Design For The Soul

By nora bouz - Wellbeing Design Consultant

wellbeing design

You've probably heard stories—and seen images—of Google, Etsy and Apple offices. They're not only innovative workplaces, they were designed to promote the health and wellness of their employees and organization.

The companies' investment in improving wellness in the workplace has shown positive return: low employee turnover, great publicity and a 15 per cent increase in productivity. From natural light to a mindful setup supporting productivity and renewed energy, these workplaces have become dream environments in which to work.

Impact of surroundings on well-being

Our surroundings have a significant impact on our psychological health. The field of environmental psychology, which emerged in the 1970s, explores our relationship with our habitats and how physical spaces influence the way we interact with both natural and built landscapes.

Although the wellness-in-the-workplace movement has started to gain momentum in Canada, not much attention has been paid to design for health in the residential sector. Some developers focus on energy conservation or the use of natural products, but this is only a small part of the picture.

In Japan, it has become standard to include a negative ion generator on the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems in buildings. Negative ions occur in nature after a thunderstorm or near waterfalls. Studies have shown that negative ions clear the air of mould, pollen, pet dander, viruses and bacteria, and have a relaxing, energizing effect.

Exposure to natural light triggers the production of serotonin, a hormone responsible for mood balance; its deficit leads to low energy levels and anxiety. When the indoor environment doesn't allow enough exposure to natural light, we turn to technology to supplement the sunlight. The use of light sources with a colour-temperature range that matches the sun's has shown to increase people's energy level and productivity, and also to enhance mood.

Integrating nature

Humans evolved in nature; since the beginning of humanity, our homes and communities have been dependent on and connected to nature and its rhythms. Only since the industrial revolution have we become increasingly separated from nature and its cycles.

Because this process has been multigenerational, the build-up of health effects has been imperceptible. However, evidence shows a return to nature reduces stress and enhances creativity and clarity of thought. We benefit by designing living spaces that integrate nature in our lives.

Plants purify the air of common toxins found indoors such as formaldehyde, acetone, methyl alcohol and benzene. Students demonstrate greater attentiveness when taught in rooms containing plants, and productivity increases when employers add plants to workspaces.

But integrating nature into our lives goes beyond adding plants. From colour, wood and water to sound, scent and light, nature is essential to our quality of life.


Considering our needs

How many people incorporate designs that help them increase their creativity or strengthen their romantic lives? How many consider colour to promote focus where kids do homework? These functions might be more important than plenty of storage or a dedicated dining room.

Our individual sense of beauty is influenced by who we are, our experiences, memories, and geographic and cultural backgrounds. These biases are generally unconscious. When design aligns our homes with who we are at the core and our true sense of beauty, our homes become emotionally healthy environments that nourish our soul, body and mind.

Oprah Winfrey calls this alignment "design for the soul." When she interviewed American interior designer and television host Nate Burkus on her podcast, he said: "It is important how we feel in our homes because feeling good makes us more gracious. And that makes it easier to welcome others, not only into our homes but into our lives. . . . Your home should tell the story of who you are and be the collection of what you love brought together under one roof."

The way a space is designed determines not only how we use it, but how we feel and how we interact with it and with others. A well-designed space improves our relationships, encourages healthy habits, supports recovery and healing, and sets us up for a fulfilling, happy and healthy life.