People, Places, and Things

The psychology of design: How to create an environment in which you will thrive

Psychological Return on Investment – Daylight and Wood

It’s home renovation planning time! How can you maximize psychological ROI?

It's home renovation planning time!

At this time of year, people living north of the equator start to daydream about changing their homes to better meet their needs. The seasons for cabin fever and its cousin renovation planning fever seem concurrent.

What sorts of changes to your home reap the highest psychological return on investments? How should you allocate the funds available for making your house feel even more like home?

This is the first in a series of columns to inform your renovation decisions. In the next several installments we'll discuss issues such as selecting colors and textures for surfaces, creating rooms that are welcoming, offices where your productivity and creativity can soar, bathrooms that are comforting refuges, and family and dining rooms where people want to linger. First we'll make some overall comments, however.

From a psychological perspective, anything you can do to get more daylight into a space is a good investment. If that daylight comes with a nature view, so much the better, but even if it doesn't, make sure to let the sun stream in. It will boost your mood and your mental performance. Sunlight is a great stress buster. If that sunlight is accompanied by uncomfortable glare or heat, though, its value is much reduced.

First, make sure that your curtains can be pulled back far enough so that they don't block the flow of light into your rooms. Maximizing the daylight entering through the windows may be possible without spending any money at all, or new curtain rods and curtains may be required. It may be possible to make relatively minor investments, such as new screen doors, to move more light into your home through exterior doorways.

If finances and HVAC systems allow it (not to mention the structural integrity of your home) enlarge and/or punch additional windows and skylights through the outer walls of your home. This is clearly a task that requires professional assistance - there will be a lot more sunlight in your home if walls come crashing down because new windows were placed incorrectly - but all THAT daylight wouldn't be welcome.

Adding sunlight to your home can be easy, hard, or impossible, depending on your budget, the siting of your home, and other factors - but even when it's impossible, there are other changes that you can make to the environment that produce many of the same psychological effects as daylight. Future installments in this series will discuss photographs, artwork, and plants, for example.

Another overall change you can make to your home that will have a desirable psychological return on investment is adding unpainted wood to your interior environment. David Fell's recent doctoral dissertation at the University of British Columbia found that seeing wooden surfaces (in his study, birch with a clear finish) is associated with lower stress levels. When finances allow, consider adding wooden furnishings or ripping up that wall to wall carpeting and resurfacing the floors underneath. Adding back in some wood-baring carpets will still expose plenty of flooring while providing textural variation underfoot and protecting your floor.

Working more daylight and wood into a home is psychologically desirable. That means that current owners will benefit from these changes, and potential purchasers will also value them. Adding daylight and wood, just like the changes that will be featured in future installments of this article series, have a positive psychological return on investment now and in the future.

 

Sally Augustin, Ph.D., is a practicing environmental psychologist who studies person-centered design and sensory science.

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