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Peace of Mind: A Design Psychologist Gives Tips on Making a Happier Home

03/09/2017 Kristin Demshki


Should you paint your bedroom red or blue? Ask a design psychologist. Since the 1960s, environmental or design psychologists have studied how our physical surroundings affect our well-being, from healthcare to the workplace. While we all respond as individuals, our emotions can be influenced by colors, shapes, textures and more.

We spoke with environmental/design psychologist Sally Augustin to discover suggestions for creating a house that feels like a home.

1. In your living room, create a focal point, both for aesthetics and social interaction. "People tend to arrange furniture and furnishings so it's hard for people to break eye contact without seeming rude," Augustin says, although we need to so do for interpersonal comfort. When organizing the living room, offer rest for the eyes with a piece of art, a flower arrangement or even a fish tank. Or position furniture so it's easy for guests to look out the window.

2. Seek curves when shopping for sofas, chairs and side-tables. "Spaces with curving lines are more comfortable places for us to be than those with straighter lines," she says." These lines can be in wallpaper patterns, contours of furniture and even chair legs. But seek balance. "Being in a space that's too curvy is like a Tiny Toons Cartoon, and one that's all rectilinear is like a sci-fi horror movie set," she says.

3. Less-saturated wall colors containing light paint create a relaxed, positive mood, she says. A lighter color on room walls also helps the space seem larger than it is.

4. In the bedroom, consider a hue of blue. "A dusty blue or blue-grey can signal sleep and rest," Augustin says. Once again, look to curving lines for your bed, side-tables and window dressing to enhance calmness. Try to orient the bed to minimize light coming in from windows, and try to hide anything that indicates tomorrow's to-do list, such as an overflowing laundry hamper or a laptop computer.

5. The dining room might seem ripe for heightened liveliness. But it's a location where people gather, which naturally amps up interpersonal energy, Augustin says. Keeping the family peace may be as simple as a trip to the store for dining-room chair cushions. "Research shows you're a more relaxed negotiator when not sitting on a hard seat," Augustin says. "You want people to hang out. Soft seating makes us less vigorous bargainers, and more likely to compromise."

6. Save vivid colors — saturated colors that aren't too light — for active spaces like laundry or exercise rooms, she says. Even the kitchen can be a natural fit for a bright spot of color, if it's primarily used for cooking versus relaxing with friends. Painting a dining nook warm colors (red, orange, yellow) tends to stimulate the appetite. "If your family is always on a diet, choose a cooler color," Augustin says.

7. Even texture can signal a welcoming home. "We're more comfortable in spaces featuring soft textures, like flannel," Augustin says. Knits, sheepskin and other soft, natural textures increase the cozy quotient.

8. Of course, each individual reacts to his or her environment, a paint color or piece of furnishing differently. Respect your reactions. And those you share a home with. Avocado-green may have connotations for the Baby Boom and early Gen-X generations (who remember refrigerators in that shade) that are absent for younger people, for example.

As a child, Augustin had to drink a vile blue-green medicine. No matter how popular the blue-green shade becomes in interior design, "it will never lose that association," she says, wryly.

To create a truly unique, tranquil environment that feels relaxed and ready, observe your family's responses and feelings to colors, patterns, textures, shapes and layout. As a result, you'll always feel at home.

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