The past year has given us all plenty of time to reflect and recalibrate, and now more than ever, we are placing a greater emphasis on our own well-being. Wellness may start from within, yet the spaces around us play a vital supporting role. Being forced to stay indoors for much of the past year, when our interior spaces are all we’ve had to keep us safe, has shown us that our homes have a profound influence on our daily joy and wellness. When our homes feel calm, uplifting, and stimulating, it makes it easier to feel this way as we move through the routines of everyday life. The subtleties of interior design can have huge impacts on our mental health, often in ways we don’t fully understand. Having a space that supports us emotionally enables us to continue to lead a successful life in challenging times.
So what is it about a space that makes us feel comfortable? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of our most fundamental needs is for shelter. However, beyond that we also seek solace, beauty, and a sense of belonging. And many of our responses to the design of spaces are unconscious – hard-wired into us as human beings. For example, when children are asked to draw a home, they commonly draw houses with steeply pitched roofs, symbolising shelter and security, even when they themselves live in flats. We all need our homes to feel like a place of refuge from the rest of the world, as though we are, at some level, still warding off ancestral fears of attacks by a predator.
Within our homes, we also intuitively respond to different types of interior space. Here we need a combination of small, intimate rooms and as well as more open-plan areas. In biophilic design these concepts are known as prospect and refuge. Small rooms provide us with refuge, giving us a sense of safety, retreat and withdrawal. We all need zones where we can do the things that are important to us. On the other hand, open-plan spaces give us a sense of freedom and connection. And having a view to a garden space, however small, helps us to feel connected with the outside world, and to create a sense of possibility beyond the space we’re actually in.
Biophilic design brings our innate biological connection with nature into our spaces. I’m sure that most people are well aware of the benefits of houseplants and plenty of daylight, but there are less obvious aspects of biophilia that can help us to feel more connected to nature. Using organic materials, colours, shapes and patterns helps us to feel more grounded in our environment. After all, memories of home are often associated with the things in it, which you can touch and smell, rather than the building itself.
Which brings me onto another important consideration to ensure our homes bring us happiness, and that is to make them personal to us. We need to stir our senses and bring more awareness to what feels good and brings us joy. Collections are a way to reflect your own taste and personality more intimately than anything else, whether it be art, shells found on far-flung beaches, or antique crockery. These items add sensorial richness to a space and help to elicit the deep, emotional responses that give rise to the feeling of joy. If our surroundings lack energy, abundance and harmony, then no matter how beautiful our homes might be, they will not make us feel truly alive.
Colour is another important factor in how our interior spaces make us feel. There is nowhere that colour doesn’t exist. We are constantly influenced by it, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we go to bed at night. Although we see colour with our eyes, each different wavelength of coloured light stimulates a distinct part of our physical being, evoking a specific physiological response, which in turn produces a psychological reaction.
But there is more to colour than merely hue (the attribute of colour which enables us to classify it as red, blue, etc). Our colour personalities echo the patterns and natural order of the seasons, and so it is important to choose colours that match your own tonal family – spring, summer, autumn or winter. Surrounding yourself with colours at odds with your own natural pattern is, in the long run, stressful.
And finally, there is lighting, which not only interacts with the colours we choose, but also influences our circadian rhythms and the way we feel. As well as bright light for carrying out tasks, we need darkness and cosiness to help us relax at the end of the day. Clever combinations of lighting which include ceiling lights, table and task lamps, as well as flickering candles, allow us to mimic the changes in natural light as the sun moves through the sky over the course of the day. This enables our bodies to harmonise with our environment.
While the impact of our interiors on our wellbeing may ultimately be a deeply personal thing, it is worth considering how these fundamental principles of interior design have the capacity to affect how you feel, rather than paying too much attention to what you think you like. How we design our homes is as fundamental to our happiness and well-being as nutrition, sleep and exercise.
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