Design Your Space & Design Your Life

Living and working in well-designed spaces can make the difference between living a happy life or an unsatisfactory one. 90% of our lives are spent indoors. A well-designed space is one that supports and promotes the lifestyle people desire through both functional and aesthetic design elements. Moreover, our health and wellbeing are deeply affected by space design. Most people understand that living in a cluttered space can cause stress, or that a dark house can be depressing, but there are many other factors to consider when designing for overall wellness that many designers don’t consider.

This article covers just a few of the ways design can influence the quality of our lives, and we’ll begin with light. Exposure to adequate levels of sunlight is critical for health and well-being, for physiological, psychological, and neurological reasons. Proximity to windows, outdoor views (ideally some nature), and daylight is paramount. Daylight should be the primary source of lighting, if possible, instead of artificial lighting. Ideal lighting involves proper exposure to diffuse daylight as well as careful design of windows to avoid excessive glare and heat gain. It is important to control glare while in bright light to avoid eye discomfort, fatigue and visual impairment. Glare from windows can be controlled with adjustable window coverings, external shading systems, or other strategies. To prevent glare from artificial lighting, the lighting should be diffused or indirect.

In addition to facilitating our vision, both daylight and artificial light influences our circadian rhythm. Light greatly affects the quality of our sleep. 50 to 70 million American adults have a chronic sleep disorder. Such disorders and sleep deprivation are associated with diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attaches, hypertension, stroke, and other illnesses. Multiple physiological processes – including those relating to alertness, digestion, and sleep – are regulated in part by the hormones influenced by our circadian rhythm. Since we spend so much time indoors, artificial lighting has a huge impact as well. To maintain our internal clock optimally, we need periods of both brightness and darkness at the correct times. However, our need for adequate light levels to perform activities such as reading, eating, and other tasks must be balanced with the right lighting that keeps our internal clock on time. Being in bright light during the first part of the day, and lower and lower light levels in the latter part of the day is important. Staying away from artificial blue-ish light that mimics daylight after the sun sets is crucial for good sleep. Certain light bulbs, computer screens, phones, and TV screens emit blue-ish light. There are now lighting products on the market that change intensity and color throughout the day to keep our internal clock better synchronized.

The light level in a space contributes to the perception of spaciousness and overall appeal of a space. Light color also impacts the appeal of space and can either contribute or detract from our eye comfort. Poor color quality can make objects difficult to see correctly. Foods, skin, and plants may appear dull or non-appetizing. Outdoor spaces are also important to soak up some direct sunlight and vitamin D. They should be aesthetically pleasing, quiet, and free of unpleasant odors, so people want to use them. -----Physical inactivity poses one of the biggest modern threats to public health. Most of us spend the majority of our time indoors in a seated position. Prolonged sitting is associated with a number of adverse health conditions including obesity, cancer, back problems, and fatigue just to name a few. Sitting more than 3 hours per day is associated with a 2-year lower life expectancy. Regular exercise doesn’t negate the health consequences of long periods of sitting in chairs, so it’s important to create opportunities to reduce sitting and promote movement. Sitting on the floor or standing are much healthier than sitting in chairs or on sofas. Using standing desks is helpful. Having fewer TV’s is one way to discourage TV watching. Placing fitness equipment in front of a TV in an aesthetically pleasing way or keeping hand weights and resistant bands in a cabinet near the TV are other ways. The layout of the space can also affect the amount of movement needed. Having a TV room next to the kitchen promotes eating while watching TV. Having a bathroom further away from the TV room promotes a little more movement than having it directly off the TV room.

Noise can be a source of stress. Noise from traffic creates a higher risk for hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. Internal noises from electronics, HVAC systems, mechanical equipment as well as the occupants themselves can also be sources of annoyance, distraction, and decreased productivity. The layout of a space should allow for separate loud and quiet zones. Walls should have the appropriate insulation and construction detailing and doors should have gaskets, sweeps and a non-hollow core to mitigate sound transmission between rooms. The noise produced by reverberation can decrease speech intelligibility and cause additional stress. It’s important to use sound-absorbing materials and other design elements. Footsteps and voices can bounce off hard surfaces making them louder. But carpeting and throw rugs can also be a source of dust and germs. Ceiling height also affects indoor noise levels. High ceilings create visual appeal, but to mitigate noise, other design features are necessary.

This article certainly doesn’t cover all the ways space design can influence our lives, but begins to touch on the key points.