The Psychology of Interior Design

Where Science Meets Art

Effective interior design is about more than trying to emulate a certain look or keeping your space updated with new trends. The way you choose to decorate your home or office will have a significant impact on your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and maybe even your health.

Most architects and planners overlook the psychological needs of the people who will inhabit the spaces they create. An interior designer’s job is to help you build positive connections with these environments – giving as much thought to aesthetics as to how the space will be used, and how you want to feel while you’re using it.

By focusing your attention on a few key considerations, you can make the psychological benefits of interior design work to your advantage – creating a space that feels more comfortable, welcoming, and relaxing.



Balance Your Space

A good interior design should provide an escape – a way for you to find a bit of privacy within the environment. Anyone who has suffered through a ride on a crowded train understands the importance of personal space. For people to feel truly relaxed, there needs to be an opportunity for them to separate themselves from others, both mentally and physically.

Still, too much space can have a similarly negative impact. A room with excessive open space can prevent you from developing any connections with the environment, and the stark emptiness can feel lonely and cold.

Obviously, you’ll need to find the right balance – designers have plenty of visual tricks that can help change how your space is perceived. To create the illusion of a larger space, use smaller furniture and decorate your walls with hangings and mirrors. If you’re looking to make a big room feel just a bit more intimate, cluster your furniture, incorporate warm colors and textures, and provide soft, layered lighting.



Balance Your Style

The things you use to fill your environment are reflective of your personality – and the relationships you have with these objects will influence the way you behave around them. These items and interactions will also affect the way others might perceive you, making them a vital part of our psychology.

Using sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s evaluation criteria can help you decide on furnishings that will project your desired psychological impact.


Function: How does this item accommodate your needs?

Exchange: Is this piece worth the investment?

Symbolic: What kind of emotional significance does this item have?

Sign: Does this product impact your status?


You might be very attached to a vintage chair that has been in your family for generations, but guests could perceive that item as cheap or tacky. However, a room that lacks emotional significance can feel impersonal and cold, which could be interpreted as an unhealthy focus on appearance and social status.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t incorporate that hand-me-down chair into your décor. The important thing is finding the right balance to make your space feel comfortable and project your true personality.



Our Feelings About Color

Color can dramatically influence our experiences. Studies have shown that the different hues in our environments definitively affect our moods and emotions, so take this into consideration when you’re thinking about the shades you plan to use in your space. While specific colors impact everyone in a unique way, there are some generalized rules we will follow when it comes to choosing the right hue.

Red: Strong, powerful, and exciting, red can bring a lot of warmth to any interior. It can be perceived as stimulating and lively, or aggressive and demanding. This color is best used in rooms where you’d want to see a high level of physical activity, or where you’d like to evoke more erotic feelings.

Orange: This energetic color exudes security and comfort, but can be overwhelming if used too much. It can also be associated with frivolity, making it a fun shade to incorporate as an accent. Add a touch of orange with pillows, throws, or even a statement chair in a vibrant shade of orange – but be sure to balance it with more serious shades like black or grey.

Yellow: Cheerful yellow is a popular color choice for kitchens, since it is a stimulating shade that inspires confidence and optimism. However, using too much yellow or using the wrong hue in relation to the other colors in our space can evoke feelings of fear or anxiety. Stick to light, pale shades, and avoid over-saturated tones.

Green: This color is generally harmonious and restful, evoking deep feelings of comfort, reassurance, and balance. While green can sometimes be perceived as bland, there are really no negative associations with this color. To keep your green from being too boring, make sure you have good lighting to showcase this color’s depth.



Blue: Blue communicates trust, efficiency, and calm. It is essentially a soothing color, but may be cold and unemotional. Still, since blue can stimulate mental clarity and promote concentration, it’s a great option for a workspace. You can also warm it up by choosing a darker, richer shade, and decorating with plenty of cozy textures.

Violet: Associations with royalty give purple a deep sense of luxury and authenticity. It also encourages contemplation and meditation. Too much, though, and violet will stop looking high-end and start looking cheap. Use purple the same way you would use orange – as an accent, balanced by more practical colors like brown, grey, and white.

Brown: Reliable, warm, and natural, brown has a comfortable softness that feels earthy and organic. The color’s seriousness can make interiors seem heavy and humorless, though, and can sometimes indicate a lack of sophistication. To avoid this connotation, stick to rich, chocolatey shades, and make sure you include some brighter colors for contrast.



Black: Glamorous, sophisticated black communicates clarity and excellence. This color makes for strong statement pieces, offering a perception of weight and power. Many people are afraid of the dark, though, which can make black seem somewhat menacing. The trick with black is to balance it with light – incorporate mirrors, metallic surfaces, and vibrant colors to keep it from being too heavy.

Grey: Mostly free of psychological properties, grey is a near-perfect neutral shade. It does encourage a sense of serenity, and provides a soothing backdrop for more impactful hues.

White: Simple, efficient white inspires purity and cleanliness, and often makes a room feel more spacious. However, the stark sterility of white can be detrimental to an environment if you’re not careful to balance it with some color, texture, or organic materials.



Generate Positive Energy

Using certain psychology-inspired techniques, you can create a space that will do more than just look nice and feel nice – it will actually make you healthier and happier. Research has identified a positive link between health and wellness and the way our environments are designed.

The Chinese practice of feng shui has been around for thousands of years, providing a set of guidelines for the harmonious arrangement of objects. Those who adhere to its principles believe the art will not only improve the energy of your home, but will also help you attract success, good fortune, and even love.

There are some basic elements of feng shui that can be easily incorporated into any design to promote more positive vibes throughout your space.

  • Start with your entry, making sure that the area is clean and welcoming.
  • Angle your furniture to give you a good view of the doorway – and face chairs away from the television to encourage conversation.
  • Keep your home tidy and clutter-free.
  • Strive to include natural elements into your décor wherever possible.



Final Tips

Even small changes to your décor can make a big difference to the way your home makes you feel.

Plants can significantly lift your mood and increase positive energy. If you find yourself struggling with depression or anxiety, bringing in a few houseplants could be just what you need – nature is great for boosting health and promoting relaxation.

Lighting also plays a significant role in keeping the overall ambiance of your space happy and welcoming. Daylight is best for fighting off sadness and depression, so keep your shades pulled back and move clutter away from your windows. If you don’t have a lot of windows in your space, include different layers of lighting to achieve a similar warm, comforting effect.

Your home should be your happy place – and with the many psychological benefits of good interior design, it can be your healthy place, too.