Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

In my last blog post I talked about the importance of Biophilic Design – adding that connection to nature to our interior spaces.  But so often, when I see examples of biophilic spaces, it is a sea of natural wood and indoor plants.  What is missing for me is those elements of joy.

Biophilic design with natural wood and indoor plants
Image: Hirouyki Oki

When I think of the photographs of nature that I have taken, they are more likely to be photographs of spectacular sunsets, bright splashes of colourful flowers, or eye-catching creatures.  It is the COLOURS of nature that make my heart sing! 

Bright oranges scenes from nature - hornbill bird, berries, sunset, mushrooms and a butterfly.

And so it should be with our homes too.  Incorporating certain tangible things into our homes can create that intangible feeling of joy.  Here are some of the ways that you can start crafting more joy in your home:

INTRODUCE COLOUR

All over the world, bright vivid colours are associated with joyful occasions – from the Carnival in Brazil, to India’s Holi festival.  In Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful, she says “Bright colour operates like a stimulant, a shot of caffeine for the eyes.  It stirs us out of complacency.”  Lively colours radiate optimism and sunshine and help us to marshal the energy we need.

I’m not suggesting that we all need to paint every wall of our homes in a bright colour, but we do need those bursts of colour in our indoor spaces, like flowers in a garden.

A pink chair

LAYER TEXTURE AND PATTERN

Along with colour, the layering of texture and pattern provides a sensorial richness, and a sense of abundance that is not only pleasurable, but vital to healthy neural development.  An environment that is too minimalistic acts as an anaesthetic, numbing our senses and emotions. 

I don’t know about you, but when I visit places such as Morocco, India, Barcelona, Turkey and Thailand, as a tourist taking in the architecture around me, it is the buildings that are the most gaudily decorated that grab my attention and make me want to pick up my camera and capture that feeling to bring home with me.

Layers of pattern and texture in a bedroom

ARRANGE ITEMS SYMMETRICALLY

Symmetry brings a sense of order and feeling of ease to a space.  It is the tangible manifestation of harmony through balance, rhythm and repetition.  Repeating colours, shapes or textures in different parts of a room helps us to view the room as a whole and brings structure to the complexity.  If your environment makes you feel stable, balanced and grounded you’re more likely to reflect these behaviours too.

Bedside tables arranged symmetrically either side of the bed

INCORPORATE CURVED FORMS

Circles and spheres are subconsciously associated with safety and positivity as there are no sharp angles to risk injury.  Round shapes are found everywhere in nature too – think bubbles and berries, and instinctively open us up to our playful impulses.  Think pom-poms sewn along the edge of a cushion, round side tables, or the Ball chair.

A round dining table creates a much more social dining experience, allowing guests to come together in a single conversation, and interact in a much more personal way.  And a spiral staircase brings a powerful kind of dynamism into a space.

A circular dining table creates a more intimate dining experience.

CREATE NEGATIVE SPACE

Negative space is the space around and between objects.  Having more space allows for a greater freedom of movement.  It also reduces the visual weight of a space, so objects with perforations will appear lighter than solid ones.  Think slender legs on furniture and translucent materials.

DRAW THE EYE UP

Drawing the eye up by highlighting the vertical dimensions of a room will create a space that feels uplifting, like painted ceilings in churches and mosques.  Think of your ceiling as the fifth wall and pay as much attention to its decoration as you would your walls.  If you have the ceiling height, incorporate decorative light fittings.

The height of a room can also be accentuated by using tall plants / sculptures, built-in bookshelves, full-length curtains, and wallpaper with a vertical pattern.

Full length curtains make a room appear taller

ADD SOME MAGIC AND SENSE OF CELEBRATION

A mobile that sways gently on a breeze, prismatic glass that creates rainbow reflections, mirrors that create the illusion of a larger space, and mirror balls and surfaces that shimmer and sparkle all add a sense of magic to a space.

Shapes that burst out from the centre, like fireworks, have long been a part of celebrations around the world.  Think tassels and juju hats, a starburst mirror, or a chandelier that captures the bursting quality of light in static form.

Flowers are also a great of capturing so many of the elements listed above.  Flowers come in different colours, and their shapes vary too – from cups to cones, stars to clusters.  Floral forms are found on fabrics and wallpapers, and are also an important element of biophilic design, so tick both of these boxes!

