For me, interior design isn’t just about the way a room looks, but about the way it makes you feel. It makes sense when you think about it: with ever-more stressful lifestyles, a turbulent political climate and technology that means it’s harder and harder to switch off, our homes tend to act as sanctuaries where we can relax and recuperate. So, the way we design and decorate them can have a huge impact on our health and happiness.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a talk on this very topic, organised by Hillarys Blinds to celebrate the launch of their very first showroom, located right here in Bristol. It was given by Oliver Heath, an expert on wellbeing in the built environment (who British and Norwegian readers may recognise from TV), and it had me nodding along in agreement from start to finish.
So, how can you create a happy, healthy home? Here are some of Oliver’s suggestions…
Oliver started by explaining how the most effective homes have different spaces for different needs – social spaces where we can gather with friends and family, spaces for activities (cooking, working, hobbies), and private spaces where we can retreat when we need to unwind. It’s something we’ve tried to achieve in our own house: the kitchen and dining room have an airy, open feel, while the lounge is a cosier spot where we can curl up and forget about the outside world. Of course, many homes nowadays are open-plan, but you can still create defined areas by zoning spaces with a change in flooring, colour or lighting.
After talking about space, Oliver moved on to the sensory aspects of design – acoustics, air quality, colour. One of the most important is light, as it regulates our body clock and has a huge impact on our mood. The key is not only to maximise natural light by enlarging windows, bouncing it around rooms and cleverly positioning furniture, but also to use window coverings that can control the light when needed. Even measures as simple as fitting black-out blinds in bedrooms, or hanging voile curtains along bi-fold doors to soften harsh sunshine, can have a major effect.
Oliver also talked about the impact of artificial light on sleep, and here my ears really pricked up. I’ve often been told that the blue light from phones, computers and TVs can play havock with the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, but like many people I’m guilty of staring at screens long into the evening. Well, no more! They’re now banished from our bedroom, to be replaced with warmer light that tells the body to start winding down.
Next, Oliver introduced the concept of biophilic design: design which reconnects us to nature. All sorts of studies have shown that introducing natural elements into the home can reduce stress and anxiety, and it’s incredibly easy to incorporate scents, textures and colours which mimic those found in the great outdoors. Again, small measures – perhaps adding houseplants, or buying furniture made from natural materials – can have a huge impact. Oliver even quoted research which found that people sleep better in timber-framed beds than metal ones!
Finally, there are practical matters to consider. We feel happiest when we are warm and safe, so homes need to have good insulation, heating and security measures. Storage is also essential, as it hides away clutter – a big contributor to everyday stress (see my January post on minimalism!) – and makes it easier to find the things we need.
If you want to read more about how design can improve wellbeing, head over to Oliver’s website. It’s packed with case studies, including a fascinating collaboration with Hillarys Blinds called ‘Icelandic Shelter’. And if you’ve made any changes to your home which have had a positive impact on your health and happiness, please do share them below!
All photography is by Hillarys Blinds and features products from their new collection – click here to see the full range.