The Psychology of Decorating: 5 Ways We Experience a Room

Article originally appeared on the RISMedia Blog

by Mikkie Mills


The positive or negative response we get upon entering a room is nearly instantaneous. We don’t need to carefully examine each corner, or walk around turning over every pillow to decide if a room makes us feel good or not. But, what is it that gives us such a strong first impression? Many of the ways we experience a room have to do with a psychological response that happens behind the scenes. This is why most homebuyers end up choosing a house based on the emotional response they get within moments of entering a home — not the detailed list of pros and cons they’ve made!

There are many different factors that go into how we experience a room, and in fact, many of the principles of feng shui are based on the intangible influences of design. Here are five different ways we shape our impression of a room:

Through the Senses

How we perceive a room with our senses tells us what we know to be true about the room, and provides a way of describing it. Through our sense of sight we can experience colors, each of which will elicit a different impression. Our eyes also pick up on important details such as patterns, scale and lighting.

Our sense of smell is the most tied to memory, so a pleasant one will connect us with memories that inspire positive emotions, while a foul smell will really turn us off. Flowers, scented candles and essential oils will please our nose while mildew, garbage or cat boxes will give us a poor experience.

Textures used to decorate a room should also be taken into consideration. Materials such as silk, wood, linen or wool give satisfaction to our sense of touch.

Through Our Assumptions

We usually always have some kind of preconceived notion when it comes to interiors. This can be based on our own past experiences or what we expect from a room’s design. These expectations we have conjured in our heads can greatly impact our experience. We might use our imagination as something to compare a home to, but that can either dampen our experience or make it a more positive one. By keeping a home predictable, it’ll add comfort and familiarity, but a few unexpected design elements like re-purposed antiques or unique barn door hardware can be visually appealing and interesting when used the right way.

Through Intuition

Another way we experience a room is through our intuition, though this one can be difficult to define. An example would be walking into a room where an argument has just taken place, which will feel a little less comfortable. It can also be an area of a home that hasn’t been used in a long time, so you can imagine the stagnant or cold vibe those areas give off. If you feel like your home has any stagnant or lonely corners, you can help it by placing a plant there, keeping the door open or making sure some natural light reaches the area.

Many feng shui tips come from following “conventional wisdom,” or the things we intuitively know to be good or bad for decorating. For instance, placing a mirror directly across from your bed at night is considered bad feng shui. Intuitively we know that having a mirror across from us at night is distracting, potentially creepy and not conducive to good sleep.

Through Our Emotions

Our personal feelings greatly impact how we experience a room, and will usually take precedence over our ability to rationalize. With that in mind, there are many decorating details that can trigger subtle (or not so subtle) emotional responses.

Decorations such as art is one example. If the subject matter features a depressing scene or sad characters, then it will definitely bring down the mood of a room. If you had some cut flowers on your coffee table, but they’ve wilted and dried out, that’s another detail that will put a damper on someone’s emotional response. It’s important to think about the kind of symbolism placed in a room and how they might influence our emotions. Other things like low or high ceilings, natural lighting (or lack thereof) and color psychology will all contribute to our emotional response.

Through Spacial Harmony

harmony roomIf furniture placement and scale is out of sync or doesn’t make sense, it can negatively effect how we experience a room. Chairs that are placed too far away from each other make conversation difficult, while being too close together will make a room feel cramped. It’s important to consider how the furniture and decorations are meant to interact with each other.

Choosing furniture to fit the size of the room is also important. Small spaces already have a negative effect on our psychology, so keep small rooms from becoming too crowded. Furniture that is in harmony with and the right scale for the room, and a floor plan that provides a sense of fluidity will greatly improve our perception.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to interior decorating than just picking the right shelf ornament. If you keep these principles in mind, guests won’t be able to quite describe why they feel so good in your home.

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Kitchen Design Dilemmas


Kitchen design is an art form, one where function and beauty harmoniously co-exist. Achieving that balance, however, isn’t always easy. When renovating a kitchen, homeowners can find themselves facing challenging design dilemmas – They’re not alone.

“When redesigning or refreshing a kitchen, the goal is to create a space that is hard-working, yet beautiful,” says Nate Berkus, renowned designer and artistic advisor to LG Studio. “Look for items that really represent who you are and your design personality, and you’ll create an area that you and your family will love both now and 10 years from now.”

