How does Interior Design affect mood?

We’re all guilty of ‘judging a book by its cover,’ yet research shows this may not be a bad thing. “First impressions are the fundamental drivers of our relationships,” says Professor Frank Bernieri. But is this the same for the spaces surrounding us? Many of us are aware that our environments can impact our mood. For example colour is a topic discussed when it comes to how interior design affects our mood. Neutral colour palettes will induce calmer moods whilst a hot pink may not have such a relaxing feel. Lighting a space is a design element which can affect our mood. In this magazine post we’ll be discussing how these aspects to a space play on our senses to affect how we’re feeling.
  1. Sight
We judge based on first impressions. Known as ‘thin-slicing – judgements in as little as five seconds.’
Research shows our first impressions are often the most reliable.
First impressions of a space are pivotal to how a user feels about their surroundings. In a hotel lobby, the space will draw our eye to a focal point, often the reception desk. This is the first port of call when arriving somewhere new and having to check in. Artwork is another example. Art is often unique to a space whether commercial or in your home and can help tell the story behind and create atmosphere.

Photography: KlunderBie

2. Hearing
Hearing is often taken for granted in public spaces and not associated with affecting our mood. Yet if we were to sit in a silent restaurant, we would almost definitely feel there was a lack of atmosphere. Sound can be a subtle way of making a space memorable. We are always listening to what’s around us. Background music in a lift to avoid awkward silences. Atmospheric music in a bar or meditative music in a spa area to induce relaxation. The more engaged users feel while using a space the more likely they are to want to return.
3. Smell
Lavender and sleep, coffee and alertness or cherry blossom and summer. Smell is considered our most emotional sense, with the power to trigger memories. A bad smell can result in a bad mood.
There is scent everywhere, and it can be a marketing tool for business, to entice people to a space. Scent is a very subjective sense. Fragrances such as cologne can be overpowering. Not what you’d expect in a restaurant, where you want to taste your food, not lynx Africa.
“The quickest way to change somebody’s mood or behaviour is with smell.” Dr. Alan Hirsch. Neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.
This can of course be positive or negative. People ‘like to see where the scent is coming from,’ Hirsch says. If we see a floral display in a hotel lounge or restaurant, we expect to smell a floral scent. We consider it odd when scent misleads us. Resulting in a negative memory triggered for that particular space.


Photography: Cándida Wohlgemuth

4. Taste
Tasting interiors? Surely not. But we can change our taste buds depending on what’s around us. For example, ever noticed that seafood restaurants tend to be blue? Pink colour schemes often represent dessert cafes? (pink is seen as fun.) “Colour affects the appetite, in essence, the taste of food.” It’s common for the colours of food served to be the colour schemes of restaurants.
Food and taste can be an easy way of promoting good mood, helping users feel relaxed. Leaving lemon or cucumber water out in a space, encourages health and well-being.

Photography: Ivar Kvaal courtesy of Snøhetta

5. Touch
Designers as a whole focus on adding texture. Whether it’s graphic designers layering in photoshop. Architects using various types of cladding or interior designers using fabrics. But touch doesn’t have to end with fabrics, pretty cushions and nice curtains. Touch can optimise our comfort within a space. Through layering textures, fabrics and hard finishes. This adds depth and defines the details within a space.
Did you think we were finishing there? When we talk about human senses, we assume there are exactly five — sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Yet, there is no universal agreement on how many senses we actually have. So, I’ve looked into a couple of extras, to get to the bottom of how interior design affects mood…
For more info on our senses-

Photography: KlunderBie

6. Balance
Balance is a word we hear thrown around a lot in today’s society, balanced diet, balanced work and home life. Balance also plays a vital role in Interior Design, and the symmetry of a space can have a huge impact on our psyche.
Our brains process information as a whole. Then our eyes delve into smaller individual details. A symmetrical room requires less processing by our brain. A room which seems off-balance and all over the place will need more processing. We’re drawn to symmetrical rooms and view them as much more aesthetically pleasing.
There are two main types of symmetry within design; Symmetrical balance – think of a mirror image. The layout of a room would be 50/50 on each side of a central composition.
Asymmetrical balance – gives a sense of balance on both sides, even though not identical. Our brains are programmed to enjoy symmetry. Asymmetry can help us stay interested in our surroundings. A completely symmetrical lobby may appear ridged and unwelcoming.

Photography: Cándida Wohlgemuth

7. Pain
This may be going a little too far out of the box.
In the book Indistractable, author Nir Eyal states –
‘The root cause of human behaviour is the desire to escape discomfort. Even when we are seeking pleasure, we’re driven by the desire to free ourselves from the pain of wanting.’
Design can influence us to stay or leave a place. If uncomfortable or unwelcoming then we usually leave. Restaurants make the bar inviting. To encourage guests to have pre and post meal drinks.
Artwork in corporate buildings can provide entertainment while carrying our mundane tasks. Posters in medical surgeries can distract from nervousness. Buildings such as prisons with blank dull walls, prisoners have no choice but to self reflect.


Photography: Jaime Navarro

8. Position
Position or proprioception – ‘awareness of the position and movement of the body.’
Designers guide us through spaces in certain ways, based on the layout. Look at the image below. Three different paths for three different users of the same space. Penda Architects – Magic Breeze Landscape.
Proprioception allows us to be aware of our body within a space, and the position we are in. This is fundamental to interior design. An example is knowing what type of floor your feet are on, without looking. Subtle but vital aspects to interior design make all the difference. You would notice if you were walking on grass inside a restaurant. Interior design allows your proprioception to flow harmoniously.
It’s clear to see that interior design has a huge impact on our senses even the ones a lot of us didn’t realise we had. Whether in your home or the next time you’re in a public space, try and notice how the design makes you feel.