The Psychology of Decorating: 5 Ways We Experience a Room
The positive or negative response we get upon entering a room is nearly instantaneous. We don’t need to carefully examine each corner, or walk around turning over every pillow to decide if a room makes us feel good or not. But, what is it that gives us such a strong first impression? Many of the ways we experience a room have to do with a psychological response that happens behind the scenes. This is why most homebuyers end up choosing a house based on the emotional response they get within moments of entering a home — not the detailed list of pros and cons they’ve made!
There are many different factors that go into how we experience a room, and in fact, many of the principles of feng shui are based on the intangible influences of design. Here are five different ways we shape our impression of a room:
Through the Senses
How we perceive a room with our senses tells us what we know to be true about the room, and provides a way of describing it. Through our sense of sight we can experience colors, each of which will elicit a different impression. Our eyes also pick up on important details such as patterns, scale and lighting.
Our sense of smell is the most tied to memory, so a pleasant one will connect us with memories that inspire positive emotions, while a foul smell will really turn us off. Flowers, scented candles and essential oils will please our nose while mildew, garbage or cat boxes will give us a poor experience.
Textures used to decorate a room should also be taken into consideration. Materials such as silk, wood, linen or wool give satisfaction to our sense of touch.
Through Our Assumptions
We usually always have some kind of preconceived notion when it comes to interiors. This can be based on our own past experiences or what we expect from a room's design. These expectations we have conjured in our heads can greatly impact our experience. We might use our imagination as something to compare a home to, but that can either dampen our experience or make it a more positive one. By keeping a home predictable, it’ll add comfort and familiarity, but a few unexpected design elements like re-purposed antiques or unique barn door hardware can be visually appealing and interesting when used the right way.
Another way we experience a room is through our intuition, though this one can be difficult to define. An example would be walking into a room where an argument has just taken place, which will feel a little less comfortable. It can also be an area of a home that hasn’t been used in a long time, so you can imagine the stagnant or cold vibe those areas give off. If you feel like your home has any stagnant or lonely corners, you can help it by placing a plant there, keeping the door open, or making sure some natural light reaches the area.
Many feng shui tips come from following "conventional wisdom" or the things we intuitively know to be good or bad for decorating. For instance, placing a mirror directly across from your bed at night is considered bad feng shui. Intuitively we know that having a mirror across from us at night is distracting, potentially creepy, and not conducive to good sleep.
Our personal feelings greatly impact how we experience a room, and will usually take precedence over our ability to rationalize. With that in mind, there are many decorating details that can trigger subtle (or not so subtle) emotional responses.
Decorations such as art is one example. If the subject matter features a depressing scene or sad characters, then it will definitely bring down the mood of a room. If you had some cut flowers on your coffee table, but they've wilted and dried out, that’s another detail that will put a damper on someone's emotional response. It’s important to think about the kind of symbolism placed in a room and how they might influence our emotions. Other things like low or high ceilings, natural lighting (or lack thereof), and color psychology will all contribute to our emotional response.
Through Spatial Harmony
If furniture placement and scale is out of sync or doesn't make sense, it can negatively affect how we experience a room. Chairs that are placed too far away from each other make conversation difficult, while being too close together will make a room feel cramped. It's important to consider how the furniture and decorations are meant to interact with each other.
Choosing furniture to fit the size of the room is also important. Small spaces already have a negative effect on our psychology, so keep small rooms from becoming too crowded.
Furniture that is in harmony with and the right scale for the room, and a floor plan that provides a sense of fluidity will greatly improve our perception.
As you can see, there's a lot more to interior decorating than just picking the right shelf ornament. If you keep these principles in mind, guests won't be able to quite describe why they feel so good in your home.