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Elan Design shares expert advice on the Dopamine Decor Trend with Better Homes & Gardens

Can you describe the dopamine decor trend? What is it? Do you know where it came from?

The dopamine decor trend is an offshoot of what the fashion industry termed dopamine dressing.  Fashion psychologist, Dawnn Karen, suggested that wearing a certain color, texture, or style can activate the release of dopamine, and make you feel good.  I’m thrilled that the trend gained traction in the design industry because it brings to light how much our environment shapes our minds and bodies.  

What is now being termed as dopamine decor is a reaction the mind has when the person sees what they think to be beautiful, which makes them feel good. A certain scent, the feeling of a particular fabric, the colors and patterns we see all elicit a positive or negative response.


Dopamine is the reward chemical of the brain, and makes us feel happy and satisfied. I want to open up this dopamine decor concept a little more though. There’s a term called neuroaesthetics, which is the way the brain reacts to our built environment and art.  Susan Magsamen, founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) at the Pedersen Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins, has brought together scientists, researchers, neurologists, architects, interior designers, and artists to identify the effects our environment has on our brain and bodies. Mike Peterson and Linda Kafka have packaged up and put a pretty red bow on all of this information for interior designers in their program called, Science In Design. It’s giving designers like myself the ability to become certified in this field of neuroaesthetics, so that we may better serve our clients.

Why would people want to use the dopamine decor trend in their home?

If there’s anything to take away from this time together is to know that your environment holds the key to your success. It’s important to pay attention to how the spaces you spend your time affect your mood and motivation.  And the good news is that you have the ability to change them to what you want those spaces to look like, how they can make you feel, and to make it easier to get done what you need to do in them.

Who is the dopamine trend for?

Everyone in some way. When we feel good, mentally, physically and emotionally, we live in a more aligned way. We’re more productive at work, time with our family is fun, our children are open and engaged.  Tasks seem lighter for all of us.  When we think about that on a larger scale, our own environments have an effect not only on ourselves, but have exponential effects in our community.

An enriched environment is also good for business. There’s a 25% increase in revenues for stores and restaurants that carefully curate their spaces. There’s also strong evidence of higher employee productivity, enhanced learning rates in schools, and faster healing times in healthcare facilities.  

Is there anyone the trend wouldn’t work for?

Yes. The phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is very true.  People respond differently to different stimuli. The majority of us respond well to environments with a balance of fascination and homeyness. Meaning there’s an element of excitement we like - this is the dopamine -  along with being comfortable.  We've learned that for people on the autism spectrum, however, they respond better to more organized, predictable surroundings that feel relaxed. 

Patterns play a large role in designing a space.  The average person responds well to patterns that have a medium complexity to them. Those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons prefer much more subdued, simpler patterns.

If you were speaking directly with a client, what are 6 - 12 ways you would recommend them to go about incorporating the dopamine decor trend in their home? Please suggest a product (accent decor, furniture, etc.) with each of your recommendations for nailing the trend.

1 - What do you want to feel in the space? 

First question. If dopamine dressing is about dressing for the mood you want to create, the first step for dopamine decor is to think about the feeling you want that room to give you.  Keep in mind that the different rooms in the house combine to make one cohesive experience, so you want the whole home to feel good in different ways.  Think about the feelings first, then develop the aesthetics.

2 - Pick out your favorite dress.  

When I said that fashion has an impact on interiors, it does.  In fact, one of my first conversations with a new client is in their closet. I ask them to show me a favorite dress, tie, or any article of clothing that they feel incredible wearing.  This sets our guidepost, and begins the conversation of what we want the room to look like. Happiness means different things to different people. The same goes for different colors, textures, and patterns. Having a conversation around that favorite piece of clothing indicates what that person wants to surround themselves with.

3 - Lighting is everything.

Lighting is one of the most important elements in a space.  I have a couple articles on this one because lighting in itself can fundamentally change the atmosphere in a room.

4 - Nature

There’s a term called Biophilia that’s gaining a lot of attention these days. Having nature, and things that remind us of nature, in your space causes a positive physical reaction in our bodies. It goes back to a primitive time when what we saw, heard, and smelled innately brought feelings of safety and reward.  Scientists have discovered that this reaction is ingrained in our DNA and our brains still respond the same way they did thousands of years ago.

If you love plants, add them. If you’re not good with plants, framed photographs work well.  Realistic photos of flowers and plants (ferns especially), a mountainside, a lake, waves rolling onto the beach, whatever natural element you respond to, incorporate these images to center yourself and connect with the earth. 

On the other hand, if you're not exactly a green thumb, Eryn Oruncak recommended incorporating "things that remind you of nature" instead. Opt for a faux plant or "images of plants and flowers, mountains, tree canopies, or the rhythm of flowing water" to give your space some life, minus the upkeep.

It takes about 40 seconds of looking at nature for the brain to restore from feeling mentally drained, re-establish attention control, and improve our ability to complete tasks.  It’s like a quick reset button.

5 - Artwork 

Art is one of the most personal elements in the room and a fundamental tool in creating customized environments for our clients. As an interior designer and artist, my perspective is two-fold on the use of color, texture, movement and details in how the artwork contributes to the overall success of a space.  And we see the designers that feel confident working with artwork in a space typically enjoy more exposed and celebrated projects.  There’s an added level of excitement that you can actually feel.  

6 - All Natural Candles 

Scent is a powerful way to stimulate our senses. Fun fact: scientists have shown that lavender triggers the same neural pathway that valium does.  An easy way to instantly rejuvenate is with a scented candle.  I included natural essential oils of oud, amber, oakmoss, cloves and rose in the formula for my private label candle, called Walking Through Flowers.

