Space is a crucial element of interior design. With a considerable portion of our lives spent indoors, the spaces we choose to occupy have a massive influence on our moods, feelings, behavior and physical wellbeing.
The psychology of space, or environmental psychology, refers to the interaction between people and the space they inhabit. How the human brain and cognition is affected by varying elements in that space.
Yes, you got that right. Our spaces should not only look good; they should also make us feel good.
Photo source: Martha Stewart
Senses are addressed and affected by interior design features such as lighting, configuration, natural and non-natural materials, colors, acoustics, texture, furniture layout, even living elements. These factors have the ability to impact how people feel. We can sense whether a space is warm, safe, comfortable and drives social interactions or cold, hard and uninviting that zaps energy if you stay in it for a long time.
In recent years, this link between interior design and psychology has been getting a lot of attention and recognition for its importance. It’s equal parts functionality and psychology.
Consequently, architecture and design are steering towards this people-centric direction and coming up with creative methods to make a space work for the social and psychological needs of its occupants.
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.”
Photo source: Holzer Kobler
How do we tell which of these underlying, sometimes subtle factors of interior design affect our subconscious?
Before we deep dive, one important element must always be kept in mind; to follow the principles of design – namely balance, symmetry, proportion and harmony. These four factors play into each component (each design element) and the sum of its parts (the whole space) which in turn impacts its occupants in various ways.
Now, there are five aspects to remember to create an environment and home that is aligned with your being and simultaneously, reduce stress and anxiety from your life.
Photo source: Bloomberg. Featuring Steve Jobs and architecture
1. Create the perception of space
This refers to outlook – the impression a space gives when every little detail and decor affects its whole image. As you enter a space, your mind wanders in it, catching obvious design statements. And for the more discerning ones, seeing beyond physical elements to capture the perceived design theme as a whole.
We prefer expansive spaces; those that give a sense of openness. While traditional architectural practice has been dominated by sight, there are new approaches or studies that suggest spaces affect humans’ multisensory mind. Similar to how a sense of spaciousness can elevate mood and creativity.
Photo source: Fohlio
There are several techniques to achieve this perception of space through architecture and design. Collectively, these are called ‘visual tricks’ that can range from several things including furniture, wall decor, color, lighting and organization.
First, a clean, uncluttered space does the trick. Next, another element that creates the illusion of space is lighting. Spaces that welcome a generous amount of natural light through high ceilings, large windows, skylights, glass doors or expansive wall mirrors will naturally give a sense of a more expansive area. Light-colored furniture and interiors also achieve this effect.
Creating the perception of space leads to an open mind and invites positive energy.
Photo source: InteriorZine
2. Welcome a lot of light
Partly following the previous point, lighting also sets the mood and is an integral part of the psychology of space. Entering a room filled with natural light effectively lifts mood, energy and introduces a happy feeling.
Lighting goes beyond artificial light indoors. Getting a healthy dose of sunlight is a mood lifter – boosts positive thoughts, creativity, productivity, better sleep and generally, several other benefits. Sunlight also has many proven mental health benefits such as alleviating depression and anxiety. You might also feel a noticeable change in mood when it’s a sunny day compared to overcast skies and rain.
Photo source: HGTV
Every room should have its own lighting specifications. After all, different needs are addressed in varying spaces – like homes vs. offices vs. restaurants, etc. Here are some example of how different lightings work on the human mind:
- Bright light heightens emotions (could be both positive and negative emotions)
- Exposure to natural light increases serotonin levels in the brain and boosts mood and happiness levels
- Longer and more exposure to natural light relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety leading to longer-term joyful state
For instance, dim light can set a romantic or calming ambience – some restaurants dim the lights because this trick affects a person’s comfort level and lowers inhibitions about eating larger amounts of food. While offices may want more natural light to enliven their spaces and boost productivity, motivation and energy amongst their employees.
Photo source: Work Design Magazine
3. Choose the right color palette
When your home fits your favorite color palette, this visual experience can delight you every time. But on top of it, color also provides a psychological experience. The color tones you choose can drastically affect your mood and emotions.
Color is probably one of the first thoughts when it comes to mood-altering or mood-influencing design elements. It is also the easiest for you to think about, decide on, and alter. Color tones and their saturation levels have varying significant effects on emotions – whether consciously or subconsciously.
Photo source: Medium
Here are some universal meanings to color effects: warm colors like red, yellow or orange can give you feelings of passion and comfort but these highly stimulating colors can also give rise to anger and hostility. Cooler colors on the other side of the spectrum, like blue, green and purple can be peaceful, calming and show reliability or security but may also evoke feelings of sadness and indifference.
