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From furniture selection to accessorising, floor finishes to wall finishes and everything in between, does our choice of décor have an impact on our mood, and how?

We’re all guilty of ‘judging a book by its cover,’ however research shows this may not be a bad thing. “First impressions are the fundamental drivers of our relationships,” says Professor Frank Bernieri. But is this the same for the spaces surrounding us? Many of us are probably aware of certain elements of design which will have an impact on our mood, for example colour is a topic largely discussed when it comes to how interior design affects our mood. Neutral colour palettes will induce calmer moods whilst opting for a hot pink may not have such a relaxing feel. Focussing on lighting a space is another element of design which a lot of people rely on when considering how interior design affects our mood. However how do these aspects to a space really play on our senses to ultimately affect how we’re feeling?

Let’s take a look…  

  • Sight

So this one might be a little obvious, given how we mentioned our ability to judge first impressions quickly, to delve a little deeper this is often referred to as ‘Thin-slicing,’ which can be defined as ‘when you make judgements about something or someone in as little as five seconds.’ Research has actually shown that your first impressions when meeting someone new or even trying a new product are often the most reliable as oppose to impressions given after a long period of time. Therefore, first impressions of a space are pivotal to how a user feels about their surroundings. This can be applied to design, through the use of feature pieces, for example when entering a hotel lobby, the space is often designed to draw our eye to a certain aspect, this is quite often the reception desk, as this is the first port of call when arriving somewhere new and having to check in. Artwork and sculptures can be another example; this is often unique to the hotel and can really help tell users the story behind the brand and atmosphere which is being aimed for.

Photography: KlunderBie

  • Hearing

Hearing is maybe one thing which we take for granted in public spaces and may not associate with how interior design affects our mood. However, if we were to sit in a deadly silent restaurant, we would almost definitely feel there was a lack of atmosphere. This subtle element can have prominent influence over how a user feels. Let’s look at how this can be used in other public spaces; again when arriving at a hotel, you have most probably had to travel quite a journey to reach your destination and therefore want to feel relaxed when you finally arrive, whether for business or pleasure, encouraging a calm environment when guests arrive at a hotel is one thing that tends to be universal across the hotel industry. Sound can be a subtle way of making a guest’s stay more memorable, as whether consciously or subconsciously we are always listening to what’s around us. Therefore, incorporating ways to tune into our hearing sense whether that be through background music in the lift to avoid awkward silences, or atmospheric music in the bar to lift spirits and meditative music in a spa area where guests will want to chill. Ultimately, the more engaged users feel while using a space the more likely they are to want to return.  

  • Smell

Lavender and sleep, coffee and alertness or cherry blossom and summer… Smell is considered our most emotional sense, with the power to trigger memories. A bad smell really can result in our bad mood. There is scent everywhere… and it is increasingly being used as a marketing tool for business, in order to entice people and then get them to stay in a space longer. However scent is a very subjective sense, therefore choosing wisely especially when scenting a public space is recommended. Fragrances of cologne can be considered overpowering, and probably not what you’d expect to experience in a restaurant, where you want to be able to taste your food, as oppose to lynx Africa…

“The quickest way to change somebody’s mood or behaviour is with smell,” says Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. This can of course be positive or negative. People also ‘like to see where the scent is coming from,’ Hirsch says, meaning if we were to see a floral display in a hotel lounge or restaurant, we would expect to smell a floral scent, we wouldn’t expect to smell say baking, we consider it an injustice when we are surrounded by scent which misleads us, which could result in a negative memory being triggered for that particular space.

Photography: Cándida Wohlgemuth

  • Taste

Now this one could appear tricky to incorporate into interior design, given that it’s not often that we can physically taste interiors… Not that I know of anyway. But we can actually have an effect on our taste buds depending on what’s around us. For example, ever noticed that seafood restaurants tend to be blue? Pink colour schemes often represent dessert cafes as pink is seen as fun. “Colour affects the appetite, in essence, the taste of food.” It is not uncommon for the colours of food being served to be incorporated within the colour schemes of restaurants, with a special emphasis on lighting. Just because the walls are blue doesn’t mean blue light should be used, this will result in food looking rather unappetising.

