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The Healing Power of Good Design

December 05, 2017 by Eve Fineman

Many people regard design services for renovating their home or office as a luxury. It is something most of us fantasize about, gazing at photos on Houzz, Pinterest or Instagram, inserting ourselves into imaginary scenes of impeccably designed spaces, overlooking stunning natural vistas.


Unfortunately, the path to attaining such spaces for living and working often seems obstructed, the fantasy unattainable and yet forever etched in our minds as a place of escape. Fortunately for designers and potential clients, there is emerging data that quantitatively measures well-designed space, and its effect on our mental and physical health. And while most of us are not able to ditch our lives and build a custom home nestled into a cliff overlooking the ocean, there are many ways that we can make our existing spaces healthier, more productive, comfortable, functional, and uplifting.


Dr. Esther Sternberg, in her 2010 book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, uncovers clear relationships between our senses, emotions and immune system, in a discipline that can be described as a neurobiology of the senses. From rooms with natural views, to lighting, sound and functionality, Sternberg explores ways in which the design of a hospital room directly affects a patient’s ability to heal. Her ideas also point toward possibilities for designing whole health centers and communities that would focus on emotional health (and its inarguable connection to our physical health), stress reduction, and peace.


Taken a step further, we can intuit that the spaces where we spend the most time, our places of work and domesticity, can have an enormous impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. While some may argue that they don’t “notice” the design of their immediate surroundings, I would counter-argue that the lighting, sound, temperature, access to natural light, furniture, materials, forms, artwork, and many other elements, have an underlying effect on a person’s stress levels, productivity, and even happiness. In fact, Dr. Sternberg has also begun to extrapolate findings from her research, applying them to the field of interior design. If you don’t believe me, believe the scientist! Here is a link to a quick interview with her, explaining more specifically how our spaces of living and working can impact us in profound ways:


If having a well-designed space seems like an all-or-nothing endeavor, it doesn’t need to. Even revamping individual rooms like a kitchen or home-office, or replacing lighting and flooring in a workspace, can have a deeply positive affect on our daily experience. Why can’t we have our cake and eat it, too? While I will never give up my fantasy of the concrete and glass stilt house in the forest over a ravine, I am still happy working on a custom sofa design, whose prototype will hopefully end up in my living room. Every bit of good design counts.

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