HOW INTERIOR DESIGN IMPACTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

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THE INTERIOR DESIGN OF A ROOM CAN HAVE A SIGNIFICANT AFFECT ON MOOD

We’ve all had the experience of heading home after a stressful day. Maybe you experienced anxiety resulting from work emergencies. Or perhaps you had a fight with a family member. You might have been defeated in an important game. Or suffered the loss of a loved one. After a shock or upset, our instincts tell us to go home. Unwind. Recharge. Lick your wounds.  We retreat to our private spaces when we need spiritual or social protection.

The personal spaces in our home set the stage for many moments in our lives. And because these areas are the setting for so many important and stressful periods in life, it’s crucial that your personal spaces comfort, support, and provide positive emotional energy.


While so much of our life is out of our control, our home is a place we have total jurisdiction over. Whether you take a minimalist approach or are an advocate of the “more is more” school of home design, the way you furnish your home, paint your walls, and arrange your belongings will all have significant impacts on your sense of security and well-being.

This is easy to see in children. Without knowing why, kids create nests in their bedrooms. They fill their beds and their spaces with the things they love. They want their room to feel personalized, but also safe and protected from the influence of parents or siblings. A “keep out of my room” sign is not rebellion as much as it is an attempt to create a private haven.

CAN HOME DESIGN IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH?

According to the Mental Health Foundation, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health complaints. However, many interior design techniques and approaches have been shown to reduce stress and depression. While making the connection between home design and emotional stability is not new, recent studies have fortified the validity of these claims. In the healthcare industry, the links are well-documented. Creating spaces for being together and being apart can increase mental health.

The business world also pays attention to the psychological effects of interior design. Corporate designers use color, lighting, layouts, textures, and artwork to create motivating, uplifting spaces that will promote efficiency, creativity, happiness, trust, or even intimidation. Business designers spend as much time considering mindset as they do aesthetics.

According to Chloe Taylor in Psychology Tomorrow magazine,

“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 years 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 a 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.”

While many elements of interior design have been associated with improved mental health, there are a few components that seem to be mentioned again and again. The effects of sunlight, spaciousness, plants and flowers, natural elements, color, and artwork have been extensively studied. When used correctly, each of these design elements can create an environment conducive to reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

SUNLIGHT LIGHTENS YOUR MOOD – DESIGNING ROOMS WITH LIGHT

A light-drenched room is a joy to behold, but did you know that sunlight also reduces depression? Whether you get your sunlight outdoors or through a window, sunlight is a mood lifter. In fact, more sunlight into rooms can boost happiness. A persistent lack of sun can trigger sadness or enhance anxiety. Sunlight also seems to energize and motivate humans at home and work. A 2002 study reported that daylight was one of the most critical factors in increasing sales volume in retail settings.

While there have been many studies demonstrating the psychological and physiological benefits of natural light, one study showed that employees with access to natural light noticeably outperformed co-workers without sunlight in their workspaces. Additionally, when people had to work using only artificial light, they also showed a qualitative lack of vitality and showed signs of poor sleep.

EXPANDING YOUR HOME’S SPACIOUSNESS CAN EXPAND YOUR SPIRIT

Most people prefer lots of space to cramped quarters, but not everyone knows a sense of spaciousness can also elevate your mood. One study reported that people tend to be more creative in rooms with higher ceilings, and their mood improves. However, the positive effects of spaciousness can also be achieved in rooms with lower ceilings. It seems that a sense of spaciousness is the one of the key components to happier places.

Clean, open homes with minimal clutter facilitate better moods. This sense of openness can be achieved in almost any space with the right design, furniture, organization, and lighting. Many people have become a fan of Japan’s Konmari Method through the hit Netflix series, “Tidying Up.”  Founder Marie Kondo is a champion of the life-changing effects of tidying up. She takes inspiration from Feng Shui in ways that make organization and tidiness a way of life. For example, she encourages people to let go of possessions that don’t bring them joy, whether that is a sofa or a pair of socks. On the show, people use Kondo’s approach to go through radical decluttering cleanses, carefully arrange and store the remaining possessions, and come out of the process with homes that feel noticeably cleaner, brighter, and happier.

