Holistic Interiors - Principles
Updated: Aug 28
Hey, hello, there! Welcome! I'm glad you are here! I am glad I am here, considering the fact I have lost all inspiration in the last few months. Yes, I still live in lockdown, it's been one, two, three, four months, more like ... forever. However I really, really don't want to start every single post this year with meaningless grumbling (yet, I have just done it again). Let's ignore the first paragraph then...
Hi, hello, welcome, Again! Assuming you have read the title of this post, we will be talking about interiors today. I've been thinking a lot about introducing more of the topic in this blog in a more, shall we say educational manner. In all honesty, I didn't know what to write about, sometimes it seems like the world already knows everything. We have access to the most information humanity has ever had access to. I mean astrophysics is just there at the tip of your fingers. Luckily we are not going to talk about astrophysics... just yet. My fingers are not that motivated... just yet. Anyway back to interiors... after almost two years of teaching interior design, I have gathered that people want to learn about it and become better at it, no matter if professionally or simply in the pursuit of achieving peace and harmony in their own home. Since it is my passion to deliver information of that kind, I finally thought to myself why not! And there you have it.
I am starting simple, and possibly more conceptual, but let's see how that edu blog goes. Today's topic is holistic interiors and in particular - the principles of it. I am a huge believer that the spaces we occupy should tell a story and make us feel comfortable and happy. Sometimes we achieve that without much thought behind it, we trust our intuition. However, others struggle to hear the sound of that tiny little inner voice. I am here for the latter, hopefully with some instructions and tested strategies you could get a better understanding of yourself and achieve the zen of a truly holistic space.
First things first, what is holistic design? It is just what the name says it is, design as a whole, covering a multitude of elements in the pursuit of achieving harmony and promoting physical and mental well-being.
Holistic design takes into account the person, the device, the moment, the ethnographic environment, the physical space as well as human behavior and psychology, i.e. thinking, attitudes, emotions, motivations, abilities, triggers etc., and aims to deliver an optimal experience.
— Miklos Philips, Principal UX Designer at Toptal Holistic interior design focuses on the wholeness of the experience in a given space, be it residential or commercial. The goal is to approach the design process from an emotional point of view, considering, of course, looks and practicality as well as how a space feels. Every area of an interior has a purpose and a specific meaning, that connects its inhabitants to the surroundings. I love this approach to design, as it concerns itself largely with the actual ambience, local culture, often environmental sustainability, biophilia and sometimes minimalism, less is more or, as Marie Condo puts it - only surround yourself with the things that spark joy.
Holistic interior design is flexible and allows for a more 'freestyle' use of space. A chair is not just a chair, it could be a texture, it could enhance the tactility of space, it can be here or there depending on the need at a given time. In that sense, holistic interior design interconnects all aspects of design and helps us establish a deeper relationship with the space.
Holistic Design Principles
How do we keep connected with a space? Usually, we become connected when we establish a relationship, the design elements are familiar, they speak to us and we feel safe, but also appreciated. Yes, you appreciate beautiful design, but interiors can appreciate you too. We, as users, are a major compliment to our spaces. There are various strategies to approach a holistic design project. The evident principles to follow are:
Our five senses-sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste.
Each of our senses sends a signal to our brain, which in return, helps us perceive our surroundings, and therefore determine how we feel about them. Do we feel comfortable, are we cold or hot, are there any unpleasant smells, by the look of it-do we feel safe and protected... Paying attention to our senses and what they are telling us keeps us in the moment. Does it remind you of an important and very current theme? Yes, mindfulness. Mindfulness is an important factor in our day to day life that helps us keep our mental well-being in check. Subconsciously or not, through our senses we establish that first link with our environment.
Usually, when we speak about design, the first thing that comes to mind is something visually appealing-sight is the primary sense. A beautifully decorated and organised space with visual elements of interest is important. It helps that first flare of attraction.
Touch is equally important, and while competent designers usually consider it, when choosing different materials, people that are not professionally trained might overlook this sense. Everything around us is made of something. Look at a simple object close by to you, notice its texture, is it soft or hard, is it cold or warm, is it smooth or bumpy. Touch is the closest you get to feeling the space. It can make you feel welcome and comfortable and also gives you the opportunity to experience for real how the space around you works, experiment and interact with it. (Massey 2015)
Sound is another sense that can get overlooked easily. Sadly that often happens in commercial environments, which shouldn't be the case, as it can bring an uneasy feeling about a space. Weird or loud sounds can deeply impact us, but equally pleasant sounds can change our mood in a positive direction. When a sound is created with meaning it can enhance the perception of particular visual sets of information. In holistic design, the goal is to observe our surroundings, notice when sounds are louder or quieter, limit noise while creating a harmony of desirable sounds such as conversation, music and natural ambience. Playing with sound is especially fun as we can also create a sense of curiosity, which is generally desirable in commercial projects.
