Our homes have a huge impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. Buildings affect almost every aspect of our lives. The way we think and feel, the way we socialise, the way we learn and develop, the way we eat, the way we rest and recuperate.
In the western world we spend over 90% of our time inside buildings and as a species we’ve lived outside 99% of our evolutionary history. Only since the industrial evolution have we really started spending significant portions of our time indoors. The human body and psyche are not designed or adapted to such long periods inside buildings. The way we design our buildings and homes must respond to this simple truth. This is especially the case given the heavy screen time that is now part of daily life.
People are becoming increasing aware of how important it is to look after their mental wellbeing. Statistics from the mental health charity Mind state that as many as 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England.
Unfortunately this has only been amplified in the current covid -19 pandemic which resulted in the entire world going into lockdown and leaving many people feeling isolated and in prisoned in their home.
It makes no difference if you own your home or are renting according to new research by Kingfisher, feeling comfortable in your surroundings is what’s important – ‘if you are happy with your home you are almost certainly happy in life’.
This lockdown in the UK is different in many ways, one of which we are inside more. It’s colder, it gets dark earlier and the garden just isn’t as appealing as it was in those hot spring and summer months.
But there are plenty of small quick wins that you can do to your rental home that will make a big difference. You don’t have to renovate your entire property to make a difference.
Here are 9 things can you do right now to improve your space in lockdown.
Bring some nature in
Humans’ innate connection with nature is termed biophilia. Biophilic design is about providing a connection between people and nature. This maybe through the introduction of plants inside a building, providing views outside to a green space, or using natural materials, forms and patterns to evoke a connection with nature.
The simplest but most important elements of biophilia is daylight.
Tip 1 – Improve your work set up
Position your desk (and dining table) close to a window to maximise the natural daylight that you have access to. Even better if you can position your desk so that you have a view towards a garden, green space or greenery, which can increase productivity by up to 25%. How much would better would your work day be with higher productivity?
Tip 2 – Add Plants
Plants, natural and tactile materials and natural forms should be included where possible and practical. Research shows that being in a space that evokes nature can help reduce stress, blood pressure and heart rate, while increasing productivity, creativity and wellbeing. Even artificial plants and pictures of natural scenes can provide wellbeing benefits. Buy some house plants and pictures of nature.
Create Comfortable Spaces
Physical comfort is critical to our sleep, relaxation, productivity, satisfaction and general physical and mental wellbeing. Uncomfortable conditions in buildings – the physical discomfort of furniture, spaces which are too hot, cold, noisy, dark or light – can make us unhappy. they affect our sleep, limit our productivity, reduce how much time we spend together, increase our stress and over the long term make us ill.
How well do you sleep at night? We sleep for 1/3 of our life so ensuring that our bedroom is set up for a good night sleep is so important.
Tip 3 – Black out curtains or blinds in your bedroom
Managing light in a bedroom is fundamental to creating a healthy sleep environment. Exposure to light whether daylight or bright artificial indoor light suppresses melatonin which affects our ability to fall asleep, and affects the quality of our sleep.
Do you have black out curtains? Not as important now in the winter but if there are street lights/ car lights outside your bedroom windows it would be a good idea to buy some to block out the light. Black out liners aren’t expensive and can easily be added to existing curtains.
Tip 4 – Softer lighting
Lamps which provide a lower level of light before bedtime is also important as brighter white lights don’t suppress melatonin to the degree that warmer lights do.
Tip 5 – Ventilation
Keep fresh air moving to reduce humidity and prevent condensation, damp and mould. Open windows frequently for good air quality.
Tip 6 – Have comfortable robust furniture which is fit for purpose.
Working at a desk all day? You’ve already moved your desk to the window (I hope!) and added a decent desk light to help you focus but you need to ensure that your desk set up is not going to cause you any back problems in the future.
Chose a set up that’s right for you, whether that is sitting on an exercise ball, or standing at a raised desk or if you do prefer to sit for long periods of time, make sure you invest in a decent chair. Ensure that however you prefer to work that it supports your posture.
Personalisation and control
Did you know that if we believe that we have more control in our surroundings then we feel more content, even if our actual levels of control are unchanged?
Tip 7 – Move your furniture around to suit your needs
When was the last time that you moved your furniture around in your home to suit your personal preference?
Good design allows for personalisation rather than being overly rigid. Rather than using tape or blu tac, which might damage your rental property, buy a pinboard, pegboard or a notice board to stick your photos on to.
Beauty : Create characterful and Beautiful Spaces
Good design is part science part art. Things that look good make us happy. It’s human nature we are wired to enjoy things that we perceive to be beautiful. A home that we find characterful and beautiful is good for our psychological wellbeing.
Architectural details, colour scheme, furniture, fixtures and fittings all contribute to the character of a building. Not only that but they also influence our mood and psychology.
Colour is a powerful tool. Different colours can evoke different feelings and responses. Colours can be energising and stimulating or soothing and calming. Before you go painting any walls if you are living in rented accommodation you’ll need to get consent from your landlord/lady first.
Tip 8 – Add some colour
Think carefully about the colours in your house. Calm neutral colours and shades can enhance concentration and create psychological comfort. Restful colours (blues and greens) can enhance creativity and concentration, whilst bright, bold colours (red, orange and yellow) simulate the senses – this is potentially helpful in small doses but could quickly overstimulate in some areas.
Using accessories like throws, cushions, bedspreads or even changing the colour of the curtains are all quick and simple ways to add colour to a room.
Bedrooms should be calm and less stimulating spaces to encourage sleep so chose greens and blue. Social spaces are spaces where you want to be more sensory and stimulating, more interesting and memorable.
Tip 9 – Messy desk does not = creative genius
Mess and clutter has actually been shown to stimulate the release of of cortisol, physically increasing stress levels. Sufficient storage is therefore important to aid concentration, so get some simple storage boxes, buy a chest of drawers or ask your landlord/lady to put up some shelves (or ask their permission for you to).
Our homes are fundamental to our quality of life. With a few simple tweaks you can make your home a more productive place to work, a more restful place to relax, a fun place to socialise (when we’re all allowed to again!), and a happier place to live. It doesn’t need to cost the earth, and it doesn’t need to break any rules for renters. With a little thought you can make sure your home looks after your wellbeing.
Philippa Charrier is the Director and co founder (with her husband Tom) of FAT Properties. FAT Properties was founded to make a positive impact on the world through property development. They create exemplary student homes designed for wellbeing.
Philippa has over 10 years experience in the built environment, working on high profile urban regeneration projects. She understand the impact that the built environment has on people’s behaviour, mood and mental wellbeing.
FAT Properties is pioneering wellbeing led design in property development and transforming the student property market. Philippa and Tom authored the Amazon #1 bestseller ‘Designed for Wellbeing. They are hosts of their brand new podcast Designed for Wellbeing https://wavve.link/DesignedForWellbeingPodcast
They work with investors to build long term wealth whilst delivering a positive social impact.