May 18, 2022

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Making living better

5 ways design can affect your mood and mental well-being | Home & Garden

7 min read

There’s a scene in the new season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” in which Midge, the title comedienne, shows off her newly purchased, freshly decorated apartment — the one she once shared with her now ex-husband.

“Old place, new life … new vistas,” Midge tells her friend Imogene, who stares, wide-eyed, at a bed positioned diagonally in the middle of the master.

“He dumped me here. He stood right there. I stood here,” Midge says. “Now it’s all different because where he stood when he dumped me is now where the dresser is. And where I stood when he dumped me is where part of the bed is, which is a great comfort to me. So what do you think?”

Imogene barely blinks and replies: “I think you should put it all back the way it was, because this is clinically insane.”

OK, so maybe Midge wasn’t exactly a poster child for environmental psychology. But she was aware that aspects of design can not only reflect but also affect one’s mood and mental well-being.

The impact of decisions like furniture layout, color, pattern and lighting are detailed in “Designology” by Sally Augustin, an Illinois-based environmental psychologist who has worked with clients like retailers to help encourage sales and health care facilities to help encourage healing.

Her book was published in 2019. It has since drawn a lot of attention.

“People were looking for something,” Augustin says. “Being confined to the home made people think about the place in which they were in a whole new way. There was no real escape.”

Interior designers can have a big impact on emotions. So can architects who get involved before any upholstery choices come into play.

Peter Kerekgyarto is a Lancaster-based architect and partner with Beers + Hoffman. He’s also an auto racing enthusiast. Back in his architectural student days at Penn State University, he designed for his thesis an auto resort that would make people who were standing still feel as if they were racing through the middle of a town.

The mind responds to curves and lines and the implications are real, Kerekgyarto says. At the top of his LinkedIn profile he states: “Architecture is a curious profession, in a way. Most architects have a deep-seated desire to create a building that is so extraordinary that it just cannot be ignored. Yet, the very nature of being ‘extraordinary’ can make a structure impractical for the people that inhabit it.”

He strives to balance art with science and says the pandemic has in some ways brought to the forefront the need to do so.

“With that came a realization about just how much our built environment — the lighting, the air quality and the physical literal space that we have or do not have surrounding us — plays a role in our mental and physical health,” Kerekgyarto says.

Here are a few pro tips when it comes to how design can impact our emotions.

Patterns

In her book, Augustin says people generally feel relaxed by patterns with curves and energized by patterns that have straight lines or pointy features.

People tend to respond better to straight lines than diagonals, she writes. When diagonals are used, they can have different impacts based on which way the lines are going.

Ascending diagonal lines (which start in the lower left and move upward to the right) are linked with high activity levels and would work best in an exercise area, she writes. Conversely, our minds associate descending lines with relaxation and would be better in a meditation space, she suggests.

Biophilia

“ ‘Biophilia’ is kind of a buzzword at the moment in the design world,” Kerekgyarto says.

Merriam-Webster defines that as “a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature: a desire or tendency to commune with nature.”

The term may be new on some radars but it’s not reinventing the wheel, he says.

“Not too many earth-shattering concepts there. These are things like introducing daylight and plants within spaces. Incorporating green walls,” he says. “A lot of the principles and strategies that were in place in the ’60s and ’70s are resurging in some ways.”

That jives with what they’re tracking at York-based York Wallcoverings, which bills itself as the oldest and largest wallcovering producer in the United States.

“(We see) earth tones and organic greens trending because of our passion for naturals and biophilic design,” says Carol Miller, marketing manager.

“This leads us to concepts based upon new organics such as things within the earth: root systems, branches, dried grasses, mushrooms, minerals, stone and geodes,” Miller says. “Deep forest colors are in play such as deep green, brown, vegetable colors such as beet and carrot.”

Colors

Miller says that also trending on the color front are bold, clean colors that “reflect societal changes” and “a world emerging from COVID.”

Augustin is on board with some but not all of the colors some paint companies picked for the 2022 color of the year. “Breezeway” — a shade of green from Behr — is described by that company as “the physical passageway to spiritual reemergence.”

Pantone’s showcase 2022 color is “Very Peri” a periwinkle purple shade with red undertones.

“Some of the colors of the year have been, shall we say, not right from an environmental psych perspective,” Augustin says. “Purple is actually a pretty energizing color to look at, which is probably inconsistent with the tone of a country that’s been trying to keep itself calm, keep its blood pressure from shooting through the roof.”

Gray continues to dominate many Lancaster County real estate listings. Augustin’s take on gray is that it can be boring and opens the potential for minds to drift to unpleasant thoughts.

Some grays are actually variations of other colors, Augustin notes.

“But a very gray gray — that doesn’t have any appreciable pigment of other hues — is a missed opportunity,” Augustin says. “Muted blues and muted greens can be very relaxing in homes and also send other messages or have other values.”

Looking at greens has been shown to boost creative performance, she says.

“Using the right green could put you in the right mood to do knowledge-type work and also boost your creativity,” she says. “So if you’ve painted your home office a gray, it’s really too bad.”

She suggests in her book to use colors opposite of each other on the color wheel when you want to add energy to a room. Augustin also notes that people feel most comfortable when the darkest colors are lowest in the room — under feet — and the lighter colors are up high.

As with all design choices, the science speaks to things that will come into play for folks in general, she notes. But individual experiences can outweigh those in a heartbeat, she says.

“For example, there’s this shade of blue green that actually could be lovely in terms of mood created in certain situations,” she says. “But I personally wouldn’t use it in a space I’m going to be living in because it’s the color of this foul-tasting medicine that I used to have to take when I was a kid.”

Space

Perspective is one of the reasons architects will, for example, position hallways a certain way in, say, schools or senior living facilities, Kerekgyarto says.

“The length of a space and the proportions that you feel should be considered,” he says. “The long skinny corridor that seems like it’s never going to end is not necessarily going to make somebody feel comfortable.

“But you can do tricks with the positioning of the walls, wider and narrower, and soffits in the ceiling that go up and down,” he says. “All of these seemingly minor efforts, collectively, can have a big impact.”

That’s also true of decisions made in individual homes, he says.

Moving walls isn’t always an option, however.

“Maybe you don’t have the floor plan that is ideal for you based on who you are as a person,” Augustin says. “But you can — at least to a certain extent — compensate for that by making sure the smells you are smelling are relaxing in places where you want to feel comfortable or that would support your professional performance in your office.”

Think also about the acoustic experience, she says. Consider how feet are going to sound walking on any surface you choose, she says.

“And fine tune that for what you are and what makes you feel good,” she says.

Lighting

Augustin writes in her book that warm light bulbs (with a value of about 2,700 on the Kelvin color-temperature scale) are best for relaxing, creative thinking and getting along with others. Cool light bulbs (with a value of 4,000 K or higher) are better for alertness, concentrating and analytical thinking, she writes.

Some personality types might do better with a single blanket of light from overhead fixtures, Augustin says. But many respond better to light when it’s broken up by lamps, to create a dappled look reminiscent of light coming through leaves in the forest. Experiment to gauge your response, she says.

Also, night lights should be red or amber color as those are less disruptive to sleep, she says.

“If there’s one tip I could give people, it’s pull back the drapes,” Augustin says. “Let as much natural light flow into your home as possible. Natural light is like a magic medicine for us.”

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