Have you ever walked into a friend’s house and thought it had a really nice, comforting feel? Or alternatively, walked into a house and thought, “Oh, there’s something not quite right about this space, I couldn’t live in it, it’s unsettling?” Of course, there may be several explanations for this. The first house might be decorated in a soothing colour palette, or there might be a scent that’s evocative to you of a happy memory. The second house might be decorated in colours you find jangling, or there might insufficient light or an unpleasant smell.
There might be something more fundamental at work, though. Recently, scientists have been studying the relationship between our environment and the effect it has on our brains, and have come up with the term ‘neuroarchitecture’. It’s been in use for a while when designing commercial buildings such as hospitals and offices, to help create a soothing environment. Now, though, designers are starting to apply it to a domestic setting. Although we’ve always known that certain buildings can create a certain response (think about walking into a cathedral, for example), now scientists have access to virtual reality modelling and a complex set of tools for measuring responses, which has enabled them to refine their results.
When you walk into a new room for the first time, your brain immediately runs an assessment and builds a ‘cognitive map’. This will include various factors – for example, you might subconsciously note the lack of windows and find it threatening. These signals will be passed along to your body and you’ll start to react physically by relaxing or becoming on edge.
As we spend so much time in our homes, architects and designers agree that we need to create spaces that make us feel relaxed. If you’d like to think about applying the techniques to your own home, here’s what you need to think about.
Light and smell both have a huge impact on environment. While we all need ‘task lighting’ in some rooms in our home so we can actually see what we’re doing, bright, harsh lighting that’s on all the time can be detrimental to your mood. Combat this by fitting dimmer switches, so that you have control over the level of light. It’s also important to switch televisions and other electronic devices in the bedroom off while you’re sleeping, or they can emit low-level blue light which can interfere with sleep patterns. Scent is also important, and while we all have our own ‘feel good’ scents tied to individual memories, as a general rule citrus and floral scents are mood enhancers. Houseplants are a good idea as well, as they help to keep the air in a room clean. If you can find a scented indoor plant such as flowering jasmine, you can kill two birds with one stone!
You can help alleviate daily stress by being organised and having sufficient storage available in your home and being organised. Throughout the day, we make thousands of tiny decisions as well as the bigger, conscious ones. While you’re at work and your conscious mind is trying to decide on selecting a new third party supplier, your subconscious mind is looking around for a pen. It’s the same at home – if things aren’t where you unconsciously expect them to be, then the decision of where to find them has to be made by your conscious mind instead. Being organised makes for a more soothing environment.
Everyone has their own response to environment, but as a general guideline factors such as texture, symmetry and curved surfaces rather than sharp ones tend to contribute to a soothing space.
The more time you spend in your environment the more it becomes familiar to you, so changing an element every so often can help keep your responses fresh. Altering the colour of a wall, recovering a chair or hanging some new blinds can transform the way you see a room.
If you’re planning to make some alterations to your home, it’s worth spending some time thinking about what really makes you personally feel happy and relaxing, and then thinking about how you can apply it in terms of scent, colour, light and furnishings – apparently, your brain will thank you for it!
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