A bright floral arrangement adds a sense of celebration to a space

Ingrid Fetell Lee sums it up so beautifully – “The problem is that without joy, we may be surviving, but we are not thriving.  If we rarely laugh or play, if we never have glimpses of magic … or bursts of celebration, then no matter how well fed and comfortable we are, we are not truly alive.”

And there has never been a more important time than now, with the uncertainty that lockdown and COVID-19 have brought, to ensure that our homes can inject joy into our lives!



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Since the beginning of human evolution, we have been connected to the natural world, observing the changing seasons, learning what foods grow when, and when we can celebrate earth’s bounty, or when we need to build up reserves for the leaner seasons.

The term Biophilia refers to our innate biological connection with nature.  It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why forest bathing is such a powerful antidote to the pressures of the modern world; and why animal companionship has restorative, healing effects.

The start of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s and into the early 1800s saw people moving to working in factories rather than outside, in the fields.  Industrialists, engineers and designers worked to make products as efficiently as possible and to get the greatest volume of goods to the largest number of people.  The result was huge economic growth and the growth of commerce, drawing people into office jobs, and into human created, artificial environments.

These days, we humans are increasingly spending up to 90% of our lives indoors – often highly controlled spaces, with even lighting, a constant temperature, and straight lines everywhere.  Add to this our growing addiction to our screens, and we are now very disconnected from the nature that used to be part of our everyday lives.  Stress, anxiety and depression are very real, modern day afflictions.

However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that how we design our indoor spaces has a direct impact on us psychologically and physically, and therefore on our overall health, happiness and well-being.  The use of biophilic design in our spaces has been proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness and stimulate creativity, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.  Even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.

1. Reduces your stress
A professor at Chiba University in Japan, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, has found that forest walks yield a 12.4 per cent decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, compared with urban walks.

2. Improves your mood
Academics at Derby University have conducted a meta study of existing research which concludes that connecting to nature can be linked to happiness and mental well-being. Spending time in nature releases hormones that relate to the pursuit of joy.

3. Frees up your creativity
In one study by David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, participants saw a 50% improvement in creative problem solving after three days immersed in nature with all access to modern technology removed.

4. Reduces high blood pressure
A recent meta study in Japan reviewed 20 trials, involving 732 participants, which demonstrated that blood pressure levels in a forest environment were significantly lower than those in a non-forest environment.

Providing people with healthy places in which to live and work is vital if we want to maximise our well-being and improve our lifestyle.  Of course, it’s important to try and increase the amount of time that we do actually spend outdoors, but by incorporating biophilic design into our homes, we can increase our exposure to nature without actually leaving the house.  Do get in touch if your home could do with some biophilic help?

Homes that layer in pieces from different eras or cultures are dynamic and interesting. However, it’s important to follow a few simple rules to ensure you end up with a cohesive scheme, and not something where your eye doesn’t know where to land, and winds up confused and unhappy. Here are seven ways to successfully mix aesthetics:

COLOUR

Whether your scheme is monochrome or multi-coloured, using a consistent colour scheme will help your scheme hang together cohesively.  This doesn’t mean that every piece of furniture needs to be exactly the same colour though.  In fact I’d encourage you to mix and match colours, using accessories to pull all the colours together.

Image – Sophie Robinson

THINK SCALE

Don’t forget to consider the scale of your furniture in mind.  You don’t want a huge overstuffed chair sitting next to your grandmother’s dainty wooden carved loveseat.  And if you’re buying pieces whilst on your travels, then resist the temptation to buy something because it will fit in your luggage to get it home because the chances are it will be too small, and get lost in your scheme.

CREATE BALANCE THROUGH SYMMETRY

If you have totally different objects on either side of a bed, for example, they can create a balanced whole due to their symmetry within the space. However, it’s best to choose items with an equal visual weight to achieve this balance.

Image – Studio Ashby

DISTRIBUTE EQUALLY

Try to avoid having a confusing mix of solitary objects. When mixing in different styles, give each piece at least one ‘companion’ who shares the same characteristics (colour, era, culture, etc), and then distribute these items equally through the space.  This makes it easier for the eye to accept whilst adding interest to the scheme.

