When you think about it, we expect a lot from our homes. As well as providing shelter, safety, and security, we want them to help us relax, recharge, communicate, and socialize, all the while providing an opportunity for satisfying self-expression. It’s a lot to ask of four walls, yet there are homes of all shapes and sizes that rise to the challenge.
So what’s their secret? What’s the difference between a home that ticks all the boxes and one that’s simply nice enough?
There’s a general consensus that it all comes to down to interior design psychology; a field of inquiry focused on maximising the positive effects of the relationship between an environment and its inhabitants. Rather than looking purely at the aesthetics of a space, it also takes its usability, intuitiveness, and connectivity into account.
Confused? Let’s explore the concept in concrete terms, looking at ways you can put its wisdom to use in your home.
Colour psychology is used a lot in interior design. It’s why yellow, orange, and green are often used in creative, collaborative spaces, and subdued blues, creams, and greys are often featured in spaces used for reflection and relaxation: bright shades promote bursts of energy while softer tones promote calm.
Perhaps a more interesting observation to come out of the field relates to colouring our homes to reinforce natural behaviours and evolutionary instincts. Based in the idea that humans understand space at an intrinsic level as a savannah, floors should be the darkest (wooden flooring is ideal), walls should be neutral, and the ceiling should be light like the sky. Because this colour scheme mimics our natural environment, it’s less stressful to be in, allowing our homes to hit some of those goals we talked about earlier, like relaxation.
Speaking of natural environments, another well-evidenced component of interior design psychology is the importance of natural light, vistas, and plants. Numerous studies have found the existence of these elements improves both our physical and mental health. A landmark study in the 80s even showed that patients with a view out of hospital windows required less pain medication and had significantly faster recovery times than those in windowless rooms. If sunlight and a vantage point to the great outdoors can reduce the impact of serious illness, imagine what they can do for everyday stressors.
If your home has a lack of sunlight or pleasant outlook, fear not: nature photography and paintings with natural elements and patters have been shown to have similar benefits (read more here) to the real thing.
Symmetry is inherently attractive to the human eye; thanks to the fact it exists all around us in nature. Think of how branches are arranged on a tree, or leaves on a branch, or the curvature of a seashell. Because symmetry is familiar to us, it’s easier for our brains to process, allowing us to make sense of symmetrical spaces quickly. This is why we often interpret well balanced rooms as pleasing, harmonious, and calming.
To increase the symmetry in your home, pick a focal point in each room (e.g. bed, table, or fireplace) and then build your layout around it, making sure you add equal visual weight on both sides. This doesn’t mean you need to have exactly the same furniture either side; just that the visual impacts of your elements needs to have balance. Of course, if you like the style and you find it easier, you can incorporate matching elements like side tables and sets of artwork to really set the scene.
We all know that clutter is psychologically unappealing in the home, but it might come as a surprise that having a lack of stimuli can be just as off-putting. Spaces that are too sparsely decorated come across as cold and uninviting, leaving us unable to relax.
With this in mind, make sure you include a few items in every room purely for their visual appeal - just not so many that the space becomes confusing to the eye. Think coherent character and you’ll be well on your way to success.
We take behavioural cues from our surroundings, meaning it’s possible to positively influence our home life with design. For example, try giving your dining table pride of place over the sofa if you’d rather have less TV dinners, or switching your home office with your guest room to make use of the productivity-enhancing qualities of sunlight or creative-boosting effects of high ceilings. In short, use the space you have to help you move closer to your values and goals for living.
Finally, don’t forget to add a little sense of discovery to your home. Research shows that including elements that invite deeper investigation (e.g. a doorway that gives a glimpse of another room or a rug with an intriguing texture) create higher levels of interest and engagement in a space.