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Apr 29, 2020 | by Ben Channon

How home design can impact our mental health

Covid-19 has led to a massive increase in the amount of time we now live -and work – in our homes. Yet, even before the outbreak, the focus on functionality and the urgency of the housing shortfall has unquestionably resulted in some poorly-designed homes and buildings. 

Why homes matter for wellbeing

We know that stable, well-designed housing is important for wellbeing.

And even before the current pandemic, we spent between 80 to 90% indoors with about two-thirds of that time spent at home. The home-based figure obviously increases sharply now. 

Simple changes to the design of our homes can have a very real impact on our mental health and wellbeing. I looked into this for the research for my book, ‘Happy By Design: a guide to architecture and mental wellbeing’, which looks at design and its impact on mental wellbeing.

Key findings

  • Control (or even perceived control) is crucial. Having the space to decorate, personalise, organise, and regulate ourselves can help us reach that important level of comfort and ease in our own lives, with studies finding that messy homes can stimulate the release of cortisol, a hormone that makes us more stressed.
  • Spending time in nature has been shown to improve our happiness and mental wellbeing, through reducing stress, improving memory retention, and making us kinder and more creative. Design of our homes and neighbourhoods has to include access to green space, and home design that increases our connectivity with nature, to support our health and wellbeing.
  • Aesthetics can impact our emotional wellbeing, with a research study from the Journal of Marketing finding that people tend to favour gifts with a handmade appearance because they ‘contain more love’, which can inform how we consider materiality and furniture selection. Colour, proportion and individuality need to be considered carefully in design to evoke similar emotions of comfort and familiarity.
  • Light affects our circadian rhythm, which regulates the periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. Artificial light, such as blue light, can cause changes in that circadian rhythm, leading to sleep-wake disorders which have been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease and, notably, depression.
  •  Physical activity releases endorphins, as well as having an important impact on wellbeing ‘in the moment’ – which matter for mental wellbeing, so building design and the public realm should encourage day-to-day exercise, such as walking and cycling.  

As I delved deeper into the subject, I began to discover a swathe of research and studies from neuroscience and environmental psychology about how we are affected by the world around us. This ranged from the effect of colour on Japanese commuters, to the impact water can have on our mental health – with people who live near the ocean reporting better mental health than those who don’t.

All of this evidence helps to demonstrate that mental wellbeing within architecture and design can add value to new buildings, both social and financial. 

We are already using this research at Assael to create better homes for mental wellbeing, and I hope that architects and designers across the board will incorporate these findings about wellbeing into their projects. 

Housing and wellbeing

Read our review on the impact of housing on wellbeing for vulnerable people

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Practice Examples
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Improving access to green space for BAMER communities
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Apr 17, 2019 | By Centre
Bringing Cities to Life: The complex relationship between green space and mental wellbeing
Centre Blog

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Housing and wellbeing

Read our review on the impact of housing on wellbeing for vulnerable people

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Next article