Image – Clarkson Potter

SHAPE

Choose pieces with complimentary lines and shapes. I find this easiest to do by creating a moodboard with all of the items together.  You should be able to quite easily tell if one item sticks out like a sore thumb this way.

ONE PIECE, TWO STYLES

Another way to unite a scheme is to have two contrasting styles in one object, for example an antique chair reupholstered in a modern fabric or pattern, or a traditional piece of brown furniture painted in a bright colour.

Image – Studio Ashby

MATCH MOODS

It’s important to think about how you want you space to feel.  If your living room is a place to kick back and relax, don’t layer in overly formal furniture. Make all your choices equally informal, and your space will feel right.

Using these simple rules, you will be able to create a successful space, where everything finds a way to get along.  Having said that, I couldn’t agree more with Dorothy Draper  who says, “I always put in one controversial item. It makes people talk.”   After all, rules are there to be broken!

“For a house to be successful, the objects in it must communicate with one another, respond and balance one another.”
Andrée Putman

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Not all of us have the luxury of a large house with plenty of space to spread out in, meaning that we have to be clever with the space that we do have.   Here are some design tricks you can try to get the most out of your space:

LOOK AT A FLOORPLAN

I always start off working on a design for a client by looking at the floor plan.  This gives a great overview of the size and proportions of the rooms, and allows you to see what direction they face, so that you can work out if the rooms are in the right places.  Just because someone is using a room as a living room doesn’t mean that’s what it has to be.  When I did my own side-return extension, rather than turning the room that led out onto the garden into a kitchen / diner, and keeping the living room at the front of the house, I decided that I wanted the room that led out onto the garden to be my living room.  You really need to think about your layout, how often you use each room, and what you are using it for.

Floor plan

I also look at how doors open, as in many cases additional space can be carved out of a room simply by changing the way a door swings.  One point to note, however, is that if you change a door swing, you’ll likely need to move the light switch too.

SELECT FURNITURE WITH SCALE IN MIND

The next thing to consider is what furniture you need in each room.  For your living room, for example, you might want enough seating for eight people on a regular basis.  This can be achieved through a range of different options – 2 x 3 seater sofas and 2 chairs, or a large corner sofa and a selection of chairs, etc.  Make a note of the dimensions of the furniture that you like, and draw it to scale in your floorplan.  This way you’ll be able to work out how well it fits – if it’s too big or too small; does it obscure a window, or sit too close to another piece of furniture. 

It’s also important to consider ‘traffic flow’.  This will help you to create a space where you can easily navigate around the furniture unhindered which will help the room to feel more spacious.   Don’t automatically place your furniture against the walls either. Sometimes placing a piece at an angle or surrounded by open space, will make a room look bigger.

Symmetrical furniture arrangements are generally more harmonious than asymmetrical ones, so try arranging similar size chairs either side of the fireplace in a living room.  And if the architecture of your space doesn’t give you symmetry, you can create your own by defining a line that you use to place items either side of.

REDUCE VISUAL CLUTTER

Whether your space is light and airy, or dark and cosy, you can reduce visual clutter by painting the walls, skirting boards, window frames and door frames in the same colour.  Painting the ceiling can also work miracles in creating a cohesive space. 

The more floor that is visible, the more spacious your room will look.  Choose wall hung shelving, furniture with exposed legs, or see-through furniture such as glass tables or lucite chairs.  All of these options will fool the eye into thinking there is more space than there actually is.

Tiny bathroom

When it comes to accessories, remember that less is more.  Use fewer larger decorative pieces, and make sure you leave enough negative space around them.  Mirrors, especially large ones, create symmetry by reflecting the space back on itself, which also works to make the space feel larger!

CREATE A COHESIVE SCHEME

Creating a moodboard will helps you to see how the colours you like work together and whether furniture styles coordinate.  I usually start from a selection of images from magazines / Pinterest to sum up the feeling you want to create in the room.  From there I add fabric samples (feel and texture is as important as colour and scale of pattern, so it’s important to get actual samples) and then paint colours.  Try to make the main colour swatches bigger than the accent ones so you get a feel of the proportions.  And then add the furniture and accessory ideas to the moodboard too.  This allows you to see whether all of the items will work together in the one space, creating a cohesive scheme.

