The psychology of design: How décor can affect your mood

A cosy couch with a throw rug and textured cushions near pot plants in the living room

Miranda Tay

Posted June 18, 2021

How we decorate and design our living spaces can have a huge impact on how we feel.

Feeling down? It might be the due to the colour of your walls, lack of natural light or even where your couch is situated. But with a few tweaks it can be easy to design a therapeutic space to suit and even improve your mood.

Five ways interior design could be affecting your mood

You've got too much clutter

A crowded lounge or family room can make you feel stressed and anxious. But, on the other hand, if your living space is ‘too open’, it can cause you to feel insecure, not ‘grounded’. The trick is to get the balance right, so you’re comfortable and relaxed.

“Space is a tricky element to get right but you’ll know when it’s working because you won’t even notice it,” says Melissa Donnan, Porter Davis interior designer.

Some examples of how you can increase the calm in your space are as simple as removing that chair that’s always blocking your path to your coffee table, or decluttering shelves that are too tightly packed with various knick-knacks.

If your space doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to move objects around to get the ideal layout. Remember less can be more with space, so try to reduce clutter to promote easy movement throughout the room. Likewise, if a space feels too open, add décor and furniture to balance it out.”

You feel cramped up

Design psychologists say that rooms with high ceilings, lots of natural light and a good flow of space improve your sense of wellbeing and encourage social interaction. If you have low ceilings, create the illusion of height by drawing the eye upwards. This could be as simple as strategically placing a tall lamp in the room, painting the ceiling a lighter colour than the walls, or hanging a long picture vertically.

Lots of light streaming through the big windows in an airy living room



You don't have enough natural light 

It’s been well established that light has an enormous impact on mood. Walk into a well-lit room, and you’re motivated to socialise or feel activated to just ‘do’ something. Darkness, in turn, can leave you feeling depressed and unmotivated. Light can have such an impact on our mental health that some people who suffer seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in winter due to the shorter days and gloomier skies are often treated with light therapy. 

Research shows that we respond best to natural light – we exercise more, sleep better, and even see things as more attractive – so optimise that wherever possible, especially in areas where you want to successfully perform a task, such as in the home office or kitchen. “It’s been proven that an abundance of natural light makes you happier and more productive,” says Wendy.  

Let light pour in through glass windows and doors or skylights. Opt for a window treatment that lets you control its intensity: sheers by day, block-outs by night so that you can relax. Introduce shiny metallics, say in cushion fabric, and place mirrors strategically to reflect light. Trim any bushes and foliage outside your windows that are blocking the light. 

Artificial light works best when it simulates natural light and has adjustable levels allowing you to find a luminosity you’re most comfortable with. Remember that blue light is depressing at night so, for a calmer mind and a better night’s sleep, turn off all smartphones and laptops and ban them from the bedroom. 

If a room has low light and is south facing, try a cool white or pastel on walls to help create an intimate, enjoyable space that will help you relax, says Wendy. Alternatively, in a north-facing room with full natural light, “a warmer-based white works as it takes the glare factor out but still looks and feels light and airy.”

An open plan living space with a light blue wall and decor of similar hues



You need some colour  

Colour psychologists have long documented that bright colour can energise the mind, making you feel motivated and creative. Such bright colours are ideal for high-activity areas such as the hallway, lounge, kitchen, or home workspace.  

“Colour is one of the most powerful tools to help us emotionally connect”, says Wendy Rennie, Haymes Paint's Colour and Concept Manager. Studies have shown that colours have qualities that can have varying physiological effects, such as increasing or decreasing heart rates, or stimulating or relaxing the brain.  

If you’re wanting to soothe mind opt for the calm and reflective attributes of blue in your choice of bed linen to the colour on your walls.  

Red, perhaps the most intense colour, can raise a room’s energy level, promoting activity and social interaction. Ideal for high-traffic areas such as the dining or living room, hallway, or kitchen. Whereas green is nature’s colour – and is restful, soothing and nurturing, say colour psychologists. 

Neutrals and monochromes are familiar, serene, and comforting. “Haymes’ monochromatic colours scheme is based on a tonally similar palette, creating a beautiful balance of colours that makes you feel cosy and intimate” says Wendy. 

Bring out your creativity with yellow. Representing the sun’s bright energy, yellow is described as ‘the happy colour’, and is shown to focus the mind and encourage creativity. Increase your child’s learning by painting their study walls yellow or pop in a bright yellow chair or floor rug.

Gold nesting coffee table with plants on top



Your space is too harsh

Perhaps more than any other element, texture (materials and finishes) lends a tactile element to any space. The Den Interiors principal designer Julianne Bull says she loves working with texture “because it can immediately evoke a sense of comfort and warmth in you.” 

In the colder months, when we want to cocoon ourselves in, adding layers of texture will lend depth, giving us a sense of familiarity and well-being. 

When designing your space consider textures everywhere – “from the ground up, from flooring to lighting, to every surface in the room,” says Julianne. She recommends blending different textures, patterns and shapes to evoke the mood you want. Rough textures can make you feel grounded, while smooth textures feel sleek, almost aloof. For an earthy, natural feel, incorporate raw materials such as wooden objects into your home to lend warmth and calmness. Woven materials like baskets soften hard surfaces – an intimate contrast. Metal elements are cold and clinical and can make you feel dissociated from the place. Limit their use or opt for a warmer colour such as copper or gold. 

Fabrics and soft furnishings come to the fore in winter. Nothing will make you more relaxed on cold days than by creating a cosy corner to destress and recharge. Team a luxurious rug with soft round cushions for a nurturing feel.