The Emotional Home
Like a good book, interior design is all about creating emotional experiences. Unlike a good book, however, the goal of design is to reflect the nature, history, values and emotions of the inhabitants. It's a journey of self-love, exploration of one's identity, a celebration of family traditions, and reminiscing through the memories we've made while planning for those yet to be created. It's about consciously and thoughtfully creating and defining our personal culture, because our home, after all, is the little duchy we each control. We all take so much pride in the culture of the country from where we came or live in now, but are we taking that same appraoch when we design our homes?
I look at home as both a physical and emotional tool; infinitely more than an object to be thoughtlessly decorate in the style du jour. From a physical aspect, it protects us from the weather and outside dangers; it has to have spaces to cook, bathe, sleep, and sit. All of those tasks come with tools and systems, like where the cooktop, fridge, and sink are placed, and how we store all the smaller items we need to use them, like our forks and knives, spatulas, mixers, measuring cups, and pots and pans. Typically, we organize them using the dimensions of an average person and generic ergonomics; the modern kitchen, for example, was designed in the 1950s around the reach and movements of a 5'4" woman.
Next, we look at the individual and what they need based on their unique and inherent processes. That can be complicated and very difficult to sort through and assess, but fortunately that's exactly what the Myers Briggs test was set up to identify. It's typically been a tool to organize work teams and understand an employee's strengths and stretches, not as a tool to understand the environments they need to perform, but it can be just as insightful when applied to our home and office design. Not everyone works well at a desk or in a quite office-- some work best from the sofa, kitchen island, or their bed; Extraverts may have a home gym as a symbol of luxury or to fill available space, but they thrive in social setting and prefer to work out in a commercial gym. In fact, the entire concept of 'man caves' and 'she sheds' is centered around personal spaces for Introverts. How our houses have been traditionally planned and organized is a stock answer to a very complicated question, and is meant to serve everyone decently but no one well.
All of that is still not enough. Just as we function and process the world differently, we also all have a different sense of beauty and style, which was developed through a lifetime of experiences. Beauty is closely tied to our identity-- we like what we're familiar with, and are drawn to environments and objects that remind us of our past. While artists and designers have spent their lives learning how to appreciate beauty objectively, for most people, it's extremely subjective, and a lot of what we find beautiful is attractive to us because of its familiarity and the deeper meanings we've assigned to it.
From a psychological and neuroaesthetics perspective, how the brain processes beauty is also critical, because our subconscious brain (our animal brain) has developed a complex association between ugly things and attractive ones; ugly = danger, while beauty = safety. Furthermore, our psychological state is highly influenced by, and dependent on, our environment, which is what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Recent neurological research proves that ugly spaces are detrimental to our health by triggering our primitive survival instincts, which is all about survival. When we feel threatened, our heart rate and blood pressure go up, and our body injects us with cortisol so we can act quicky. While that may help use to survive a sudden threat, it's the root of anxiety and many diseases when we sustain that state over long periods of time.
If we put all of that together an mix it up, we can easily see that our ideal home is a complicated matrix of physical and emotional needs. When its designed with that in mind, we can reach an entirely new place of physical and emotional well-being. What we create, quite simply put, is the Emotional Home.
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