Tools & Tips
Mood-Boosting Home Improvements
Do you smile when you walk in your door? Tim Jarvis reports on the mood-boosting new field of neuroarchitecture.
O Magazine - March 2008
Anyone fond of coming home to a chilled glass of Chardonnay to help wind down may soon be dreaming of the front door keys rather than a corkscrew. The pleasure is due to a hot new field of design called neuroarchitecture. Emerging research on how factors like light, space, and room layout affect physical and psychological well-being are driving the buzz behind this new intersection of art and science. "The premise is to consider how each feature of the architectural environment influences certain brain processes such as those involved in stress, emotion, and memory," says Eve Edelstein, PhD, adjunct professor at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego and research consultant to the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA).
For example, light is already a well-known mood modulator - candles, artificial sources controlled with dimmers, lots of natural sunshine. Beyond that, neuroarchitecture experts have a few suggestions about how to make the kind of home improvements that might also renovate your mood:
Surprisingly, sleek, minimalist interiors may not feed the brain as much as a home or apartment that's a little cluttered, says John Zeisel, PhD, who serves on ANFA's board of directors and designs therapeutic environments for dementia sufferers through his company, Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, in Woburn, Massachusetts. "Alzheimer's patients wander. However, if you provide good visual cues - pictures of objects they're familiar with, destinations at the ends of hallways, such as kitchens, activity spaces, and doors that lead out into safe and inviting healing gardens - they stop wandering and begin to walk with purpose." Similarly, when you look around your own place and see the evidence of who you are (those books you've read, the projects you're working on), you feel grounded.
The hearth should always be the center of the home, according to Zeisel and British kitchen designer Johnny Grey, who have collaborated since Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, introduced them three years ago. "Being in the kitchen links you to hardwired feelings of comfort - beyond getting food, there's a sense of protection, warmth, sociability, sharing stories," says Zeisel, which is why, ideally, it's both a functional and social place where friends and family can gather, do homework, and relax.