Happy planning, and please do share your ideas on your social media.  I’d love to see how you get on!

“A house is very much like a portrait: the thought of arrangement, the curves and straight lines. It gives an indication of the character at the heart of it.”
Christian Louboutin

My front door is yellow.  I chose this colour because it’s a colour that says happy and optimistic and that’s the vibe that I want for my home so why not start with the front door!

If this COVID-19 outbreak has taught us one thing, it is the importance of home!  Last year The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen published The Good Home Report 2019.   In producing this report, The Happiness Research Institute talked to over 13,000 people about their home, and how happy they are in life. The survey included people from 10 different countries across Europe and from different cultures, age groups and social economic backgrounds.

The research answers the questions: What makes a house a home:  And what makes that home a happy one? 

“Our research shows that often we look for happiness in the wrong places. Sometimes what we think makes us happy and what really makes us happy are not the same. Our research builds on the belief that our homes shape our lives. Our homes are where we find comfort and safety. Where we let our guard down and connect with loved ones. In a world demanding more and more of our attention, our homes are where we can retreat to and seek refuge.”
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of best-selling book The Little Book of Hygge

 I am already aware of the fact that our homes have such a big impact on how we feel.  But the study highlighted that our homes actually account for 15% of our overall happiness, compared to only 6% from income, and 3% from our employment status.

We all have our personal preferences in style, colour and materials, but the study identified five core emotions related to happiness at home, no matter who we are or where we live – pride, identity, comfort, safety and control.

PRIDE

“First and foremost, we want a home we can feel proud of. Usually those feelings of pride come from our personal achievements, whether that’s a home improvement project we completed, or the time and energy we’ve invested to make a place feel like home. Pride is the core emotion that best explains happiness in general and happiness in the home.“

The research showed that having a home we feel proud of is the single most important thing when it comes to feeling happy at home, yet it’s also one of the emotions fewest of us feel!  So, what is it that makes us feel proud of our homes? The Happiness Research Institute found a strong link between how much pride people have in their homes and the time they spend improving their home.  Investing time and energy to create your own personal space, whether you are working with an interior designer, or ‘doing it yourself’, is proven to enhance pride and happiness.

And if we are proud of our homes then we are more likely to invite friends and family in to share our space, developing emotional connections, adding meaning and creating positive memories in the process.

COMFORT

“The world can be hectic, so it’s natural that we want our home to be a stress-free haven. A place where we can shut out the rest of the world, relax and unwind. Many of the people we spoke to talked about their home as a sanctuary or safe haven.”

One of the most important ways to create a sanctuary in our homes is to design our homes with a connection to nature.  Studies have shown that this, known as biophilic design, creates a space in which we can relax, physically and mentally, and recharge. Adding biophilia into our homes involves everything, from the layout and functionality of a space, to the colours and textures of the soft furnishings we surround ourselves with. 

IDENTITY

“It is important our home feels like an extension of ourselves. Somewhere we can express our own unique personality and sense of identity. Whether it’s the colour we paint the walls or the furniture we choose, we want to put our own stamp on the place we live.”

Personalising your home is one of my mantras, and I have blogged about this before.  It is important that our homes are a collection of our lives, who we are, and where we’ve been.  They should reflect the narrative of our lives, from the books on the shelves, to the treasures brought back from travels, to the furniture handed down through the generations – all of these things help to create a home that promotes that feeling of identity and belonging. 

SAFETY

“We want to feel safe and secure in our homes. That doesn’t just mean feeling safe from physical threats. It can also be about the condition of our home, such as whether the structure is sound or if the roof leaks.“

Safety is one of the most important human needs, as classified in Maslow’s 1943 paper on “A Theory of Human Motivation”.  His hierarchy of needs puts safety in second place, above our need for food, water and oxygen.

CONTROL

“Control is about the level to which we can decide what happens in our own home. This can be linked to things like budget or whether we rent or own the place we live in. It’s ultimately about whether or not we feel on top of things.”

Interestingly, the research found that home ownership, location, or size are not essential factors in our happiness. It is more important to people that their homes met their needs and that they are adaptable to life’s changes over time.  It is the perception of spaciousness that is more closely connected to happiness than simply having a big home.  Factors such as less clutter and more storage are key here, as well as rearranging our homes to create a greater sense of space.  Lack of space is cited as the single most common problem people experience, and that has the biggest impact on how we feel.

