In developed countries, we spend around 90% of our time indoors. And that’s before a pandemic comes along and forces us to not only to spend even more time inside our homes, but to turn them into workspaces, too. What does all this being inside do to our minds and bodies? And to what extent can the design of interior spaces influence how good we feel inside?
We intuitively know when a space is wrong. Harsh lighting, cramped spaces and poor ventilation can bring on the symptoms of ‘sick building syndrome’, which is officially a condition the NHS offers advice for. On the other hand, we know when a space feels right. Here, it’s often harder to pin down what’s good. Is it colour, light, air quality, materials, design? Often, it’s the subtle interplay between all of these elements that creates a space you’d be happy to spend most of your day in.
Recognising that humans in many countries have become an “indoor species”, design for human wellbeing is moving up the agenda in the real-estate world. There is even a standard, WELL, that claims to be the first to focus solely on the health and wellbeing of building occupants. Aligned with environmental building standards, WELL scores the built environment according to seven criteria: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind, aligning them with each of the body’s systems. It’s a long way from simply putting up developments and designing interiors around speed and profit.
But interiors in particular have to strike a balance between promoting wellbeing while at the same time remaining affordable, and easy to install and maintain. It’s a challenge to which designers and developers are devoting more and more attention – as they recognise that it’s not only good for people, it’s good for business, too. Buyers and renters are more and more interested in how a home makes them feel, how it provides them with a healthy workspace and how it supports their wellness goals.
Furnishing and interior design can have a major impact on the overall sense of wellbeing that a home creates. And they also have an important role to play during the current pandemic.
Aesthetics and sustainability
The colours, shapes, textures and materials now coming to the fore in the market reflect today’s focus on wellbeing and promote a calmer and healthier way of thinking and feeling.
“We’re seeing (and delivering) furnishing that ‘brings the outside in’, with organic shapes and natural colours and materials. Indoor plants – real ones, not fake – are in demand, too”. Our clients’ mood boards feature taupes, greens and curved shapes. Fabrics trending at the moment are natural, soft and neutral, without the shocking pops of colour we’ve seen in recent years”.Chinwe Ujah, Senior Designer, David Phillips
Intelligent and innovative use of space
In the past decades we’ve seen homes evolve from separate, defined spaces – dining room, kitchen, living room – to more multi-functional layouts. Is Covid reversing this trend? After all, it’s not always ideal to have your WFH space set up in an open-plan kitchen/dining/living space.
But we don’t see a return to separate, defined rooms any time soon. Instead, designers are responding with intelligent ways to use space. In response to our client Fizzy Living’s request for desks in new apartments, for example, we created a wall-fitted desk that can fold up in smaller units. Integrating desks with media units is another way to add function without creating stress-inducing clutter.
Communal spaces are important and attractive features, particularly in Build to Rent developments, where they extend the space available to residents. A great deal of thought goes into the design and flow of these larger and often well-equipped spaces.
In normal times, they’re great for promoting wellbeing. They give people a place to socialise, hang out, and eat and drink together. Our clients typically want open-plan, mixed-use spaces that can be reconfigured for, say, dining, cinema nights or meetings. Again, we don’t see Covid changing the demand for these spaces. Instead, it’s an opportunity to use them differently, for example introducing ‘pods’ that can be rearranged in a circle to allow for more distanced gatherings.
Residents today want to protect the environment. Tied in with the wellness trend is a growing desire, shared with developers, to feel that they can live more sustainably. They want to actively manage the environmental impact of their lifestyles, and this now drills down all the way to whether their furniture is sustainably produced and how it can be reused and recycled.
People also want to be protected from the environment, so they have a peaceful and calm home space. Indoor plants can help achieve this – and even just looking at natural greenery improves our mood and reduces stress. They can improve air quality, too. And blackout window treatments play an important part in improving sleep, which is crucial to long-term wellbeing.
No discussion of wellbeing is complete without at least a brief mention of comfort. Furniture needs to feel good as well as look good: at least one of our developer clients specifies ‘sofas you can fall asleep on’. First-class levels of comfort – for home furnishing and now, home-office furniture – has a huge positive impact on how we feel indoors.
Good for us, good for business
Interiors should be seen as an integral component of human wellbeing. From the buildings we live in to the materials that surround us, the indoor environment can both promote and support a lifestyle that’s conducive good physical and mental health.
And as we’ve seen, it’s good for business too. Many developments – like Moda Living – are finding it attracts tenants and can command a price premium. Our own design and spatial planning services consider ‘design for wellbeing’ from the outset, and we specify furniture that’s practical and long-lasting while being comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. And as furniture needs to be renewed and replaced, we have introduced a Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle programme to help minimise its environmental impact.
So we believe developers and designers should factor in wellbeing right from the start. That way, we can all feel better inside.