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What We Need and Want From Our Homes Today

What makes a healthy, happy home? How can we make an open-plan room more functional? And what factors influence our design choices? These questions and many more were discussed at this year’s Designscape, a three-day London-based virtual event from the creatives behind annual fairs such as designjunction and Decorex. Here’s an overview of some of the ideas explored in the lively panel discussions on residential design.

We Need Safety and Comfort

The influence our homes have on how we feel and how we behave was the subject of the headline discussion titled The Art & Science of the Home. Neuroscientist Ash Ranpura explained how behavior is affected by three factors: motivation, action and the environment. “The environment I’m in influences my behavior, the choices that are presented to me and how I execute an action,” Ranpura said.

With this in mind, it makes sense that the first thing to consider when designing a room is what you actually want to do in that space and how you want to feel while doing it. Once you’ve thought about this, the layout, furniture choices, colors and textures should all follow.

Feeling safe and comfortable is key, Ranpura said. He explained that in an ideal environment, we would generally be comfortable in the same way that animals would be comfortable in nature.

He cited the bedroom as an example: It’s a place that provides shelter, where we don’t have to be alert to potential dangers. “We can think, how would we live if we were living in nature and, instinctively, those are the types of places that will make us feel comfortable,” he said.

Nature Nurtures

Designer Natalia Miyar agreed with Ranpura’s focus on nature, noting how it can influence our choice of color and materials.

“When I’m asked what inspires me, I always say I go back to nature,” Miyar said. “The color palettes and textures in nature are something that most of us feel are very grounding. Mother Nature is where most of us feel happy.”

During a discussion of trends, color and design psychology specialist Karen Haller noted that as we’ve moved away from nature, our need for a renewed connection to it has grown. When asked her thoughts on the trend of biophilic design (which focuses on our innate desire to be connected to nature), Haller said, “It might have taken a trend to get it back, but I don’t think it will be something that goes away.”

“I think it was a nice-to-have before, but it’s now something we realize is more important,” Susie Rumbold of Tessuto Interiors said. “I’d say it’s not a trend and is here to stay.”

A Happy Home Is a Healthy Home

The discussion also looked at how our homes can make us feel healthy. Miyar said people are becoming more aware of their physical and mental health and that this is mirrored in their interiors choices. “I see more materials that reflect this,” she said. “People are becoming more aware of the origins and the healthiness of paints, fabrics.”

Georgia Elliott-Smith of Element 4, which provides sustainability advice and support, also focused on that topic during the symposium A Sustainable Future. “Coming out of the pandemic, there’s so much more awareness of the air we’re breathing in nowadays,” Elliott-Smith said. “We’re doing a lot of work around how to influence behavior and reduce toxins. It’s a massive area for people to think about — not just the paints, but things such as the solvents and coatings.”

In a discussion titled The New Luxury, architect and interior designer Shalini Misra pointed out that health at home is a big focus for the younger generation in particular. “Their idea of luxury is different from the past. It’s not ostentatious — it’s more to create a place that’s healthy, being in natural surroundings and bringing nature inside with plants,” Misra said.

We’re Open to Closed-Off Spaces

“Open-plan isn’t suiting everybody,” said Miyar, referring to how households have had to live, work and play all together in one space during lockdown.

“We’re looking at more seismic shifts in the way people are living,” Rumbold said. “Acoustic separation and things like that are going to be massive shifts.”

Rumbold foresees us using our spaces in a multifunctional way for a while. “I don’t think we’re going to go back to the way we were before, so our personal spaces are going to have to work really hard,” she said.

She added that designers will need to come up with clever solutions to help zone a space at different times of the day. “It could be a physical zoning, such as an internal door, or perhaps a storage solution that means that when function A is finished, everything goes away so function B can commence,” Rumbold said. “I think we’re going to have to be even cleverer at listening to our clients’ requirements.”

Alone Time Is Key

“I think people have started to realize that home is their special place,” Karen Howes of Taylor Howes Designs said during the New Luxury symposium. “Clients have been phoning me up to ask for different requirements to what they would have wanted six months ago,” she said, citing examples such as choosing pieces with longevity and finding a calm spot to be alone.

“Luxury is being able to work and be at home in a nice environment,” said Staffan Tollgard of Tollgard Design Group.

“Space is a luxury really, isn’t it?” Howes said. “Everybody in every walk of life should have a space in which to be alone. My absolute luxury is looking out to the countryside and having the time to look at it.”

Moderator Helen Brocklebank summed it up this way: “The perfect chair in the perfect space with the perfect view.”

Desks Are on Our Radar

Working from home is a key topic these days, and The Art & Science of the Home moderator Pip McCormac asked his guests to explain what they thought made for a good home office.

Ranpura cited the importance of designing your home office to suit your own needs and the requirements of the work you’re doing. For example, he likes his desk to be in the middle of the home, where he can see what’s going on. His wife, on the other hand, has two offices — one inside the house to do administrative work and another in a hut at the end of the garden. She’s a writer, so the garden office is more of a contemplative space.

Miyar highlighted the benefits of making your office space aesthetically appealing —something that often comes second to function. “Whatever your home office space is, make it beautiful. Face something beautiful,” she said. “I like to face into the room, or you could look out of a window. Have a comfortable desk chair — spend money on that; it’s where you sit every day.”

Color Is Subjective

There was some interesting discussion on color choices during the event, particularly when it comes to what influences those choices.

Haller said: “I start the conversation with how do you want to feel in the space, and what do you want to do in the space? The behavior in that space determines the choice of color. If it happens to be a trend color, so be it, but it’s all about using color to influence behavior.”

Ranpura believes our color preferences are influenced by external factors. “The relationship between color and mood is probably learned, a cultural association,” he said, citing red as an example of a color that has different meanings around the world.

He also cited our language about mood and color. “We talk about feeling dark and feeling blue. We use these downward-moving words and darker images,” he said, suggesting that this could affect how we feel about darker tones.

When asked whether dark rooms can make people feel depressed, Ranpura said: “I would make an argument that it very much depends on the person, because some people in a bright, open space will feel exposed and therefore anxious, and maybe that feels like a depression for them. Some people will feel comforted by a room that encloses them.”

How about color trends — do these influence our choices? “People will use a color simply because it’s on trend as a way to belong,” Haller said.

Ranpura agreed with that but said it’s all part of being human. “We’re very much a herd species, so our thoughts are contagious to each other,” he said. “It’s not just my learned experiences, it’s my knowledge of what my tribe also thinks about colors and spaces.”

Waste Is Out

Sustainability was also on the agenda, featuring extensively in the talk A Sustainable Future and in The New Luxury.

Howes pointed out that high-end clients were looking at ways to make design choices that last. She explained how people are choosing well-crafted items that have been designed with longevity in mind.

The panelists also spoke about how good-quality vintage items were being chosen by clients and how they represent ways for their clients to preserve the bones of their properties and work with what they already have.

Sustainability as a Journey

The discussion of sustainability brought up the subject of transparency when it comes to finding ethical products for your home.

Elliott-Smith encouraged designers to share their journey. “One of the most toxic things is greenwash,” a superficial concern for the environment, she said. “I want to hear about the story and love it when people say, ‘We’re not perfect.’ We’re all learning as we’re going along. Often, science changes, and if that happens, be honest about it and say how you’re changing.”

Nicola Lindsell of Boxx Creative agreed, saying: “When we realized we wanted to work with suppliers who are in line with our values, we met all our suppliers to ask them questions. You realize you open a can of worms, but it was a really good process, and often suppliers were keen to know more.”