7 - Fabrics 

One of the most comforting aspects of fabric is its ability to provide warmth.  The feeling of being enveloped by a soft blanket or fluffy towel instantly soothes the soul. Invest in a nice set of plush cotton towels for your bathroom. One of my clients told me that the highlight of his morning was stepping out of the shower onto the “fancy bath mat" we incorporated into his bathroom renovation.  Mission accomplished.

Throw blankets, pillows, upholstery and bedding all create this physical sense of comfort.  They also give you an opportunity to bring your personality into the environment. Perhaps your culture celebrates a particular textile like alpaca or silk.  Maybe a soft corduroy reminds you of a favorite relative, or a circular pattern brings you back to that incredible hotel you stayed on vacation.  Think about fabrics that resonate with your sense of self.  The easiest way to bring them into your space is by adding throw pillows to your sofa, favorite chair, or on your bed.

Using vibrant motifs and tones around your home will evoke the dopamine spirit, but Oruncak believes that you should use the trend as an "opportunity to bring your personality into the environment." Perhaps that means "celebrating your culture with a particular textile" or incorporating elements of "soft corduroy that reminds you of a favorite relative." You'll feel better about changing up your space with meaningful modifications and swaps.

8 - Tile 

Tile is like fabric in the bathroom.  When designing the bathroom, the colors, shapes, and textures of the tiles play a huge role in the overall look and feel of what is your most personal space. Because it’s where we start and end our days, it’s important to select the aesthetic of tiles that can motivate and relax you at different times of the day. Think of your favorite color and go from there. Tile can morph this way when paired well with other elements like the faucets, vanity, and paint color.

If you’ve helped a client work this trend into their interior design in the past, feel free to call back to that as well.

I've practiced what is now coming to light as dopamine decor since I established Elan Design in 2016.  The environments and fine art that we've created for our clients have brought about promotions and salary increases, stronger connections with their families, and even higher returns on their Short Term Rentals. 

My ultimate goal is to create beautiful spaces that optimize the experience of the environment, so that it better serves the people that live there.

Is there a way to do it more affordably?

Research has shown that curiosity activates a number of areas in the brain, causing the release of dopamine.  So shop in your own house and shift things around. You may find that the special box you picked up on vacation looks beautiful on the other table.  Or the morning light hits the artwork in an interesting way in another room.  To experience your surroundings in a new way and ultimately satisfy your curiosity with an answer, you’ll feel the positive effect of the brain’s reward chemical.

Is there a way to personalize it?

It’s all very personal.  The way you decorate your home will not only trigger feelings of happiness, but each room will also serve you in completing your daily routines. 

Color therapy has been used to help balance the body’s energy and heal physical and mental health. There are certain colors that bring out certain emotions, but culture and our personal experiences affect our preferences.

Think about what is your favorite color and why. Once you determine what color you gravitate towards, add that color at least three times in a room. Fabric in that space (like a pillow ), in the rug, and again in the artwork to give you an idea. OR you can use it as the paint color. 

If you’re having a hard time picking what color suits you, start by looking into your closet. Looking at the colors of your clothing will tell a lot about what you want to surround yourself in. Take a few of your favorite pieces that you often wear and bring them into the room you’re designing. Throw them over a chair and see how each color resonates in that space. 

What are some small ways to incorporate the trend for those who aren’t ready to fully commit? 

Sometimes, a little goes a long way.  So map out your home in terms of what happens in what location.  When you identify a specific place that you or someone else in your home may feel stressed and can use a burst of happiness, put something there.

Before getting started, Eryn Oruncak, a fine artist and founder of the interior design firm Élan Design, suggests "mapping out your home" and "identifying specific spaces" that could use a "burst of happiness." This way, you'll know where to start to make subtle changes and see if you're interested in exploring the aesthetic further.

You can take a deep breath in of a beautiful scented candle that’s sitting on the console in the foyer. Perhaps it’s a small bench that will help you take your shoes off, or have a place to put your bag down. Even taking a minute to look at a photo of a special moment on the beach. Something little can make the slightest shift. The possibilities are endless for what happens after that.

How about bigger ways?

Thinking bigger, there are 15 patterns of biophilic design that cause the brain to react in different ways.  Some reduce stress hormones, some improve cognitive performance, some boost immunity.  There are two biophilic experiences in a space that induce a strong dopamine response: mystery and risk.

In design, mystery is friends with curiosity that I mentioned earlier. A partially obscured view to draw the individual to look around the corner, a curving pathway, a light coming from down the hallway. Having a secret door into a hidden room - jackpot!

Risk in interior spaces is defined as an identifiable threat paired with a reliable safeguard. So for example, this could be stepping stones across a water feature (where the water is very shallow). This is also a catwalk, or having a view into an atrium or two-story living room.  The grandeur is exciting, and the experience of that space will bring feelings of joy.

How can renters incorporate the trend? What about homeowners?

Both for renters and homeowners, your environment will have direct effects on your well-being.  So however you want to craft your home, be it a rental or your own property, make decisions about your spaces based on a whole plan

We feel good in spaces that are coherent, comfortable, and interesting. When you decorate your home, know that each element in that space relates to the other elements in some way.  The way those pieces relate to each other creates an energy of the space. 

If you’re renting, focus your resources on movable money. Fabulous drapery, quality bedding and towels, great table lamps, things that you can move easily.  For homeowners, this all applies to you as well, but take it a step further in altering the architecture and landscape of the property. There’s more freedom of motion for incorporating elements into your home that heighten the experience you have in the space, as well as enjoying the higher returns on your investment when you sell.

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