Food and taste can be an easy way of promoting good mood by helping users feel relaxed and adding a more thoughtful touch to interiors, such as leaving lemon or cucumber water out in a space, encourages health and well-being, and is something people will appreciate.  

Photography: Ivar Kvaal courtesy of Snøhetta

  • Touch

Designers as a whole tend to be focussed on using an array of textures whether that be graphic designers layering up in photoshop, architects using various types of cladding on the exterior of a building, or interior designers and their use of fabrics. But touch doesn’t just have to end with fabrics, pretty cushions and nice curtains. Touch can optimise our comfort within a space, but not just through soft furnishings, through the use of layering textures, including fabrics and hard finishes too, which really helps define the details within a space.

Did you think we were finishing there? When we talk about human senses, we traditionally assume that there are exactly five senses — sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. However, there is no universal agreement as to how many senses we actually have. So, I’ve looked into a couple of extras, to really get to the bottom of how interior design affects mood…

For more info on how many senses we think we have vs how many we actually may have click here

Photography: KlunderBie

  • Balance

Balance is a word we hear thrown around a lot in today’s society, balanced diet, balanced work and home life. Balance also plays a vital role in Interior Design, and the symmetry of a space can have a huge impact on our psyche.

Our brains process information as a whole before our eyes delve into the smaller individual details, therefore a room with symmetry requires less processing by our brain than a room which seems off-balance and all over the place, resulting in us being drawn to symmetrical rooms and viewing them as much more aesthetically pleasing.

There are two main types of symmetry within design;

Symmetrical balance; can be thought of as a mirror image, so the layout of a room would be 50/50 on each side of a central composition.

Asymmetrical balance; gives a sense of balance on both sides, even though not identical. Although our brains are programmed to enjoy symmetry, asymmetry can help us stay interested in our surroundings, and also gives a more relaxed atmosphere. A hotel lobby could be viewed as too ridged and guests may feel like they cannot use the space properly if this is the case. Click here to read more on types on symmetry in design.

Photography: Cándida Wohlgemuth

  • Pain

This may be going a little too far out of the box, as I’m yet to experience an interior which causes me physical pain. I have chosen to look at this ‘sense,’ further after reading Nir Eyals ‘Indistractable’ in which he states ‘The root cause of human behaviour is the desire to escape discomfort. Even when we think we are seeking pleasure; we’re actually driven by the desire to free ourselves from the pain of wanting.’ I feel this can be applied to how interior design affects mood by looking at how design influences you to stay in a certain place, and ultimately make you feel good. Restaurants often make the bar area look the most enticing, this encourages guests to revert back to the bar after their meal and stay there for more drinks / socialising. The use of accessories and artwork can also distract from other aspects of a space such as the flooring, it’s unlikely you will notice the floor could do with a facelift if you’re looking at a stunning sculpture or work of art.

Photography: Jaime Navarro

  • Position

Position or proprioception can be defined as ‘perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body.’ Which you may be thinking has little to do with how interior design affects mood, however designers have a way of making us move in certain ways through spaces how they want us too. Take a look at the image below which details three different paths for three different users of the same space;

Penda Architects – Magic Breeze Landscape

Proprioception allows us to be aware of our body within a space, and the position we are in… which ultimately is fundamental to interior design. It’s knowing what type of floor your feet are stood on, without looking, it’s these subtle but vital aspects to interior design which make all the difference. I think you’d notice if you were suddenly walking on grass inside a restaurant, however interior design allows your proprioception to flow harmoniously by ensuring finishes such as flooring can be noticed subconsciously and instead allows you to focus on features of the space which you are in.

I think it’s clear to see that interior design has a huge impact on our mood and our senses (even the ones a lot of us didn’t realise we had!) Whether in your home or the next time you’re in a public space (hopefully soon) try and notice how the design has impacted your mood. Even in your own home, the use of applying asymmetry into your living room or adding textures to boost create more of a sense of touch, will not only enhance your living space but also the atmosphere and essentially your mood.

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