Can house design affect your mood?

Good house design takes many forms, some which you can see and admire, and many more which are hidden. In the second of our series on “the hidden value of design” we ask the question. Can the design of your house effect your mood?

Scientists continue to unearth clues about how well designed spaces promote creativity, keep students focused and alert, and lead to relaxation and social intimacy. The results inform architectural and design decisions such as the height of ceilings, the view from windows, the shape of furniture, and the type and intensity of lighting.

There are many aspects of designing a house which are obvious, these include understanding the physical requirements of the home eg. number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Then you have the facade material choice eg. bricks or timber cladding, tin or tiles roof. These considerations are important because we all want to look at our house and be proud of what we see.

But what other design considerations should an architect be aware of when designing your home that are less obvious. What aspects of house design have an impact on the internal space of your home and by association your mood when living in this space.

In this article we discuss some of the reasons house design can impact on your mood. We also ask, “Is there such a thing as the “perfect” space?”

The use of natural light in design, is it important?

The use of natural light within house design has always been an important consideration. It is more important than the obvious reason of keeping your electricity bills down. There is scientific evidence which suggests natural light, for example, can help hospital patients to recover and school pupils perform better.

If we have a look at the evolution of school architecture we will see the buildings from the early 1900s followed a similar formula. Thick walls, with small windows which sat well above the head of the average student, perhaps to remove distraction. A distracted student day dreaming as they look outside can’t be helpful to learning, right?

As our understanding of the human body expands, our knowledge around environmental psychology (you better believe this is an actual term) is now impacting how we design.

“Light certainly has a physiological impact on people,” says Dr Alan Lewis, a lecturer in architecture at Manchester University. “Research has shown that visible light helps the human body to regulate the production of the hormone melatonin, which in turn helps to regulate our body clock, affecting sleep patterns and digestion. “Visible light also helps to stimulate the body’s production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can reduce the symptoms of depression.”

School Design from yesteryear, we’ve learned a lot.

Victorian College of the Deaf

Little Bendigo School (Ballarat)

Rolleston School – NZ

Contemporary School design uses natural light in abundance.

Nigel Peck Centre for Learning and Leadership (John Wardle Architects)

Surf Coast Secondary College – Torquay

Surf Coast Secondary College – Torquay

So how does the evolution of school design impact how we design our own home, as it turns out, a lot. Sunlight is therapeutic, its benefits include increasing serotonin levels, addressing seasonal affective disorder, Vitamin D levels, skin conditions, reducing eye strain and assisting general wellbeing. Real Estate agents will tell you how important sunlit houses are, they see buyers eye light up when they see sun filled houses.

Environmental Psychology (the use of space)

Architects are continually applying what they learn in commercial architecture to residential design. With each project the clients, needs, objectives and desires differ, so is it possible to create the “perfect” space?

The truth is that creating the “perfect” space is an impossible, and subjective,  balancing act between form and function. This is made harder by the fact that architects do not have the luxury of creating a prototype outside of computer or physical models, and are restricted by laws and often tight budgets.

Essentially, the power a building has over a person is limited. It cannot change their personal needs or circumstances, and its uses are always changing. According to Dr Lucas: “Buildings are never truly ‘finished’. They require constant maintenance and occupation in order to function well.”

“The impact architecture has on a person’s mood is huge. Arguably these are the fundamentals of architecture: not how it looks, but how we feel it, through the way it allows us to act, behave, think and reflect,” says Dr Melanie Dodd, programme director of spatial practices at the Central St Martins art school. “But it’s not necessarily causative – meaning architecture may not have a direct relationship with our mood that is measurable. It may be complex, subjective and happen over time and with use.”

Dr Birgitta Gatersleben, senior lecturer in environmental psychology at Surrey university, agrees. “People perform a range of different tasks and have different needs: sometimes to be alone, sometimes to be with others. A range of spaces that offer different things works best. It all comes down to the people-environment fit.”

Perhaps a space can impact your mood based on what you make the space for, envision this. After a hard day at work you return home to your custom designed house, you collapse on your hand picked lounge sitting within your carefully planned living space. For a brief time you can lock the stress of the world outside while you enjoy the life you choose to live. Surely this space has a positive impact on your mood at this point in time, it is just what you need right now at this point in time, this is your home.