What to know more? You can read the full report here.

So how does your home rank in terms of your happiness?  We’d love to hear your thought on social media – and don’t forget to tag us!

“The more grateful I am, the more beauty I see.”
Mary Davis

Finding sanctuary in our homes has never been so important.  A global pandemic can do that.  Our homes are our safe places – where we are isolating and social distancing with our loved ones.  They should be somewhere where we enjoy spending time, and should help us to feel relaxed, calm and safe in these difficult times.

Shades of green and natural materials make this bedroom a relaxing sanctuary

Having a home is something that many of us have perhaps taken for granted in the past.  (I can’t imagine how it would feel not to have somewhere safe to live right now).  But when Covid-19 arrived, it was as if we all suddenly found ourselves shunted right down to the bottom of Maslow’s triangle as we’ve had to focus on much more fundamental needs – health, food, shelter, family and community.

Before Covid-19, our homes were often just a space we came back to at the end of the day, and so we were less concerned about what they looked like.  But during the last few weeks, many of us have started to look at our own four walls with a fresh eye. This unprecedented period in lockdown has fundamentally changed our relationship with our homes. Our focus has shifted away from going ‘out’ – to work and meeting up for social and leisure activities outside the home, and instead our lives have been concentrated inwards, to the confines of our own homes.

Splashes of red and orange encourage dinner time conversations whilst the pale blue inspires creativity in this room that doubles as a dining room and home office

We’ve been spending more time gardening and baking, finding new ways of meeting or socialising online and even doing DIY jobs around the house.  We’ve learnt new skills and become more self-reliant.  We’ve had to reorganise the existing spaces within our homes to accommodate our new found routines. As we emerge from the other side of this, many of us will be thinking about how we can maximise the available space in our homes through re-configuring or expanding them to accommodate activities such as working from home on a more permanent basis.

The turquoise tiles in this bathroom are the perfect pick-me-up to get you up and out in the mornings.

But before we rush headlong into these new projects, it’s important that we take our time to get things right.  We need to design a connection to nature into our spaces.  And we need to think about things like how different colours cause us to behave and feel.  These are both important elements if we want to design a space that is truly a sanctuary – giving us feeling of relaxation, calm and safety, but also in inspiring us creatively and helping us to be productive when and where we need to be. If you need help achieving this, then you know where to find me!

“A home is a kingdom of its own in the midst of the world, a stronghold amid life’s storms and stresses, a refuge, even a sanctuary.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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How does your home make you feel?  Is it a supportive, comfortable haven that expresses and reflects who you are, nurturing your wellness and encouraging positive behaviours?  Or is it leaving you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, or bored and lifeless?

How we choose to decorate our homes, or more specifically, the colours that we surround ourselves with, affects our mood and energy levels, our appetites and our sleep patterns, and has a profound effect on our well-being.  And at times like this, when we’re all spending much more time than usual in our homes, creating a nurturing home is more important than ever.

Colour has a huge impact on how we feel.  As Karen Haller says in The Little Book of Colour, “You have only to think of how we are affected by the colours of the natural world to see [the psychological impact that colour has on us] in action: how the sun’s rays fill us with happiness and optimism, how the greens of a forest give us a feeling of peace and tranquillity, how a dark-grey sky makes us want to stay in bed under the covers.  All these are our subconscious and unconscious responses to colour.”

Choosing colours for your home shouldn’t be based on what colours we like, but on the behaviours that we want to see exhibited in our spaces.  And the most powerful way that we can impact behaviour is through our colour choices. 

So, let’s take a look at a couple of rooms to see how this would work.

In a living room, the behaviours that you are most likely to see are relaxing (watching TV, reading or listening to music), and socialising with family and friends.  So what colours are likely to encourage these behaviours?  The colours associated with relaxing are predominately brown, dark blue and green, whilst those associated with stimulating conversation are red (although too much can turn the conversations heated), orange and yellow.  So, if you living room has to accommodate all of these behaviours, then a balanced mix of colours that support them would be required, for example blue and orange, green and yellow, etc.

