Environmental Psychology: Interior Design For Living Well


The unique ability of interior design strategy to manipulate what occurs in the space between people and place makes it one of the most profound professions in the interest of wellbeing. The four components to mental and physical well being; physicality, psychology, sociology and ecology, each with their interchangeable conditions have been shown to be enriched or diminished by our environment.

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Environmental psychology has a history of thousands of years. It is by no means unique to the 21st century and has been shaped by its ancient path.

History of Environmental Psychology

The interplay between individuals and their surroundings plays on the strings of our psychological receptiveness to the built environment. It is a notion that has been explored in all ancient civilisations.

The root of Western civilisation- Ancient Greece, designed structures based on the human form and proportion. Making the connection between humans and design, by way of creating harmonious surroundings for people to flourish, is one reason for the enduring power of Classicism. Expressed in the age of Enlightenment with an emphasis on society, design structures in Ancient Greece were created specifically for the purpose of living well.

Far more ancient, Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui, over 6000 years old, combine spiritual and pragmatic principles in order to harmonise humans with their environments. According to these principles, designing interior spaces should be physically and psychologically satisfactory. A union of physical and metaphysical aspects, each of which associated with a different colour, and each colour possesses its own energy. Using these principles to shape the space around us to reflect notions of harmonious and earthly contentment is still widely used today in the face of living well.

The notions of Wabi Sabi developed out of Taoist and Zen principles. In contrast to classical Western civilisation, whose focus is on the aesthetics, opulence, perfection and symmetry- Wabi Sabi rejects all things artificial and focuses on an awareness of the transience of all things in order to find meaning and beauty in simplicity.

Wabi Sabi, and the idea of finding meaning and harmony in imperfections are trending today and are being adapted into modern-day interior design. Its principles advocate creating a space where one can escape the pressures and stresses of external life. Instead of seeking to create sleek, symmetrical and a perfectly coordinated home, create something more relaxed and natural. Consider natural textures such as wood, leather, stone and clay.

More recently, we have come to base what we know on neuroscience and psychology. Significant studies show that certain design elements evoke positive or negative emotions in people. Designing for home therapy and living well involves specific design elements that trigger harmonious responses and create a healthy and pleasant environment.

Lighting and Wellbeing

Recent findings have had a lot to say about lighting and its effects on the human psychological state. Natural lighting, in particular, plays a vital role in elevating interior ambience. Consequently, it possesses the power to control our mood, health and functionality.

Natural lighting has been found to alleviate some symptoms of depression. As it contributes to the enhancement of our moods, it should be utilised to its maximum capacity. Further studies have shown that ambience lighting can affect our energy levels.

Further, carefully variating light can be helpful to the maintenance of humans natural daily rhythm. We should be exposed to light during the day and sleep at night, in the dark. The only problem is, we spend up to 90% of our time indoors.  

Whilst interior design cannot necessarily manipulate the sun, its role is to make the most out of what the sun has to offer. By filling a room with as much natural light as possible, the health benefits of maintaining a rhythmic cycle allow for better productivity during the day and better sleep at night.

When considering the function of the room and its occupants, successful interior design should make good use of coloured lights to energise or relax the people in the room. Blue light has been recognised to increase energy levels and interfere with sleep at night time.

Bio design for Wellbeing

What we lack most in our search for environmental wellbeing, is the ability to spend more than 10-20% of our time outdoors. The solution, therefore, is to incorporate natural elements like wood, stone, water, plants and organic textiles into our interior living spaces.

The integration of interior design with the Earth’s natural elements is a growing research field characterised by the collaboration of biologists and designers who are recognising the benefits of merging their fields.

Being in and around nature can heal, soothe and reduce stress. The sense of calmness associated with nature promotes a more harmonious and enhanced standard of wellbeing. If the stress of an unpleasant environment contributes to feelings of anxiety, fatigue and depression, a sure way to alleviate this is by welcoming natural elements to the indoor space.

The past shapes the future

Much has changed over the 6,000 years of interior design and since environmental psychology found its place in the practice. What remains the same is its powerful ability to make our built environment a place that enhances our wellbeing.

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