Decluttering is the first step to creating spacious rooms and homes. Room layouts, furniture placement, storage solutions, and color schemes are significant contributors to a space that feels open and airy. One study identified that room organization is a major component of a peaceful, soothing home. Spaces that were easy to navigate and fostered social interaction reduced anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. In all room sizes, the use of furniture arrangement and the function of furniture pieces contributed to creating mentally healthy spaces.

PLANTS AND FLOWERS IN THE HOME IMPROVE MOOD

Bringing nature into the home elevates moods, and one of the most effective ways to do with is through the use of house plants and flowers. Studies from Texas A&M conclude that the presence of plants improved concentration and memory retention and reduce stress.

Many types of houseplants are natural air filters, reducing allergens, and increasing air quality. They also increase the oxygen levels in the air, stabilize humidity, and look great. No wonder they help people feel more relaxed and more centered.

Flowers also provide mood-lifting benefits. In fact, flowers around the home can reduce the likelihood of depression and increase positive feelings. In addition to the aesthetic beauty they provide, flowers have a calming, relaxing effect on people. Of course, flowers are a beautiful addition to any space, but they also make people feel happier.

plants and flowers room design

BRING IN THE ELEMENTS: WATER, WIND, FIRE, METAL, AND EARTH

Sunlight, space, plants and flowers make people feel more relaxed and less anxious in their homes. It’s no coincidence that these are all natural elements. Throughout history, mankind has tried to bring the beauty and calming effects of nature into the home. Whether it is animal furs, woven grass mats, or Christmas trees, people have been bringing nature indoors for thousands of years.

The ancient practice of Feng Shui celebrates shapes and textures that represent the natural elements of earth, water, wood, metal, and fire. In today’s home, we can incorporate these elements in many ways. Fountains and pools celebrate water, but mirrors and reflective surfaces also deliver some of the same benefits. Fans and open windows bring in the wind, but fabrics that move quickly and mobiles also provide some of wind’s psychological benefits.  Fireplace and candles allow us to bring in fire. Metal and earth are present in iron, brass, silver, wood, and stone.

In addition to the literal design interpretations of the elements, a healthy, happy home should make it easy to soothe using the elements. For example, deep baths and rain showers allow us to use water in therapeutic ways. Dishes of smooth rocks allow us to use stone as a decorative element. Sunrooms and screen porches allow us to create comfy interior spaces that bridge the gap between the indoors and outside.

USE COLOR IN YOUR INTERIOR DESIGN TO IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH

One of the most well-documented mood-altering design elements is color. For many people, color is a primary component of our world experiences. Our modern understanding of psychology dates back to the 1800s when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published Theory of Colours. Researchers and interior designers have continued to review and revise their positions on the effects of color. In addition to psychological traits and benefits attributed to colors, each colors’ saturation and brightness are significant components in their emotional powers. Saturation refers to the pureness of the color. For example, less saturated colors have more grey or black in them. Steel blue is less saturated then true blue.

Brightness is based on the amount of white in the color, or how light a color seems. Bright colors are less saturated. These lighter, pale tones can have a relaxing effect. For example, true red is associated with anxiety, but a pale, blush pink, that is both less saturated and brighter, is a soothing color. Colors that are deeply saturated and less bright, such as an emerald green, can feel intense or energizing.

When referring to colors, people refer to reds, yellows, and oranges as “warm colors,” while greens, blues, and purples are “cool.” These categorizations are not a coincidence. When we are in rooms that feature warm colors, we feel physically warmer. Cool colors make us feel cooler. That’s one of the reasons reds are so popular in the winter, while turquoise and teal are more popular in warm weather.

And of course, each color has associated psychological effects. Decades of research confirm that some colors consistently evoke certain emotional responses.