Adrian Lahoud, dean of the school of architecture at the Royal College of Art, has perhaps the most frank assessment of the impact spaces have on the individuals using them. “Does architecture matter? Absolutely. Can it insulate people from the political circumstances around them? No.”  Encapsulating the architect’s unenviably difficult tasks, he adds: “To be a good architect, you need to have a deep appreciation of human character and its capacity for transformation.”

Which living room suits your lifestyle better?

Designed for family

Built to enjoy the view

Comfortable space bringing the outside greenery inside.

Can ceiling height effect the way we think?

Back in 2007, Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote a paper that found that an individual’s thoughts and actions were affected by the height of the ceiling:

“When a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly. They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics.”

Meyers-Levy was quick to point out that there are good reasons for a low-ceiling height; like in an operating room where you want the surgeon to “focus on specifics.”

Higher ceilings improve creativity

Lower ceilings help you focus on detail

Your window view, what impact does what you see have?

It is not uncommon for a house to include as much of the surrounding environment to be viewed from your windows. Why is this important?

It would be easy to assume that if you had a window that looked out at trees, fields, the ocean etc., that you would be more distracted than if you had no view. But quite the opposite is true, a study by an environmental psychologist found that views of natural settings actually improve focus.

Other studies along the same lines have even found that children with ADD are more focused after being able to observe “green space.” This would explain why schools have much larger windows and encourage more outdoor activities for studying.

What implications are there for the home or apartment set in an urban setting, where you only option is an urban view?

While people already have a tendency to feel relaxed / rejuvenated by nature, psychologist Stephen Kaplan proposed that urban settings are too stimulating and that paying attention to them requires more work than a view of nature.

We can counteract this over-stimulation, by adding greenery to our windows and our decks, or living in a building that has a rooftop garden, so that, even for a moment, we can focus on nature and forget the bustle of the city below.

Views of nature help improve focus

Views of urban landscapes can be too stimulating

We couldn’t have an article about moods without talking about colour, and how it impacts our moods.

Every architect and interior designer knows that the colour of a room can affect your mood. Restaurant owners choose colours and designs that either encourage customers to stay and enjoy the evening (soft cushions, low light), or to eat quickly and move on so that they can seat more customers (bright colours, hard seats).

We could talk about colours for hours, but for the sake of a more condensed article, lets get straight to what impact certain colours have on mood.

Blue

Blue brings a calming feeling of serenity and is great for bathrooms or living rooms. But dark blue can evoke feelings of sadness, so refrain from using it as a main colour in a room.

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Yellow

Yellow is a “happy” colour that lightens your mood and can help you feel more carefree. It is a great colour for kitchens, where many people start their day, and is one of the most used rooms in the house. Apparently when it comes to colour we should stay away from red, orange, and browns in the kitchen which evoke feelings of hunger. I’m amazed we didn’t have more over weight people in the 1970’s if this is true.

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Red

Red is the colour of passion, and can evoke intense feelings like love or anger. Red is used best as an accent colour to your room not a dominant colour, as it could promote restlessness.

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Orange

Orange encourages an enthusiastic mood, which would make it a great colour for a games room or children’s area. But it is a colour not recommended for a baby’s room where it would be too stimulating.

It is also a good colour to stimulate your appetite which has it uses in the kitchen.

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Green

Green and all of its accent varieties is renowned as the colour to relieve stress. Having this quality means it is suitable in just about any room in the house. Green clearly is linked to nature so using green helps engage the outdoors.

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Purple

Purple is a polarising colour, you either like it or you don’t. When it comes to the mood it can provoke it is known as the passionate colour.  The darker the shade, the more passionate you feel. It is also associated with luxury and royalty. If used as an accent, it can bring warmth and depth into a room.

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Black

Black is a harsh and very powerful colour and should be used in moderation, while it is considered to be a stylish colour it requires a keen eye to make sure it does not overwhelm a room. We more commonly see tints of black which vary from light to dark greys used as feature walls.

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White

White is the most popular colour used across all interior design through out the world. It conveys cleanliness, pristine, clarity, airy and bright positive overtures, but too much does make some people feel like the space is cold, sterile and clinical.

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