Having been homebound for the major part of this year, it’s possible you have wondered about the effect your interior design might be having on your mental outlook. It’s a good question. In fact, mental health professionals have been examining the role interior design plays on mental health since long before the pandemic.
Psychology Tomorrow Magazine was at the forefront in its July 2016 article “Aesthetics and Well-Being: How Interior Design Affects Your Happiness.”
“It should not surprise us that interior designers are ‘stealing’ some knowledge from psychology to improve emotional impacts of the space,” the article stated. “Some of the techniques used are persuasive design (including persuasive elements into physical objects, such as seating around the table to boost communication, instead of 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.”
More recently, Johns Hopkins Magazine’s fall 2019 issue described a design project involving the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Brain Science Institute. It was an exhibit titled “Space and Being” at last year’s international furniture fair in Milan. “It marked the first occasion the emerging science of neuroaesthetics was front and center at such an influential global design event,” the magazine reported.
Visitors to the exhibit wore special wristbands that measured their physiological responses as they walked through three different room vignettes. It was a data-based method for showing how design and furnishings can influence biology and well-being.
Experienced interior designers have known the influence design has on mental health for many years. They constantly ask clients how a room design or an item in the room makes the client feel. They also ask if a room reduces or induces stress.
“The most impactful principle of design on mental health is balance which basically means that all the furnishings in the space feel like they belong,” explains Bobbie Combs, director of education and training, Decorating Den Interiors, of Meadville. “When the balance in a room is off or the furnishings don’t feel like they belong, it can make you feel uncomfortable. The most impactful element of design on mental health is color, which can alter your mood drastically depending on the main color used in a room. For example, blue is a color that has been shown to slow down a person’s metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure, which will have a calming effect on your mind and body.”
Even the shape of a table or other furnishings could have an effect. A June Business of Home magazine article cited Denver-based architect Donald H. Ruggles’ suggestions on angles. He is the author of the book “Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture: Timeless Patterns and Their Impact on Our Well-Being.”
“Jagged edges and sharp points are design features that, if overused, can cause anxiety. A typical living room, for instance, often includes a statement piece like a coffee table with jagged or sharp edges. A table with rounded edges, on the other hand, allows our nervous system to relax.”
When getting to know prospective clients, designers ask for a tour of their entire home, regardless of the scope of the project. During the tour, it’s important to ask how often they’re in that space, what are the activities they do there, how the space makes them feel, what they like and don’t like as much. The goal is for them to talk about themselves and their relationship to the space. For the designer, it is to listen, listen, listen.
Interior design, then, is not only about making your home more beautiful. It’s also about making it a happier and healthier place.