  • Red
    Red is the color of power, aggression, and passion. It also triggers the appetite (which is why it is such a popular color in restaurants.) Red is a warm color, which means red accents can heat up the space quickly. However, red is also associated with anger and control. Incorporating too much red in the home can make people feel anxious or unsettled, so use it sparingly if you’re trying to achieve a calming effect.
  • Orange
    Orange is associated with energy, sports, competition, and innovation. It’s another warm tone that can quickly make a space feel snug and cozy. However, orange is such an energetic color that it is rarely used as a dominant color in home design. It is more often seen in office settings and sports facilities.  It’s not the color to use if you’re trying to create a serene space, but when skillfully incorporated into your interior design, orange can serve as a cheerful mood lifter.
  • Yellow
    Yellow is the only warm color associated with relaxation. It is associated with happiness, creativity, and innocence. Because yellow is also associated with nurturing, it is often featured in kitchens, children’s rooms, and private areas of the home. Less saturated yellows also work well with neutrals to create a relaxing effect. Yellow can also work in sunny spaces, intensifying the effects of sunlight.
  • Green
    Green is a soothing, calming color. It is associated with balance, harmony, and nature. It is also the color of growth and renewal. Green is often used in professional settings to help occupants feel calmer. That’s why actors waiting to appear on TV are kept in a “green room.” In homes, green can create a serene feeling that soothes and calms. However, a little green goes a long way. Saturated greens can quickly overwhelm, making the room look dank or dark. The use of bright greens, or apple greens make a room look cheerful, but if used repeatedly, these colors can take over. Conversely, greyish greens, sage tones, or khakis often read as a neutral color, and help create a relaxing space.
  • Blue
    This is a color that communicates fresh, calm, serenity. It is a conservative, orderly color that works well in professional settings. It’s popular in health offices and financial institutions. However, saturated blues can evoke oceans and water, and work very well beside bright whites. Blue is also associated with sadness (feeling blue) and may not be a good color to ward off depression. Finally, research shows that blue is one of the least appetizing colors, which may be why it’s used less often in kitchens and restaurants.
  • Purple
    This is an indulgent color that evokes feelings of luxury, privilege, and specialness. It is a ceremonial color used in many religions to connote divinity. It is also a color associated with exceptional individuality, creativity, and even quirkiness. In a home, the use of purple is unusual, which makes it a striking statement. Pale purples, or lavender, is considered feminine, soft, and comforting. Deeply saturated purples, like eggplant, are powerful. Too much dark purple can make people feel sad. No matter which shade is used, studies show that using too much purple makes some people feel irritable and arrogant.
  • Grey
    When appropriately used, grey accents in home design can create neutrality and balance. Because it is a balance of black and white, it can be used as a neutral. However, many greys are actually a shade of blue, green, yellow, or even purple, so it’s important to pay attention to the tonality of any grey. In color psychology, grey has negative connotations associated with depression, loss, and listlessness. Rooms that are dominantly grey can feel cold and unwelcoming.
  • Brown
    Brown is a color often found in nature. Studies show the use of brown in a home evokes feelings of strength and reliability. Using brown in a room can create a sense of dependability, security, and safety. Brown is present in many rooms as a part of wood furniture or wooden cabinets. Using brown on walls, floors, or furniture in spaces with a lot of brown wood can cause the room to feel heavy, unimaginative, or dull. Combining browns with greens, whites, and neutrals is an effective way to create a serene, cheerful space.
  • Black
    Many people think that black is the absence of color, but in fact, black absorbs all light in the color spectrum, meaning it is the combination of all colors. When you add many leftover paint colors together, it often creates black. Research in color psychology shows that black evokes many different associations. It is often linked with death, unhappiness, and mystery. But it’s also the color of sophistication, seriousness, intellectualism, and sexuality. Black is not a cheerful color, so it’s usually used as an accent. When used sparingly, black elements can create calming harmony and balance in a room. Liberal use of black can also make an area look powerful, dramatic, or important.
  • White
    White is a neutral color that is common in most homes. Most ceilings are white, and this color is the most popular choice for walls. White reflects light, making rooms feel brighter, more spacious, and bigger. It also evokes feelings of cleanliness, purity, and innocence.  Too much white, however, can feel bland or sterile. Notably, few people list white as their favorite color. But it is an easy color to work with in interior design. White goes with anything – dark or light, bright or saturated. White provides a practical background for statement pieces like artwork or sculptures, which is why so many museums have white walls. Importantly, it is easy to see imperfections on white. Dirt, wear, or stains are easy to spot on things like white sofas, white floors, and white cabinetry.
  • Personal Associations
    While there is plenty of research that shows how most people react to colors, personal experience with a color trumps social norms. Our personal history influences our emotions around colors. While American brides wear white, it is the color of death in some cultures. If you had a carefree, happy childhood in a bright red room, red may cheer you up and make you feel content as an adult. If your beloved grandmother’s kitchen was bright purple, purple may represent caring indulgence and stimulate your appetite.
    So whether you find your associations with color align with research, or you’ve created an unusual personal association, make sure the colors you choose for your home make it feel like a comfortable sanctuary that soothes and relaxes.  And if you find you avoid certain rooms in your home, color changes are one of the easiest ways to make it feel more welcoming.

