Home should be a sanctuary; our escape from the pressure and chaos of the outside world. Modern life is often hectic and stressful and this impacts our wellbeing. In fact, the World Health Organisation have recorded a 13% rise in mental health conditions over the last decade.
So how can we use interior design to improve and support our mental health? Well, we have 10 suggestions for you to think about. Let’s get started…
How can we use interior design to improve mental health & wellbeing?
1. A warm welcome
“Doorways and openings are symbolic structures that have great significance in our daily lives. Moving through difficulties or challenges, entering into new spaces and opportunities, leaving sadness, loss, a broken heart – doors and openings provide the transition point to change.” – Psychology Centre
With this in mind, think about how you feel when you enter your home. Give yourself (and your visitors) a warm welcome by considering your home’s kerb appeal, door and entry/hallway. What can you do to improve this area? Consider more storage to reduce clutter, add plants, or even repaint your door in a colour that lifts your spirits.
Your front door provides a clear separation of public and private life. Therefore the transition of coming into your home should immediately reduce your anxiety levels.
2. Create a sanctuary
Lily Bernheimer, environmental psychologist and author of The Shaping of Us: How Everyday Spaces Structure Our Lives, Behaviour, and Well-Being explains that when we draw a simple house, the “pitched roof symbolises shelter and enclosure, which we need to make ourselves feel secure. Each individual’s home needs to feel like a place of refuge from the rest of the world.” – House & Garden
It’s certainly true that we all seek comfort from our home environment. It is the place where we should feel most at ease and content. In winter we want to escape the cold weather and enjoy the cosiness of home. Some simple ways to do this might be to add soft furnishings that give us a sense of cosseting and cocooning, especially in the lounge and bedroom. Certain scents can evoke feelings of comfort, or trigger wonderful memories. Perhaps you could use scented candles, diffusers, linen sprays or fresh flowers to introduce this positive sensory input.
3. Let your senses guide you
“Neuroaesthetics is the concept of how the brain and the interior or environment intersect and the role of how art and nature affect our well-being, mental health and influence our emotions” – Stephanie Nickolson
What is it that makes you feel at home? This is of course subjective and will vary from person to person. Pay attention to how different patterns, textures and shapes make you feel. Do some help you to relax, feel more grounded or confident? Find those that bring you a sense of wellbeing, security or serenity. Visiting museums and art galleries can be a fun way to explore your own response to different aesthetic stimuli.
As always with interior design (and in life!), balance is important. Think about where you want the focal point of your room to be and frame that with furniture, objects or artwork. Consider using symmetry or asymmetry to draw the eye. Think about the scale and proportions of your space and the items within it. Do these work together to create a sense of balance? Find out more about symmetrical design cues here.
4. Get lit for improved mental health
We all know that sunlight is a natural mood-booster (and a lack of sunlight can contribute to depression). Simply cleaning your windows regularly and trimming overhanging foliage outside can allow the maximum amount of natural light into your home, thus helping you to feel calmer and more focused. Likewise, lighter walls and large mirrors can help to bounce this natural light around. If you work from home, make sure that your desk or table is close to a window or skylight. Enjoy breakfast in daylight for the best possible start to the day.
Conversely, it’s important to be able to block out daylight sometimes. For good mental health, proper sleep is crucial, so bedroom blackout blinds or curtains are worth investing in. A darker environment in the evening can help signal your body to get ready for sleep and give a sense of cosiness or intimacy. The key here is having a home where you can control the amount of light available, giving you lots of possible lighting combinations and options to compliment your mood and circumstances. You might therefore add table table lamps and install dimmer switches for more control.
5. Evaluate colour
As with pattern, texture and shape, colour plays a central role in how a room makes us feel. Choosing colours for your home and getting the balance right can be tricky. However, it’s worth knowing that most of us find cooler colours (blue, green, purple) to be soothing, while warmer colours (yellow, orange, red) tend to be more stimulating. Blue in particular “has been shown to slow down a person’s metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure, which will have a calming effect on your mind and body.” – Marie Feltz
Muted, natural colours work well with biophilic design (see no.8) and can make your home seem more spacious and calm.
Colour choice is extremely personal, so have fun with it! Experiment with different shades. If there’s a colour that makes your heart sing, but you don’t want to put it on your walls (for me, it’s magenta), try including this as an accent colour and find a peaceful, complementary hue for your main colour. Learn more about colour theory and how to use a colour wheel here.
6. Be true to yourself
Does your home allow you to feel like yourself? The space where you live should be a reflection of YOU, your interests, personality and experiences. That’s really what we mean by the term ‘feeling at home’. Are you comfortable and safe? Designing your home interior is a way to confidently express who you are. It’s a way of feeling in control of your own environment.