It is also important to pick colours that not only work together tonally, but that are also the tone suited to your personality.  So, for example, if you’re thinking of using a dark blue and you’re a Winter personality then you should choose a midnight blue.  Autumn personalities would be better suited to a dark teal blue, Summer personalities a cool navy, and Spring personalities a bright cobalt blue.

Bedrooms are spaces where we start and end each day, and we want them to help us to unwind and calm us for sleeping at night, but in the mornings they need to encourage us to wake, get dressed and get going for the day.  Colours that work well in bedrooms include pink, purple, light blue and green.  Red is the perfect colour for encouraging passion in an adult bedroom, but should be avoided in a child’s bedroom where it can overexcite.  Again it is important to pick tones that work with your colour personality.

Karen Haller sums it up perfectly – “Working with colour is always a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  We do not see colour in isolation, and the way colours work together is what creates our emotional response.”

If, at the moment, you are feeling exhausted and depleted, depressed or oppressed, bored and lifeless, then it could have something to do with the colours that you are surrounded by in your home.  Do get in touch to see how I can help you transform your home.

“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.”
Wassily Kandinsky

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As we enter week 6 of lockdown in the UK, I thought I’d share with you the five Instagram posts that have brought me joy over the past week.  I think you’ll find they share a common theme!

First up is this image from one of Kit Kemp’s designs, a collaboration in the loft space at Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue in New York.  It is full of colour, pattern and texture, and effortlessly mixes in elements from different cultures.  I am a huge fan of Kit Kemp’s style!

Image: Kit Kemp

Next up is this magical gallery walkway that I came across on The Design Files.  It is in the home of Australian artist David Humphries, whose legendary career has seen him craft dazzling terrazzo art pieces in Australia, London and Los Angeles.  The bright Harlequin pattern floor is actually linoleum tiles, but I just love the intense colour they bring to this space.  It would be a completely different space if the floor were plain wood or concrete!

Image: The Design Files

Sophie Robinson is well known for being the queen of colour, and last week she posted this image of a little corner in her spare bedroom.  Again it’s a space that’s filled with colour and pattern – stripes and florals layered one on top of the other.  It is full of interest without being overwhelming.

Image: Sophie Robinson

Going outdoors now, I just love this image posted by Ingrid Fetell Lee – the #joyspotter herself!  The colours just shout sunshine, and although they are large blocks of colour, there is the pattern in the pink tiles on the orange wall, running down to the water spout. 

Image: Rosas & Xocolate

And finally, another Ingrid Fetell Lee post is this school by Japanese architect, Keiichiro Sako.  I can just imagine the patterns of light that would play through those coloured panels.  I would love to introduce some stained glass into my home.  I just haven’t figured out how to make it work yet!

Image: Sako Architects

I think it’s fairly obvious what brings me joy.  Do you know what it is that brings you joy?

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I am used to spending quite a lot of my days alone, with my husband out at work, and me quietly working away in my business.  However, spending the majority of time during lockdown under the same roof as my husband has highlighted to me our different personality types.  I am very much an ambivert.  I love socialising with friends and family, but I equally love spending time on my own in quiet contemplation.  My husband, it appears, is more extroverted than me, and a geek, and is in his element organising Zoom calls left, right a centre.  So how can we design our homes to cater for the needs of everyone in them?

It seems that the biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is in how each prefers to spend their time. 

Introverts enjoy spending time alone, or socialising in smaller groups of friends.  Introverts also need time alone to recharge their batteries after a busy day, and can get lost in their thoughts easily and need time to process and think through things.

Extroverts, on the other hand, prefer spending time around other people and enjoy larger gatherings with lots of new people.  Extroverts like lots of activity and stimulation.

This open-plan layout provides space for everyone to ‘hang out’ together

With the rise in popularity of open-plan layouts, our homes are more becoming designed for extroverts.  Extroverts will thrive in communal, open-plan spaces that allow the family to ‘hang out’ together.  However, these spaces don’t work for everyone.

Introverts prefer smaller spaces where they can be alone with their thoughts.  Open-plan spaces can create a cacophony of noise – kitchen noises, television noises and device noises on top of regular conversation, which can be a major irritant for introverts who may end up depleting their energy levels in order to avoid being thought of as ‘antisocial’.  When creating a home from an introvert, it’s important to carve out places for retreat.

