Given the extended amount of time we’ve spent at home in recent months, there’s no denying the importance of turning your home into a personal oasis. After all, the state of our homes can directly influence the state of our minds. Dr. Toby Israel, author of Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places, used this idea as the founding principle for the field of Design Psychology, which proves a point we at House Beautiful have long thought to be true: Our visual surroundings have a profound impact on our mental health.
On a basic level, Israel says, principles of light and color affect mood: “Light colors may make a space feel more open whereas darker colors may make people feel more closed in,” she explains. “Thus, for those quarantining right now, it might seem to make sense to use lighter colors so as not to feel so confined. A TV room painted a darker color, however, may seem ‘cozier’ and thus entice us to cuddle up together.”
And while certain colors imply certain ideas (green for nature, blue for calm), Israel emphasizes that these are not universal. “For some, a light blue bedroom might have a calming effect but for others, light blue might trigger memories of a childhood bedroom during an unhappy stage of their life,” she explains. “The important thing is to become aware not only of what may look good design-wise in a space but what makes you feel good.”
As Jonathan Rachman points out, these associations can come in a variety of forms: “I am a strong believer that every color, as well as hue and temperature (as in cool vs. warm) affects us mentally as well as our mood,” he says. “We have been conditioned from early on, be it culturally and geographically, or be it other physiological factors which may influence how we perceive various colors.”
Corey Damen Jenkins has seen the importance of paint color on mental health firsthand when designing for his clients. “Years ago, I remember a new client coming to me, stating that she always felt depressed whenever she came home from work,” he tells House Beautiful. “When I visited her house for the first time, I found that everything was a shade of gray—walls, furniture, rugs, literally everything. And living in the dreary winter months of Michigan—where the sun sometimes doesn’t come out for days on end—didn’t help matters for her family. So we graduated her interiors to a vibrant color scheme of sunshine yellow, navy blue and tangerine. The results were immediate: she (and her husband!) claims that her outlook and mood drastically improved for the better. The bottom line? We are products of our environment, and the powerful impact of color and light on the human psyche should never be underestimated.”
The cleanliness (or lack thereof) of our homes is another influential element that can impact us mentally. But it’s worth nothing that although many people prefer tidy rooms over messy ones, everyone reacts differently. Dr. Israel shares that our organizational preferences have “a lot to do with personality type. ‘J’ personality types, according to psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, exhibit a need for close-ended situations. Others are happy to have things be more open-ended (“P” personality types) and function well under those circumstances.”
Jenkins prefers a clean slate, largely because the design of a room is best shown when everything is in the right place. “Erica Layne once said ‘For me, a calm house equals a calm heart equals a calm life,’ and I really agree with that statement,” the designer tells House Beautiful. “Clutter is visually overwhelming. With the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic—replete with its rippling effects on our health, social lifestyles and economy—we’ve all been coping with a lot lately. As a species, there’s a limit humans can endure without breaking. So the last thing we need to add to an already stressful situation is a messy, unkempt house! Keeping calm and collected is essential to enhancing the quality of our lives. Having an orderly home plays a large role in that,” says Jenkins.
The bottom line: Pay close attention to the things that make you happiest in your home, and the things that don’t, and design accordingly!
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