Design for Well-being
By Katherine Sorrell
How can you create an interiors scheme that adds to your overall comfort and contentment? We look at ways to decorate for a happy, healthy home.
Science aligns with art when it comes to developing a sense of well-being in our homes. Although some elements of the well-being industry may be little more than optimistic nonsense, there is actually serious research that outlines ways in which we can redefine design schemes to promote mental and physical good health. Decades of scientific experiments have shown that, if we get it right, we can reduce stress, blood pressure and heart rates, while increasing productivity and creativity.
Add some house plants
To start with, there is a big bonus that comes from introducing natural elements – such as house plants. Our brains are wired to respond positively to the signs of a healthy natural world – so that spider plant on your kitchen window really is making you happy. Not to mention the mental positives that come from the mindful repetition of watering, spraying, dead heading and so on, while enjoying watching your plant (hopefully) thrive in its environment. As well as real, living elements placed indoors, looking out onto beautiful views is demonstrably good for us, as are – intriguingly –artworks that realistically depict natural scenes, say the experts.
Get the light right
Numerous studies have also linked natural light to increases in mood and cognitive performance. If you are renovating, this means it’s really worth looking at light-enhancing alterations such as enlarging windows, replacing solid doors with glazed ones, adding a skylight or French doors, and so on. On a more basic level, check that curtains or tall furniture do not block windows, and place mirrors where they can bounce the light around a room. High-sheen surfaces can help with this, too.
As for artificial lighting, it is worth designing this with our circadian rhythms in mind, so that it aligns with natural periods of light and dark, and too-bright light does not interrupt our sleep/wake cycle. One trick is to use full-spectrum lights during the daytime, which are similar to natural light and – perhaps using an app – dim them to a warm light in the evening, triggering melatonin and helping you go to sleep.
Make sure your home smells and sounds good
Throwing open the windows and airing your home thoroughly can be greatly beneficial and, further than that, why not add some scents that make you feel positive? Use a natural wax candle or an electric diffuser, and try lemon for office work or studying, cinnamon or vanilla for creativity and lavender for relaxing. Soften any tinny sounds around your home with rugs, wall hangings and large-leaved plants, while quietly playing de-stressing nature sounds such as the wind in the trees or birdsong.
We all worry about getting colours right, and the theory goes that we react well to colours that remind us of positive experiences, which often occur in nature. So blue (water) is calming, green (spring growth) is stimulating, yellow (sunshine and crops) is welcoming and red (fruit and berries) is stimulating. In other studies, green has been linked to enhanced performance – so is a great colour for a home office.
De-clutter and display
Few of us feel happy when our homes are messy, and studies have linked clutter with fatigue, depression and lack of focus. So, a good tidy up really can reduce stress and anxiety. But don’t go too far – sparse spaces are also stress-inducing, and the ideal option is to have well-organised areas in which you display items that are meaningful to you. A pleasing variation of colours and shapes, arranged with a sense of order, is the best way to appeal to the human brain. And it may sound obvious, but curved shapes are linked to comfort, while straight lines indicate efficiency – so a squishy sofa feels even more comfortable because of its rounded shape, while a work desk will benefit from the geometric lines of, let’s say, angular organisers and contemporary lighting.
Be practical – and emotional
Our homes fulfil many different functions, more so these days than ever before, from work space to entertaining space to somewhere to unwind and relax. The practicalities of design are crucial to ensure that every corner of your home works hard doing what it’s meant to do, so good storage is key (see clutter, above), as is an easy flow from room to room and the placing of furniture in convenient, practical ways. A lamp next to an armchair, with a side table close enough to reach, perhaps near a radiator or a fire; the dishwasher close to the cupboard in which the crockery is stored; a shower with an adjacent towel rail and enough space to stand and dry yourself… Where there are frustrations in carrying out your day-to-day life, try to change them and you may well find that your mood changes, too.
And finally, create spaces for socialising, for bringing people together to talk and enjoy each other’s company – with seating in an L-shape or, even better, a circle, and also spaces for relaxation: calm and quiet, perhaps painted in a darker colour, where you can feel safe, private and completely, peacefully, yourself.
- Lots of plants and the plentiful use of natural materials make this a calming, welcoming space. Black & White 100% wool Beni Ourain rugs, from £395 (and made to order), Tate & Darby: 07961 112 324; tateanddarby.com.
- Not too cluttered, not too sparse, this bedroom also uses soft colours and appealing textures. Denver white wooden double bed, £229.99, Furniture and Choice: 0333 015 0000; furniturechoice.co.uk.
- Fashionable, but also tranquil: this living room incorporates layers of texture and pops of greenery to create an intriguing and inviting space. Olivia linen four-seater sofa, £2,629; Tamara velvet armchair, £1,738; Alpha floor lamp, £1,179; Arc coffee table, £699; all Pepper Sq: 020 8243 8559; peppersq.com.