ART IN THE HOME AFFECTS MOOD

Many studies show that viewing art can have a positive impact on your mood and mental health. However, some art also creates somber or negative emotions. Like the psychology of color, the psychology of art is based on social norms. Personal tastes and experiences greatly influence how people react to art. But we know that having beauty and personal expressions are one of the most effective ways to create spaces that feel welcoming and restorative. Art in the home may be an original masterpiece or an inexpensive print. Pottery, ceramics, silver pieces, sculptures, decorative pieces, glassware, and even dishware are all forms of art.

artwork on the walls

Creative expressions that fit with your world outlooks can reduce anxiety and stress. A scientifically-backed solution to stress is to view art. That’s why viewing and creating art have become a part of many types of mental health therapy. Viewing art, regardless of its provenance or its price tag, has been proven to decrease stress levels. In fact, viewing and creating art is one way professionals reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Our brains are wired to appreciate and respond to patterns and assign emotions to art and decorative elements. Even as babies, we quickly form associations with certain types of colors, shapes, images, and artistic expressions. Humans are drawn to creative beauty, even though it takes different forms in different cultures and in different time periods. For example, the Islamic religion forbids the portrayal of humans and animals in art. However, Islamic art still flourishes in the form of intricate rugs, fretwork, and pottery. Japanese art appreciates a minimalist approach, while Eastern European art can be densely and intensively decorated.

No matter what your cultural heritage is, most people can appreciate the beauty in a wide variety of art forms. A study from the U.K. reported that looking at art triggers some of the same responses as falling in love.

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D, reports in Psychology Today,

“Researcher Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, discovered that viewing art gives the same pleasure as falling in love. Previous research into the effect of viewing art supports this effect.  When patients in a hospital viewed art, it was found that their suffering was reduced, and it led to a speedier recovery.  This type of research suggests that art could be used, in multiple contexts, to increase the welfare, mental health, and life satisfaction of the general public, young and old.  Of course, artists and art lovers could have told us that… but perhaps this research will help everyone else see the value in art too.”

