Although the bond between interior design and our emotions has gained much attention in the last decade, this form of environmental psychology exists for thousands of year now – the Indian Vastu Shastra, the Chinese Feng Shui, etc. Because of the rise of neuroscience, scientists are doing plenty of research on this topic and finding the most incredible results. They have shown the ability of interior design elements to evoke positive or negative emotional response in people. These findings open the door to design spaces that consciously manipulate decorative elements with the goal of encouraging creativity, peace and happiness.
Many objects and elements inside a house can have a significant impact on one’s mood. Take colors as an example. The fact that they can generate or enhance certain emotion is so deeply rooted in our minds that we even use it in our vocabulary – we say we feel blue, that we are green with envy and sometimes we just like to think pink. According to what we know about color psychology, vibrant shades like yellow, orange, and green encourage socializing and communicating, while dark hues like purple, deep blue, red, and darker shades of green reflect a bit gloomy feel. Still, when applied in appropriate places, they can evoke sense of comfort. Warmer shades of yellow and orange inspire relaxation and boost creativity. On the other side of the thermostat are icy blue and green, which evoke a sense of calm. Red is the usual “bad guy” of the home décor, because although it can raise energy when used in smaller amounts, it can appear hostile and increase anxiety when used as the prevailing color of the room.
How the space is lit is also very important for the overall ambience. The best lighting source is, of course, the sun, so the number and size of the windows in the room can boost one’s happiness, increase sadness or enhance anxiety. A 2002 study concluded that the presence of daylight was one of the most important factors in increasing sales volume, thus telling us that natural light improves human performance too.
According to a survey published in A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, certain rooms can produce very tangible emotions. The 200 participants of the research were given a list of hypothetical rooms typical for an average home, and asked to choose two ambiance description of each of them. Unsurprisingly, the results matched what is the conventional wisdom of interior design, e.g. the entry room should be inviting, the master bedroom reflects a sense of romance, the closet represents organization, etc.
The size and the spaciousness of the room also influences occupant’s mood. In fact, a study published in InformeDesign reviews the impact of the, often overlooked, ceiling height on individual’s notion of freedom or confinement and finds that the height of the ceiling impacts subject’s subconscious perception of space and environment. It further proved that people are more creative and focused in rooms with higher ceilings, and their mood is significantly improved. Many studies pointed out that the proximity of plants can especially improve one’s mood, concentration and even memory retention, since the sight and the presence of natural elements reduces stress.
Besides colors, spaciousness and natural elements, the textures and shapes of the furniture in the house can also produce certain emotional responses. It is something that we learn from the ancient practice of Feng Shui – the shapes and textures should represent natural elements (earth, water, wood, metal and fire). The rich texture of a shaggy rug will enhance the sense of comfort and happiness, while the decorative metal elements, such as wall clock, vase, etc. will promote strength and independence. Wooden elements are linked to health and personal growth. The same discipline teaches us that the furniture should be arranged in a way that does not create “dead space” (furniture arranged against the wall), since it fosters negative energy. A seamless flow of the elements in the room allows the energy to flow equally seamlessly. Balance should always be more important than symmetry.
With all that said, it should not surprise us that interior designers are “stealing” some knowledge from psychology to improve emotional impacts of the space. Some of the techniques used are persuasive design (including persuasive elements into physical objects, such as seating around the table to boost communication, instead in front of the TV), spatial perception (opening up some space to create a sense of freedom), and stimulation of natural environments (bringing in elements of nature to create an optimal atmosphere for relaxation and health). After all, it was the designers’ world that first started this debate, and the scientists proved them right.
The widely accepted notion that home is a happy place is definitely correct, but it’s important to realize that homes are not promoting happiness per se, but they can be molded and designed in a way that promotes good mood and health. In this, both the interior designers and psychologists agree.