The Psychology of Interior Design

July 16, 2012. Contributed by Paula Grace Halewski. 

Have you ever felt dissatisfied with the way your home looks or feels, without quite knowing why?

You look around and it seems like you’re stuck in the past. Your house doesn’t reflect who you are. It just doesn’t suit you the way you wish it would. Ever wonder how you fell into this rut in the first place – and more importantly, how you can pull yourself out?

Here’s my belief about a home. A home should be a place where you feel at peace, where you function effortlessly. It should portray who you are today, remind you of happy times from the past, and provide fertile ground for you to create new memories. A home should be a place you look forward to coming back to at the end of a long day. It should feel completely your own, and be tailored to your specific needs and style. Your sense of self should envelop you from the moment you walk in the front door.

If what I’ve just described doesn’t match the way you feel about your home, then you deserve better. If you’re in a design rut, first ask yourself, how did you get there? It could be because you haven’t had sufficient time to focus on your home. Frankly, a lot of people don’t. Maybe you simply don’t know how. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t know how to program computers. Why would I? I never went to school for it. I use AutoCAD but I have no idea how AutoCAD came to exist. No one would ever ask me to program computers. Design their homes, yes; program computers, no. So why should you expect to be an expert in design? Why put that pressure on yourself? You wouldn’t do that at work, would you? If you had a critically important job to tackle – one that fell outside your area of expertise – wouldn’t you be more likely to enlist the help of someone with the necessary knowledge, either a colleague or an outside consultant?

You might also find yourself in a design rut because, without realizing it, you’ve fallen into the trap of decorating with familiarity. What does that mean? Well, as I’ve said, a home should be a place of comfort. But what is “familiar” will not always bring us true “comfort” in our homes. Let me explain: often we pull from our past what is comforting. We emulate the familiar home(s) of our childhood, where we felt comfortable and safe. As an adult, when you walk into a store faced with many choices, ideas, colors, patterns, styles, it can be uncomfortable if not overwhelming. So what happens? You see something. You’re drawn to it. You love it. “This is it!,” you think, “I found it!” You buy it. It’s delivered and set up in your home. You look at it. It wasn’t what you expected. It’s boring. It looks fuddy duddy. You hate it. But how can that be when you thought it looked so right in the showroom? Perhaps because the piece looks like it could have come right out of your parents’ home, which may be comforting, but doesn’t reflect all that you have done in your life. In order to achieve true comfort in your home, you need a design that reflects who and what you are today – all that you have accomplished, all that you have learned, all that you have felt and seen.

At the same time, however, if you focus solely on who you are now and abandon where you came from or where you are going, you’ll also miss something essential. Take, for example, when you move from one house to another. When you move, you’re beginning your future. But when you first arrive, it feels strange. As you unpack belongings from your past, it feels more comfortable. Your past and future may then be represented in your home, but your present isn’t. Does that mean you have to find a place for your parents’ furniture in your home? Not unless you love the style of those pieces today and they fit your current needs. Bringing the past into a design is often a more subtle process. It may in fact be private to you. Something that represents comfort from your past may be captured in your home through a piece of art or a texture or even a visual rhythm. How your past is reflected in your home today is something that need only suit you – and the other people who will be living in the home with you.

Over the years, experts have conducted numerous studies on living environments, interior design, colors, etc. This research has enlightened my profession enormously, but it is not infallible. For instance, you may have read before about the ‘meaning’ of color. You may well have learned that purple has been associated with royalty; but then again, so has orange. You may have heard that yellow has been associated with feeling happy; but it’s also true that more marital fights happen in yellow kitchens than in kitchens of any other color. Don’t get me wrong, research is valuable. It’s just that so often research findings focus out of necessity on generalizations; they say that for a majority of the population, these conclusions may apply.

Here’s the thing, you are not the majority of the population. You are you. Such generalizations may be a good place to start, but they’re rarely the best place to end. When ‘research’ is conducted as a part of the process of designing your home, you should be the subject. Yellow may be a happy color for ‘most people,’ but if you have a negative association to yellow, then it is not a happy color for you. And that’s all that matters.

Where is all this leading? The psychology of design is very simple. It is based solely on the psychological make-up and welfare of the people living in the home; who the design is for. Where you came from, who you are now, where you see yourself in the future. The bottom line: exceptional interior design must be, by definition, intensely personal. After all, it’s your life and your home. You deserve a design that’s perfectly suited to you.

Paula Grace Halewski is President & Principal Designer of Paula Grace Designs, Inc.

One Response to The Psychology of Interior Design

  1. Pingback: Article Love *The Psychology of Interior Design | House of Allure

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