People, Places, and Things

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

A Room with a View

Views can enhance your life!

Thinking of booking a vacation? Moving to a new home? If either question has crossed your mind recently, you've probably wondered if it's worth it to shell out extra money for rooms with views. Answer: A room with a view out over something natural cost extra, but that view will help you restock your mental energy and feel calmer—and cityscape views also pack a potentially desirable psychological punch.

When we were living much more basic lives and developing into our sophisticated modern selves, seeing some sorts of nature scenes meant good things were more likely to happen, and those views still have a special place in our collective hearts and minds. Seeing water meant we could quench our thirst and seeing countryside dotted with trees meant we had places to take shelter—and higher up in those trees was more sheltered than closer to the ground.

Green vistas help us restock our mental energy after a day of knowledge work and keep our stress levels in check. Not all views are created equal, however. The green spaces need to seem welcoming. A dense, jungle sort of place isn't perceived as hospitable by most, but a green field spotted with occasional clumps of leafy trees, with the odd single tree thrown in for good measure, is desirable across cultures.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Researchers have had the idea that seeing water was relevant to psychologically desirable views somehow, but the topic hadn't been thoroughly researched until recently. In an article published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology ("Blue Space: The Importance of Water for Preference, Affect, and Restorativeness of Natural and Built Scenes" by White, Smith, Humphryes, Snelling, and Depledge) information is presented that should drive up home values near water in rural, suburban, and in urban neighborhoods. They found that both green and built-in spaces with water, or blue spaces such as lakes, streams, fountains, were preferred and seen as more restorative than similar places without water. Built environments with water generally got as positive a review as green spaces without it, and green spaces with water did best of all. All water views were not as positively received as those with green, natural environments present, but aquatic-only views are preferred to those of the built environment with water. Even if your view is a simple courtyard, a fountain can make the scene more welcoming, restorative, and calming.

People questioned in the study by White and his colleagues were willing to pay quite a bit more for hypothetical hotel rooms with a water view than for identical rooms without; investing in a piece of property with a water view, or adding some sort of water element to an existing space, may make financial sense as well.

In defense of city views: Looking out over a city, particularly when it's lit up at night or if you can clearly see people going about their lives, can give you an energy boost; and that's not always bad. It's not what many people are looking for in a home or vacation, however.

So, to maximize the psychological (and maybe financial) bang for your buck, make sure you have a little blue with that green.

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

more...

Subscribe to People, Places, and Things

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.