The Center of Attention
A point of focus draws people in and adds character to a room.
Synopsis: In an excerpt from her book Home by Design, architect Sarah Susanka shows how a focal point—which can be as large as a chimney or as small as an arrangement of snapshots on a wall—invites people into a room. Susanka explains how directing the eye towards something of importance can focus an otherwise incongruous space.
An unfocused room can be as disconcerting as a blurry photograph; your eye doesn’t know where to look. My architectural colleagues and I know the value of having a point of focus in a room. It can be as simple as a favorite piece of art at the center of the main living space. Or it can be more elaborate, like an inglenook around a beautifully designed fireplace, or a composition of windows looking into the garden beyond. Although it’s not crucial to have a point of focus in every space in the house, the introduction of one or two in key rooms can add a lot of character, draw you into the space, and give the area a center.
Capture attention with craftsmanship
A dramatic way to create a point of focus is to make an unusual piece of craftsmanship the primary attention grabber for a room. The amazing stone chimney in a house on the coast of Maine and the Rhode Island flagstone fireplace are wonderful examples of construction that transcends its normal utilitarian function. The chimney is not only the room’s point of focus, it is perhaps the most memorable feature of the entire house.
An attention grabber doesn’t have to be a visual feature. It can also be directed at a different sense, like the water feature in the entryway of a home whose sound permeates both levels. No matter where you are in the house, you are drawn toward its calming brook-like sound, which gives the home a strong sense of “center” as well as a tranquility that would be absent if the water were gone. Although the surrounding architecture makes a strong statement, the water feature is the attention grabber.
A point of focus can be simple and small
When you’re remodeling a house and money is limited, one of my favorite character-adding strategies is to create a point of focus in the kitchen on the wall area between the range and the hood above. The hood is almost always located higher above the countertop than the adjacent cabinets, so it creates a natural focus in the backsplash area, even without further embellishment. But by filling this area with a tile design, you can simply and inexpensively add a point of focus that will be seen and enjoyed every day.
When remodeling my own home in North Carolina, I used a single feature tile at the center of the area above the cooktop and surrounded it with much less expensive tile. Because the range is located at the approximate center of the visual axis from the main living area to the kitchen, it is seen many times a day. The tiles add some personality to a space that would otherwise be unremarkable.
For more photos and details in creating a point of focus in a room, click the View PDF button below.