A quiet space carved out in the corner of this dining room

This retreat space doesn’t have to be an extension, or a shed at the bottom of the garden.  Find a low-traffic area in your house – a guest bedroom, an office that doesn’t get much use, or even a cupboard that you can clear out.  If you share your home with other people then this space can’t be a communal space like a kitchen or living room. 

As selfish as it sounds, having a quiet space to get away from your surroundings so you can recover, process, and recharge will help you to show up as the best version of yourself in your job, and with your family and friends.

A reading corner positioned beside a window for natural light

Think about what you want to do in your quiet room.  If you love to read, add a comfy chair, a reading lamp, and a space for some of your favourite books. Love to write, draw or paint then try to find a space with a window for natural light.  Keep your space clutter free, as clutter equals to distraction and visual noise.  And most importantly, don’t worry about what others think — this is your space, so decorate it considering what brings you joy.

And finally, keep in mind that soft textures like carpets, curtains, textiles, and upholstered walls help to dampen sound and allow the peace and quiet that you crave.

The ball chair provides a surprisingly quite space to retreat in this small one-bed apartment

Getting the design of your spaces right will allow both extroverts, introverts, and everyone in between, to thrive!  That restorative feeling — security, peace, rest — is something our home environments should provide us all the time.  And, if yours isn’t bringing you that feeling then I am here to help.  Consultations can be done remotely using video calls and meetings instead of face-to-face consultations using methods of your choice, be it Zoom, WhatsApp, telephone and email.

“Design is directed toward human beings. To design is to solve human problems by identifying them and executing the best solution.”
Ivan Chermayeff

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How things all around the world have changed in the last couple of weeks!  These days, most of us are confined to our homes, taking our work home with us if we’re lucky enough to still have a job!

Home means something different to all of us, and it’s by no means a safe place for everyone. The idea of home as a sanctuary is one that many of us take for granted, but if you’re struggling to adjust to working from home, then here are a few things you can do to create a work space that will help you to feel nurtured, safe and secure.

Create A Work Routine and Structure Your Day

It’s important to keep your work and home lives separate to enable you to switch off at the end of your working day.  The easiest way to do this is to stick to a routine for your days.  Wake up at the same time each morning, make your bed, and get dressed in work clothes to help your brain understand that it should be in work mode.  Try to keep office hours if at all possible and, when you shut down your computer at the end of the working day, let that be the end of it. Don’t continually check you emails on your phone in the evenings.

Plan regular breaks into your working day.  Take a proper lunch break.  Rather than congregating round the water cooler try and take ten minutes in the garden or put the laundry on.  Schedule in time to check your social media, for example what would have been your commuting time.  Make time for exercise too, as exercise endorphins have a positive effect on our mood.  Take advantage of the many trainers out there who are putting classes online.

Image: Plush Design Studio from Pexels

Set Up A Dedicated Work Space

As tempting as it may be, don’t do your work slouched on your sofa or your bed as this can cause back problems.  Instead set up a distinct office space in your home, even if that’s the corner of your bedroom.  Try to create a clear space where you can put the laptop, a notebook and pen, and a coaster for a drink.  If you don’t have lots of space, or your ‘home office’ doubles as the kitchen table, then make sure you put away your ‘office’ each evening, to create a separation between work and play.  This real life switch between the two spaces helps with the switch in your head from work to home in the same way that those who commute have physical distance between the two.

Your choice of space will also depend on what sort of work you do.  If your work involves a lot of analytical and logical thinking then you’ll work better in a cosy space with a dropped ceiling.  If however, your work involves a lot of creative thinking, then you’ll work best in a space with a high ceiling.  And if you don’t have high ceilings then you can decorate your space to give the illusion of higher ceilings – adding vertical stripes, tall bookshelves, full-length curtains all help to amplify visual height. 

Maintain A Connection To Nature

We might not be allowed outside much at the moment, but this shouldn’t stop us maintaining a connection to nature.  Try to choose a work space with a window so that you have a view to the outside.  Being able to see out of window restores cognitive capacity, reduces stress and mental fatigue, and promotes a sense of freedom and openness.  Seeing the slow but certain progress of plants as they grow and open up is a daily joy!  Gazing out of a window into the distance also helps us to exercise our eyes and reduce eye strain.  Opening a window and letting in fresh air also improves the air quality in our environment which aids focus and concentration. 

