the room. Take a step back and notice the space again; does it feel balanced? We may not fully understand the design principles behind a balanced space, but we can naturally sense when something feels “off” or uncomfortable. Conversely, we feel a sense of resolution when the balance is right. Take a few moments to stand, sit in, and walk through the space. Tweak as needed!

Now bring in the supporting pieces, such as cocktail, end and occasional tables. A sofa doesn’t necessarily need to be paired with a cocktail table. A small occasional table or ottoman can provide surface space for magazines or a cup of tea, especially in a smaller space. The asymmetry will allow visual room to breathe and add interest.

Placing art and accessories can be especially challenging. Again, bring pieces in individually. Place them with intention and consideration of form. defines form as the  “configuration, constitution or makeup of an item, including its geometrical dimensions, color, density, weight and other visual characteristics that give it a unique identity and differentiate it from other items.” Form is defined by space, so take care to evaluate shape, proportion, relatability of elements, and most importantly the physical space which surrounds them. Making sure there is enough can make the difference between chaos and Zen.

Stay grounded! A piece of art installed in a space but disconnected from the other elements will seem extraneous. Connected with a sofa, fireplace, lounge chair and table or a console, it becomes part of a composition.

Lastly with everything in place, edit! Take one more critical look at your space as a whole. Is the furniture arranged comfortably? Does the room feel connected? Do the elements take your eye on a journey through the space? Is there enough space in the mix to engender the appreciation of what is there?

Truly beautiful spaces are those with the ability to invoke an appreciation of the present. They allow us to stop for deeper reflection and attention to here—in this space, in this moment, on this day. Rather than concerning yourself with tomorrow, have gratitude for today.

Founder and design principal of J Parker McCollum, Inc., Jan is a speaker, mentor, educator, and product designer with projects featured in several local publications.




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