Your home is your castle—the place where you feel most safe and secure, cozy and warm. Here, my thinking is reasoned and rational, my emotions engaged and balance restored. At home, my well-being is central. To an increasing extent, we are taking this premise of well-being at home and seeking it in different areas of our lives: from the workplace to healthcare, and retail to respite.
The Oxford English dictionary defines well-being as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” Human nature is complex and many factors will impact on a person’s well-being, not least in relation to lifestyle, career, money, relationships and environment. In a 2011 European Commission report on well-being, the “quality of residence” was related to one’s well-being, with notable factors including: “size, the interior or decor, the idea of a comfortable and pleasant dwelling… owning a healthy and eco-friendly house [and] liking the home you are in.”
Fostering relationships with interiors
A well-designed interior can affect well-being by exerting influence on happiness, emotional state, physiology, behavior and sensory faculties. But what constitutes a well-designed interior? There are a number of components: light, sound, smell, temperature, texture, context, interaction, connectivity, decoration and furnishings. Each of these components should relate to one another and to the person.
A person’s relationship with their interior will also affect well-being. An interior without substance, one that is capricious and concerned more with appearance, is unlikely to foster a meaningful relationship (with the individual). In a recent interview with Kinfolk magazine, celebrated industrial designer Dieter Rams asserted: “Beauty, not just appearance, that is both exemplary and instructive, certainly intensifies and prolongs the relationship with the user and therefore also makes sense ecologically. In my 10 principles of good design, I have written that the aesthetic quality of a product is an integral aspect of its usefulness, for the appliances that we use daily have an impact on our personal environment and influence our sense of well-being” Applying Rams’ thinking to interior design suggests that the aesthetic quality of an interior, one that is exemplary and instructive, encourages a sincere relationship with the person on a daily basis, influencing their sense of well-being.
Out of the Valley’s oak cabin design offers relief from the stresses and strains of modern-day living. The company believes that small buildings impact positively on well-being, and provide a bridge between people and nature. Out of the Valley’s oak cabin combines a satisfying Scandinavian aesthetic with meticulous craftsmanship and a modest interior.
Ecology and well-being
Dieter Rams’ reference to ecology shows that how we relate to our physical surroundings is connected with well-being. Linking with this idea, Atkins—a worldwide design, engineering and project management consultancy (established in 1938)—created WellBriefing, an interactive online survey tool placing people’s well-being at the heart of building design. WellBriefing explains well-being in terms of a physiological and psychological framework, consisting of nine factors impacting building design. They include: light, temperature and noise (tangible physical factors); flexibility, ownership and connectivity (somewhat intangible psychological factors). The WellBriefing model posits that if we can understand the complex, interconnected nature of these factors at the outset of a building’s design, then we can create an environment that nurtures the well-being of the building’s inhabitants.
Efforts to concretize well-being in relation to building design and interiors, such as the Atkins WellBriefing tool, are very welcome. Yet a commonsense approach to interior design and well-being is just as viable, particularly on a smaller scale: ensuring a room has plenty of natural light and adequate ventilation, a view and space to move around, are several simple well-being remedies.
Healthcare interiors and well-being
There are many pragmatic examples of designing with well-being in mind, especially in healthcare environments:
An orthodontic clinic in Wijchen, Netherlands, was designed by Amsterdam-based Studio Prototype to reduce anxiety. The clinic’s interior is light and bright, with high open spaces and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Studio Prototype selected a muted palette of colors, creating a clean and serene air.
Foster + Partners designed a peaceful Maggie’s Centre home away from home in Manchester, England. Maggie’s Centres offer a welcoming place of respite where people affected by cancer can find emotional and practical support. The Foster + Partners design prioritized natural light, greenery and garden views throughout, making use of warm materials, including wood and tactile fabrics.
In healthcare settings generally, the importance of ambience and lighting cannot be underestimated: an environment with a pleasing atmosphere—one enhanced by the clever arrangement of lights—is beneficial to the well-being of both staff and patients. Aggressive lighting should be avoided as well as abrupt variations in light levels.
A final thought
The 21st century’s fast and frantic pace of life is unsustainable, unless well-being is factored into everything we do, make, create and build. We spend, on average, nearly 90% of our time indoors, and in order to feel happy on the inside, interior design must deliver with respect to well-being.