For example, cool colors like teal and turquoise can largely be observed during the winter months. When color tones have more white, they have lower saturation and are brighter. These pale tones – like blush, light grey, sky blue – can be more relaxing and soothing; while deeply saturated colors may seem very opaque and can lead to more intense and energized feelings.
Photo source: MyMove
Different colors have different psychological effects:
- Red: brings heat to a space – can be powerful, aggressive, high energy, passionate, angry, unsettling and may lead to anxiety
- Yellow: only warm color that can be associated with happiness, creativity, energy, fun and innocence, that can recreate the colors of sunlight
- Green: gives a soothing, calming feel if not overdone because it relates back to nature and harmony, may also connote positivity and luck
- Blue: relates back to nature and blue spaces like the ocean and sky, evoking feelings of serenity, calm and freshness; but may also lead to sadness
- Purple: associated with luxury and privilege; toned down hues like lavender are soft and feminine but darker hues may lead to arrogance, frustration and irritability
- Grey: its neutrality can bring a balance of hues to a space but is usually linked to being cold and unwelcoming
- Brown: close to nature (like wood) that depicts strength, stability, comfort and warmth but can sometimes be dull and unimaginative
- Black: not a cheerful color because it is most often linked to death and mystery, but can also lead to feelings of sophistication and sexuality and add dramatic effects to a space
- White: common neutral color that adds brightness to any space and gives off feelings of purity, cleanliness and innocence
Photo source: Unsplash | Collov Home Design
4. Inject some personality through art
There are many who claim that a space (your home’s design and interior architecture) also tells others who you are – your personality.
Besides the above mentioned points, the choice of artwork in a space says something about you and has the power to affect mood and behavior. Every human being expresses art in different ways and forms, similar to how a painting is interpreted and felt differently by every person who takes time to look at it.
Viewing art, taking a trip to an art gallery, engaging in creative activities have positive psychological effects such as reducing anxiety, stress, depression and slowing down cognitive decline. Humans are drawn to beauty even if these artistic expressions differ by culture, time, age, beliefs, types, shapes, forms, etc.
Architecture and design are also art forms.
For example, Japanese embody the concept of ‘zen’ or the minimalist approach while European approaches show intricate design elements or heavy decorations that portray subtle luxury. Your own creative expressions can make your home feel like you.
If you happen to have a bare wall at home, hang art. If there’s a rather empty console table needing some TLC, brighten it up with a small sculpture. When there’s an empty shelf in your bedroom, beautify it by adding small decor. Art is subjective, so add what makes you happy.
Photo source: Simon Watson
5. Combine natural elements and spatial energy with Feng Shui
Humans have this innate connection with nature, just like how we feel the need to find time to relax and enjoy nature, be it greenery or the coast. Research continuously shows the positive effects of spending time outdoors, in nature. The calming and restorative effects of nature can be brought into your home through sunlight, natural plants, natural decor, water features, etc.
For thousands of years, people have tried to achieve harmony in their spaces through natural elements and energy. Originated in ancient China, the concept of Feng Shui is Chinese geomancy combining natural elements – earth, fire, wind, water, metal – shapes, textures and energy forces of the environment to attain harmony (along with positivity and luck).
Photo source: Home Journal
In today’s modern world, it might be difficult to follow feng shui fully; however, there are still subtle touches you can incorporate to inject feng shui into your space or home. The most important step to welcoming that positive vibe is to make sure nothing blocks it; so, declutter. A clean, clear space leads to a focused and unhindered mind’s eye.
Next, rearrange your furniture to ensure fluid and easy movement at home that allows you to see uninhibited passageways and doorways. Inject some vibrancy through sunlight and natural elements in your decor like plants, flowers, stone, wood. When you want to embrace water, indoor or outdoor water features are the way to go for the tranquil sound of water at home.
Understanding the energy of your space and introducing nature in an unobtrusive, well-defined manner can bring forth positive energy and moods.
Photo source: China Underground
The journey towards achieving a space that positively affects your mood, mind and behavior no matter the circumstance or season may not always be straightforward. Most of the time, you’ll have to undergo a few rounds of trial and error; or encounter frustrating situations where you might feel stuck.
This is a step-by-step process that requires some thought and understanding of self to make interior design work as a whole. Naturally, you’ll end up having a favorite spot that ticks all boxes but you don’t want to end up with any space that you dislike or avoid either.
Going back to the four principles of design, you must remember that each component comes into play that influences the sum of its parts. Which consequently, impacts and influences your mood and behavior.