Simply put, smell sense is all about air quality. We bring fresh air through windows or other openings in the buildings we occupy, facilitating cross ventilation. Other ways to improve the air quality is by using humidifiers, which are quite popular nowadays, incense sticks, essential oils, etc. A pleasant scent can transform any environment. It can bring memories or carry you from one place to another within seconds. Smells make a big impression and sort of dictate the mood in any space. (Massey 2015)
The final sense is taste. No one expects you to build a house out of cookies, just like the evil witch in Hensel and Gretel (although... that would be nice, never mind the ants...). We often incorporate taste as a sense in the space planning and paying special attention to kitchen design, or providing spaces for edible gardens, or simply a small patch to grow herbs and spices. The kitchen for many is the heart of a home. In many commercial projects the space for nourishment is of the biggest importance, be it in a corporate or hospitality setting. Food is something we need to survive, so why not make the surroundings of its preparation especially pleasant and inspiring. Bringing food into the unexpected realm of design often leads to friendlier connections. Food is an effective ingredient that always helps to enliven those human connections. (Massey 2015)
Although it sounds a bit too general, comfort is a vital component of holistic design. Paying attention to the comfort aspect, we create a sense of belonging, protection and safety. Comfort helps us determine what makes us unique and special, what brings up our personality, desires, tastes and perception of the world, it goes as far as better understanding our connection with the Universe. Look around yourself, what are your most valuable possessions, not the most expensive, but the ones that are meaningful and hold a special place in your heart. Ask yourself why these particular objects resonate with you? Perhaps they hold a special memory or they convey your story, who you are, what is your background, what you have gone through, how much you've grown. Sharing these experiences with your surroundings helps you to open up and recognise your true self, which in turn makes you more comfortable with opening up to the world as well.
The trick in implementing comfort to an interior space is in creating a focal point, make your treasures the star of the show. You can arrange them in a specific area in your space, that gets the most attention throughout the day, or perhaps scatter them around in areas you use daily. In doing so you would be reminded of your story throughout the day while staying connected to your objects in a meaningful way.
As established previously everything around us is meant of something. Materials are the things that give structure to the physical world around us and are closely related to the touch sense. How can we keep the aspect of mindfulness when selecting materials for our spaces? Well, first and most importantly we have to know that materials are divided into three groups-natural, synthetic and composite. Natural materials are those found in nature, with no or very limited human involvement in the process of their processing. Commonly, they have a very raw look, touch and feel about them. Synthetic materials on the contrary are man-made, and can not be found freely in nature. They are usually created in laboratories, by mixing chemicals and compounds in the creation of new material. Composite materials are somewhere in between, mixing both natural and synthetic elements. There are not necessarily good or bad materials, however, the approach to their selection should be mindful and considering their cost, durability, maintenance and general impact on our surroundings.
Prioritising natural materials is probably the closest one could get to assembling a holistic interior, as they are directly connected to nature. They are minimally processed, therefore less harmful for the environment, as well as our health and wellbeing, as they contain fewer chemical and potentially toxic ingredients. Here comes the bit about sustainability. Material selection should be reasonable, well-considered and calculated and sourced from trusted suppliers.
Biophilia is yet another important component in holistic interiors, and shall I say a very interesting and pleasant to work with. Biophilia is the inner desire and instinct to connect and communicate with nature. Biophilia is not just a philosophy—but in fact, biophilic design has been found to support cognitive function, physical health, and psychological well-being. Natural shapes, forms, patterns and colours inspire us daily and could strongly influence our connection with interior or exterior environments. There are misconceptions that explain biophilia as simply filling up your spaces with plants and flowers, however, it is so much more. In architecture, biophilia can be observed in the shapes and spatial arrangement of buildings. It involves ventilation, natural daylighting, materiality and tactility too and connectivity with the outside world. Often architects and designers take inspiration from curious organic shapes and forms and implement them in an interior as architectural elements, furniture and decoration.
Biophilia creates a positive connection with our surroundings, as it provides an emotional attachment that human beings have with the world and its wonders-species, organisms, habitats, naturally occurring phenomena and even the sun. Pay attention to how the sunlight fills your space throughout the day, is it bright, is it softer. Where the sun rises from and where it sets, this can later help you determine and practically distribute the different areas within your space.
Taking care of your space is an essential part of holistic design. Quite simply put, when you take care of your space, it does the same for you too. Just as in our human relationships, we are required to pay attention and constantly work on them, in a similar manner we have to nourish the spaces we occupy daily. The beauty of holistic design is that it is not a one-time thing only, but it is a process of appreciating and giving back. It is a continual daily practice that keeps us centred and present in the moment. How to care for your environment? Keep it clean and tidy, if something breaks, fix it or replace it, play with the space, move things around, maintain the interior alive, use its features, interact with it, as if it is a living thing.
Hopefully, you got a bit of understanding of holistic design. It's a passion of mine, I've had for years, especially creating a sense of cosiness. In the next posts, I'll cover each one of the principles in more detail, there are crystals, colours, aromatherapy, plants and other stuff coming up, so if you are interested in that sort of thing, stay tuned! See you soon!
PS. The photos of this post were taken in the dreamiest Airbnb I've ever stayed in. A home of a talented fashion designer, based in Barcelona.