If your work space doesn’t have a direct line of sight to the outside then you can employ alternative tactics such as colour, pot plants or flowers, natural materials and artwork (all of which have proven benefits).  Using a swivel chair will allow periodic views through any openings that might be visible behind you.

If your view of the outside is not great, then hang plants, install sheer curtains, or apply translucent window films decorated with floral patterns to retain the semblance of an outside view and filter incoming light while sparing yourself the downsides.

Image: Colin King

Sound Matters

Music / background noise or silence is often cited as having an impact on productivity; however, what works for you is often down to personal preference.  White noise is generally considered to be better otherwise the brain will start to tune in and it can become distracting.  I sometimes prefer foreign language songs that are harder to ‘sing along to’ in my mind.  Background coffee shop noise has also been attributed with increasing productivity, so if you’re missing working in your local coffee shop you can try Coffitivity.  Nature sounds can also help to boost our well-being. 

Get The Lighting Right

Lighting is a whole subject in itself, and I have blogged about this before.  Working in a room with bad lighting can cause fatigue, eye strain, headaches and even depression.  Our primary source of light should be natural light, so ensure that your windows are letting in as much light as possible.  Move furniture out of the way of exterior openings.  Open your curtains properly to ensure they are not blocking out too much light.  Use tie-backs if necessary.  Use mirrors to bounce light around a room, and paint your ceilings out with gloss paint with a light reflectance value (LRV) of 60-90!

The most important form of lighting for a work environment is task lighting, and a directional desk light is the best way to achieve this – to light your keyboard and your notes. 

Add Colour and Personality

Colour is an incredibly powerful tool to use in our homes.  As Karen Haller, author of The Little Book of Colour says, colour “… communicates feeling, creates a mood, affects our energy, our appetites, our sleep, and has a profound effect on our emotional wellbeing and on the behaviours of everyone we live with.” 

Colour has the power to positively support us emotionally, yet so often we chose to decorate with so called ‘neutral’ colours on behalf of the future buyer of our home, or because of what our friends and family will think if we don’t.  This results in us living in places we don’t really like, in the hope that others will.

It is so important that we stamp our own mark on our space as this restores our equilibrium in this world, reminds us of our journey through life, and inspires us.  So layer in pattern and texture, add in sparkle with metallic objects, and display art, decorative items and collections.  It is about choosing furnishings that play with scale or proportion, and adding in items with quirky, offbeat designs.  It’s the little things that make you smile.

Image: Pinterest (source unknown)

Keep Your Working Space Clutter Free

Clutter in your environment provides a distraction and if it builds up can also start to have a negative impact on your mood.  In fact, I have heard it said that being surrounded by clutter is as stressful to us as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!  A clean and clear environment enables you to come in and focus on what you want to get on with.

Image: Pinterest (Source unknown)

Turn Up The Thermostat

Don’t try and work in an environment which is too cold because if you’re cold you’re using a substantial amount of energy to keep warm and that’s energy that can’t be used to focus on the task in hand.  In colder working environments people have been shown to make 44% more mistakes.  The optimum temperature for a productive working environment is 21-22 degrees Celcius.  A warmer environment also makes people happier.  So turn up the thermostat without feeling guilty about it.

Add Fragrance

Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses and is able to influence brain activity.  Using reed diffusers, incense burners or essential oils in your environment can boost your productivity.  Try these fragrances for different benefits:

  • Lemon promotes concentration and has calming and clarifying properties that are helpful when you’re feeling angry, anxious or run down. 
  • Rosemary is the perfect pick-me-up. In addition to improving memory retention, rosemary has stimulating properties that fight physical exhaustion, headaches and mental fatigue.
  • The stimulating properties in cinnamon can help fight mental fatigue and improve concentration and focus.
  • Try peppermint when brainstorming. An energy booster, this scent invigorates the mind, promotes concentration and stimulates clear thinking.

Your own work space is personal and unique to you so find places that inspire you to be productive and incorporate elements of those spaces in whatever ways you can.  Notice not just the layout of the office and the furniture, but the sounds and smells as well as other design and storage features. 

However long the night, the dawn will break”
African Proverb

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