SIMPLE INTERIOR DESIGN TIPS TO TRY NOWUsing findings from studies, research, and psychology, our interior designers work to create spaces that make our clients feel contented, safe, and relaxed. Good interior design, tailored to each individual’s personal history and emotions, is a proven way to promote good mental health.If you’re not sure if your home is helping to elevate your mood, it’s smart to evaluate each room. As you walk through or spend time in that room, think about how you feel. Do you love to spend time there? Is it your favorite place to go to unwind after a long day? Do you avoid certain rooms, or wonder why you never spend time in that room? Do you sleep well in your bedroom? Do you enjoy spending time in your kitchen? Does your family linger in the dining room, or does it feel like a chore to eat there?Whether or not you believe that interior design is essential, all humans have evolved in ways that make them sensitive to environmental cues. Your home design can either increase or discourage productivity, intimacy, efficiency, and even happiness.  Everything in your home triggers an emotional response. The spaciousness of your home, the layout of the room, the lighting, the use of materials, the presence of plants and flowers, the use of color, and the use of art are all ways to improve your mood, increase your focus, and reduce anxiety.If you’re not ready to bring in a professional interior designer yet, here are some tips you can try to make your home a better place for relaxation and enjoyment.Get rid of Clutter
Clutter is the enemy of serenity. Go through your possessions and gift, donate, or dispose of clothes, kitchen gear, bedding, photos, artwork, furniture, and other items that you don’t use, don’t like, or don’t have room for. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it in a year, you simply don’t need it. The second rule of thumb is, “if it doesn’t give you joy, don’t keep it.” After the clutter is gone, reorganize your storage, so less is visible. Try to find places to store small appliances you don’t use every day, so they’re not cluttering up your kitchen. Get a handsome basket to store old newspapers and magazines and recycle them often. Stash your makeup brushes, lotions, and shaving equipment in a basket under the sink. Clean counters and floors will increase your feelings of control and reduce anxiety.Rethink Your Layout
If a room isn’t working for you, think about the layout. Can you get into and out of the room easily? Do you have to walk around items often? Does the room feel calm and serene, or overstuffed and messy? The problem may be “too much stuff,” or you may be able to solve your issues by rearranging your furniture. Get creative and try new layouts. You may be surprised at how spacious new layouts feel.Let in More Light
Many of us have windows and doors covered with blinds, shades, curtains, or awnings. Think about ways to let the light in. Remember that more sunlight lifts your mood. Replace curtains with sheers. Keep blinds raised during the day. Remove outdoor awnings. If you’re worried about privacy, you can get inexpensive, easy-to-apply window film that will allow light to come in without allowing people to see details inside your home. If you want curtains for extra emotional or physical warmth in the winter, store them during spring and summer, and hang them again in the fall. Finally, if you have a naturally dark room, use mirrors, reflective surfaces, and small items with glittering surfaces, like cut crystal or hammered brass, to amplify any sunlight and provide the illusion of more light.Invest in Plants and Flowers
Houseplants and flowers have a wide range of physical and mental health benefits. Though it may be tempting to use artificial substitutes, make sure you have some live plants and fresh flowers in your home. If you don’t have a green thumb, check out your plant options online to find easy-care plants that will thrive in rooms with different light levels. With just a little effort, you can create pockets of greenery in your home that will help you breathe easier, physically, and psychologically.Use the Elements
Bringing in natural elements, including wood, stone, metal, water, wind, and fire are surefire ways to bring calm to any space. While some of these elements may seem intimidating, you can find small decorative items in almost any home store that will get you started. If you’re worried about fire, get candles with flickering, artificial flames. If you’re not ready for an indoor fountain, bring the feel of water into a room with mirrors or glass. A jar of river stones is an attractive addition. Start small and get creative.Evaluate Color
What colors are in the room? Are they making you feel calm and relaxed or nervous and anxious? Look at every color in your room, and if it doesn’t “fit,” change it or get rid of it. Even a small color purge or update in an area will greatly improve the overall feel of the space.Don’t Forget to Indulge in art
Bare walls can be depressing. If the walls feel empty, think about getting a few prints that lift your mood. Art is subjective, so find a look that speaks to you and makes you happy. And don’t stop at the walls. Think about adding other decorative items. Put a small sculpture on an empty hall table. Add a pretty box to your bathroom vanity. Tuck a pretty vase between the volumes on your bookshelf. Art doesn’t have to be big or expensive to bring you joy. Find items that speak to you and fit with the way you live and the way you want to feel in your home.


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