Berkus points to these six common kitchen design dilemmas and offers suggestions on how to remedy those issues:

1. Space Challenges - When you don’t have enough room for the large table that your family needs, get creative. Consider building an L-shaped bench around a farm table and adding extra chairs. It’s a clever use of space and will create a cozy nook where your family can gather for meals, or where kids can do homework. Plus, the bench can double as storage space.

2. Last Year’s (or Last Decade’s) Cabinets - Cabinets are one of the first things you notice in any kitchen, and they’re also one of the most important in terms of functionality. If your cabinets provide ample space but look dated, Berkus suggests giving them a facelift with varying materials and finishes, like a wood or paint color that’s different from the rest of the kitchen.

3. Small Budgets, Big Taste - When you long for that sleek, built-in look but don’t want to break the bank, counter-depth appliances are a great design choice. They seamlessly integrate with cabinetry no matter what the material, supporting that clean look you ultimately want your kitchen to reflect.

4. Unattractive, Inefficient Lighting - Lighting is one of the most important design elements in any room, and it’s the one thing people often overlook. “Lighting can instantly change the whole feel of a space,” Berkus says. To create lighting that is both useful and beautiful, remember to light the room in layers – from above, under cabinets to illuminate work areas and all-around accent lighting to create ambiance.

5. Counter Space Confusion - Figuring out how much counter space you’ll need is always tricky. Start by considering all the ways you’ll be using your counters. You’ll need food prep areas, of course, but will you also want a breakfast bar where your family can sit for meals and snacks? Will you need extra room for countertop appliances? “My rule of thumb is, to always double the amount of counter space you think you’ll need,” Berkus says. “You can never have too much, especially if you like to cook and entertain.”

6. A Too-Clean Slate - A large, open-concept kitchen can seem appealing, but it can also be daunting to design and decorate. Don’t be afraid to break up space or do something unexpected in the kitchen. Berkus says. “I love the idea of creating an unexpected seating area in your kitchen. Shop your weekend flea markets or online stores for a vintage sofa, coffee table and rug to set up an area for your family to relax in.”

Ultimately, Berkus says, keep in mind that the kitchen truly is the heart of the home. “Kitchen design is about creating a space in your home that brings the whole family together, and is the best place to reflect your sense of personal style.”

Is Altadena the Next Enclave for LA Hipsters?

Photo by Phil Coombes

Is Altadena the next enclave for LA “hipsters”? Find out the answer in this article by Adrian Glick Kudler published on

Yes, yes, the word “hipster” has been used past all meaningfulness, but that doesn’t mean it is meaningless. Let’s use it here for: young, trendy, college-educated, mostly white folks who are somewhere in the process of segueing their youthful alternativity into their specific version of the American capitalist dream (see: Generation X in years past). So what everyone wants to know about those people is: where do they want to live? Because wherever they want to live is going to become the place where everyone else wants to live (see: Silver Lake, Echo Park, and now Highland Park).

The pattern of trendsetters moving into a new, usually “cheap,” neighborhood, drawing in the trend-followers behind them liked hipster Pied Pipers, and finally attracting real estate investors and well-capitalized businesses, is known more commonly as “gentrification” and has very serious consequences for the original residents of those neighborhoods, and for the character of the city as a whole. In a surprisingly insightful blog post(via LAist), “Real Estate Agent to the Hipsters” Tyler Harman lays out their unexpected new frontiers, now that the northeastish ‘hoods are so over. (Forbes, for god’s sake, anointed Silver Lake years ago.)

Already high-priced Highland Park is “still incredibly popular and increasing,” although the more cautious wave of trendy folks, the “young professionals that change clothes after punching the clock,” is still waiting “until the area has been a little more sterilized.” But “[l]ong before the hype” even began there, the trendsetters had already begun a migration “across the Arroyo River into East L.A. into neighborhoods like Lincoln Heights and El Sereno.” Not long after, investors saw the opportunity and got to work hipster flipping the houses in those areas. Harman says he’s already seen trend-followers start to follow that trend.

Far more surprisingly, Harman is seeing the hipster forefront move “into Western Pasadena & Altadena in an area called the ‘Lincoln Corridor’.” And already “There is a very large concentration of investor flips that are driving up prices”—the normal course of gentrification seems to have reversed, with the hipster-friendly housing arriving first.

But in a city as large and filled with low-income neighborhoods as Los Angeles, there are always new places for hipsters to colonize. Harman predicts that “soon they will start venturing south of The 10 Freeway and underneath Downtown L.A.” into South LA. Good lord.