One way to do this is to choose and invest in items that you love, be that furniture, books, objects or artwork. These pieces will not only make you feel good whenever you look at them, they will also mirror your personality, giving your home a true sense of self. Spend time thinking about what inspires and uplifts you. Frame a quote that motivates you, or a picture of someone you admire. Perhaps there is a movie that influenced your life? See if you can source a billboard poster or print. Likewise, images of family and friends will remind you of those who love you and the support network that you have in place.
7. Get together, or spend time apart
In any home, it’s important to have areas for both being sociable and being solitary. Make sure you have enough space and seating for family and friends to feel welcome and comfortable. Is there a dedicated area for entertaining? Perhaps you would like to invest in a folding table for dinner parties, board gaming or poker nights.
Just as important, is a space to unwind and be alone. As an introvert, I find that I need to carve out regular time alone, otherwise my mental health suffers. I love Jen Stanbrook’s suggestion of a wellbeing corner. It’s a quiet space, with a comfy chair that is simply for relaxing in peace. You might choose to meditate here, practice mindfulness, enjoy a cuppa, or read a book.
8. Give yourself a natural boost
Biophilic design takes inspiration from nature to create spaces that make us feel comfortable and at ease. A home that has been designed with this in mind, celebrates and enhances our connection to the natural environment.
“Anything natural will make your space more conducive to mental health — whether it’s wooden flooring, a bowl of fruit or even a tiny rock garden.” – Lily Bernheimer
Plants elevate mood, promote healing, reduce stress and improve concentration (Forbes), so include plenty in your home. And if you’re a terrible plant parent (guilty!), invest in artificial plants, which have been shown to provide many of the same psychological benefits.
Other elements include using natural materials in your home, or incorporating pieces of driftwood, shells, pebbles, feathers and fresh or dried flowers. Fire is another natural element that you might not have considered. Even if you don’t have a fireplace, a simple candle flame can be very calming. In fact, candle-gazing, a form of meditation, has been shown to have many health benefits, including reducing anxiety and improving eyesight (Holistic Life Hub).
9. Clear the clutter
Clutter can trigger stress and anxiety in many of us and can even adversely affect our eating habits, encouraging unhealthy food choices (Men’s Health). Therefore, a clean and tidy home can help support our mental health and wellbeing. Clear surfaces and floors will help you feel more in control and at ease. A fresh and ordered home promotes emotional stability.
“Clean, open homes with minimal clutter facilitate better moods.” – Heritage Design Interiors
Minimalism is choosing to live with only the things you need, allowing you to focus on what is most important to you (personal relationships, interests, projects, study etc). It is about embracing simplicity. While minimalism doesn’t suit everyone, every home can benefit from regular decluttering and organisation. In fact, decluttering and organising your home is itself a therapeutic process which empowers you to intentionally choose exactly what you have in your home.
“Once your home is decluttered, you start to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the aesthetics that are in place. It puts a greater emphasis on what is there, rather than what isn’t, creating a calming and peaceful space.” – LOFT
Find out more about how to declutter your home for a happier life in this article.
10. Positively practical interior design
Your home should be a practical space that works for you and your family.
“It is important to think strategically about how space is used every day and how you want the space to feel.” – Haute Residence
Consider then, how you use your home. Are there areas for everyone to enjoy their hobbies? Can you designate separate spaces for adults and children to enjoy? Think about privacy, especially if you have young adults living at home.
Do you have a room that just doesn’t work for you? Perhaps it feels cramped or difficult to navigate. If so, experiment with the layout. Try repositioning the furniture to improve the flow of the room.
Communal spaces such as lounges and kitchens should feel inclusive. Proper seating choice and positioning will encourage your family and guests to talk to each other, connect and form bonds. This kind of social support and integration is crucial for improving and maintaining mental health (VeryWellMind).
So there you have it, ten ways interior design can improve mental health & wellbeing. And if you’re looking for further information, we’ve linked to some of our favourite articles below, along with trusted mental health resources.
More ways interior design can improve mental health & wellbeing
Firstly, take a look at our Pinterest board of interior design for mental health.
Secondly, find out how to create a stress-free sanctuary at home.
Thirdly, read our tips on how to make your home feel super cosy.
Find out more about biophilic interior design.
Finally, of course, you can find lots more tips, trends and inspiration for interiors here.
Mental health & wellbeing support services
1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. If you’re struggling with your mental health, know that you are not alone.
These resources offer help and support: