More designers turning to psychology when crafting living spaces

This article originally appeared in the Commercial Appeal on Dec. 7, 2012

Recently, interior designer Barbara Miller sat down with a client and her young daughter. The daughter’s bedroom was painted a deep, bright watermelon pink — a color she and her mom thought was cute and happy when they’d picked it for the walls.As it turned out, the girl hated it.

It was Miller’s job to explain why, and to help her clients find a better solution.

“The color was so, so deep it was agitating,” said Miller, an Oregon-based designer who’s done extensive research on the psychology behind family-friendly residential spaces. “I actually sat down with this little girl, who was 12, and explained, ‘Here’s why you don’t like it. It makes you anxious, and even when you close your eyes, you still see a reflection of this color because it’s so bold.’ “

Miller, who founded the design firm YES Spaces, lightened the walls and used the bright pink in smaller accents around the room. Now her young client has a bedroom that makes her happy.

By the same token, Memphis interior designer Jill Hertz never uses the color green in a bathroom.

“Let’s say you have a woman who uses her bathroom to put on makeup,” said Hertz, a partner in Jill Hertz Interior Design. “We’re not going to paint her bathroom green because that’s not going to make her skin look good. Also, the psychology is that if you go into your bathroom every day and it’s green, you’re going to start feeling sick because you look green.”

Color is just one aspect of design that affects not only the way the people in a home feel, but also the way they live.

In Wes and Shannon Persell’s Arlington house, the doors to all three bathrooms barely miss hitting the toilets when they’re opened and closed. In her Midtown house, Camille Gamble can’t open the corner drawer in her kitchen without first opening the oven. And in Brenda Powell’s Collierville home, one upstairs bedroom has no window.

“We painted the room bright yellow with red and white décor to brighten it up,” she said.

All these situations have an impact on the lifestyles, moods and daily frustrations of the homeowners — and that’s why psychology is such an important consideration in the planning of a living space, said Dr. Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and a co-author with Miller of “Home Making,” a book published by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Foundation that explores these issues..

“People don’t often give the psychological implications of place much thought because they don’t have information,” said Augustin, owner of a firm called Design With Science. “Think about who you are, how you like to live in a place and what you wish to accomplish in your home, and design accordingly. Don’t feel pressured to go along with the crowd, because you and your situation might be very different than the crowd’s.”

For example, she said, everyone thinks a living room should have a couch. After all, doesn’t every living room have a couch?

“But actually, introverts are more comfortable in individual chairs than they are in a couch,” she said. “People have a tendency to arrange the furniture and the objects in a room without thinking about how people will interact in the space.”

Psychology was an important consideration for Memphis interior designer Jennifer Estes while designing a master suite for an East Memphis client. The client, a doctor and a single mom, wanted nothing more from her new bedroom and bathroom than a place she could relax at the end of a busy day.

Estes fulfilled that wish by using a soft, monochromatic color palette without any bold patterns that would distract or detract from the room’s calming feel.

“I kept everything very understated, very uniform,” she said. “I used textures that were similar and yet interesting.”

The rooms’ silver-blue palette and the bathroom’s spa-like finishes are soft and soothing, but the space still has a mood-boosting sparkle.

“We were inspired a little bit by early Hollywood glamour,” said Estes, owner of Jennifer Estes Interior Design. “She wanted it to be a little bit glamorous, a little bit luxurious, without being opulent or overdone.”

In the kitchen of Alison Stacy’s Middle Tennessee house, the builder placed the refrigerator in a spot that doesn’t allow its door to fully open, not taking into account the frustration that would cause the home’s residents on a daily basis. Stacy also had to buy an expensive French door-model fridge to fit into the surrounding cabinetry.

“It can’t be easily fixed unless we replace our cabinets and lose the dishwasher,” she said. “But overall I love my home.”

And that’s what tends to happen — people overlook the minor annoyances that come with a house because they feel they have no choice. Often, as with Stacy’s kitchen, that’s the case. But there are plenty of instances, Miller said, where simple, affordable design decisions can improve life for an entire houseful of people.

“Something as simple as the shape of the dining room table can impact how your family interacts,” Miller said. “A round table has been proven to be the most socially inviting configuration. People will sit there longer and they’ll talk more because they’re facing everyone — as long as it’s not more than 60 inches wide.”

In the homes she’s designing, Miller is using a lot of round tables these days. She’s also using seating not typically found in the dining section of a furniture store, like wing chairs and banquettes.

“Parents want their children to be there, to linger — especially teenagers,” she said. “Physical comfort invites them to stay longer and not want to leave. If the temperature is right, if the lighting is right, if the seating is comfortable, they’ll stay.”


image courtesy of the Commercial Appeal