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The Science of Interior Design - Part 1

Have you ever noticed how successful people live in homes that have "successful" interiors? How about when Gordon Ramsay's Team "transforms" a restaurant on his show Kitchen Nightmares that kicks off the new life of the business? We know how Thom Filicia and Bobby Berk "transformed" lives in redesigning homes on Queer Eye. There's not a particular style or color, but there's an overall composition in a well designed room that has a significant impact on how our brain and body experience that space.

Translating this observation is one of the core values of Elan Design. We craft custom spaces to bring health, wealth and success into your life.  With the myriad of options in the design industry, it was important to us to understand how and why our brains are affected by our environment to be able to explain what we do to potential clients.

In 2021, we attended a lecture called The Science In Design at High Point Market led by Mike Peterson and Linda Kafka. This class provided the facts around what I inherently sensed to be the cause and effect of interior design and art, touching on many of the fundamental truths that led me to establish Elan Design | Interior Design & Fine Art.

Through the past three years, I've gathered the scientific research from neurologists, researchers, technology leaders, professors, architects, environmentalists and other leaders in the field of neuroaesthetics. There is a call to action, an obligation in the interior design industry to create spaces to foster learning, promote faster healing , and improve mental, physical, and emotional health of our clients.


In the late 1990’s, an emerging scientific study, called neuroaesthetics began to explore how art, music and design impact physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Susan Magsamen is the founder and Executive Director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, a pioneering neuroaesthetics initiative from the Pedersen Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine focuses on the relationship of brain sciences and the arts—and how our unique response to aesthetic experiences can enhance human potential.

She discovered that beauty is encoded in our DNA, and improves health.

“The truth is that aesthetic experiences are hardwired in all of us. They are evolutionary imperatives, encoded in our DNA as an essential part of our humanity. And they are fundamental to our health, well-being, and learning.” -- Susan Magsamen, Executive Director, International Arts + Mind Lab, Pedersen Brain Science Institute, Johns Hopkins University

But beauty is in the mind of the beholder.

The Aesthetic Triad

Dr. Anjan Chaterjee, a Professor of Neurology, Psychology and Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the Director of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics, explains that there are three main factors that shape the way we each experience an environment:

  1. Knowledge and Meaning - our comprehension of how we view the world

  2. Sensory Motor - the physiological responses of how a space impacts us

  3. Emotion Validation - our feelings about a specific stimulus

Dr. Chaterjee explains that our natural environment sculpted our brains about 1.8 million years ago in the way they exist today . Yet, we've only had dense environments, like cities, in some parts of the world for maybe 10,000 years. So the question he posed is "how do we handle this new kind of environment with this old kind of brain?" Researchers and practitioners are calling for an integration of the arts, technology, and science to design a healthier future for all of us.

“The potential benefits are vast, transcending class, gender, race and culture. We believe the field of neuroaesthetics is at the heart of unleashing humanity’s greatest potential. “ -- Susan Magsamen

Considering that we spend about 90-95% of our time indoors, we crave places that fit our needs and delight the senses. At our core, we desire beauty, comfort, control and belonging. So we find that our main question is what is the relationship of our brain to not only the built environment, but also to the natural environment.

It turns out that different sections of our brain increase blood flow depending on our perceptions of a space. For example, the amygdala and motor cortex make us feel afraid and want to run away when we perceive ugliness. Interesting that this in the back section of the brain, directing us to "back away". While the prefrontal cortex lights up when we experience a beautiful space. This prefrontal cortex is a very old, primitive part of the brain that registers pleasure and reward and is located "front and center".

According to Anjan Chaterjee, humans have identified about 16 different phycological characteristics of a space. Explorability, beauty, naturalness, comfort, stimulation and others that were then grouped into three main categories: Coherence, Fascination and Homeyness.

Language In Design

There are basic necessities that make up a room, color, light, fabrics, a certain scent, sounds all elicit a positive or negative response. As we speak with potential clients, I find myself saying, “if you are going to have the painter buy a can of paint, don’t you want to pick out the best color? They’re the same price.” It behooves us to make intentional decisions about those elements, especially if there is no difference in cost. We then unify these elements cohesively to create a custom made room.

A thoughtful placement of light fixtures is one way to promote wellness in any budget. In a previous article, Lighting Tips for a Successful Space, we describe why the layering of light has physiological effects that impact our health and wellbeing.

Magsamen emphasized the importance of “language in design.”

“Design must be individualized both physiologically and psychologically to optimize any given space through lighting, textures, and furnishings. Aesthetics and good design are fundamental to health in the home.” -- Susan Magsamen

As a designer who is attuned to the energy fields in spaces of the objects, and of the people we work with, what Magsamen said was a complete validation of our work. Our creative process at Elan Design is geared toward creating an atmosphere using the elements in the space that is personalized to our clients. We listen closely as to what will be happening in the space, and identify the role that the architecture, the furnishings, and objects will play in the overarching “performance” and "conversation" of the room. And my very first question is "how do you want to feel in this space?"

Good design pleases all the senses.

The way I understand the feeling we get when we enter a room is how the elements are communicating with each other. We know when we walk into a disagreement among people. There's a tension. Same goes for furnishings. We sense the reverberation of the way the elements within that room are "speaking", pleasantly or not.

As a creative, I'm sensitive to this conversation of energy fields. I can hear what a room needs, how to open a flow, the best way to introduce a color, and ultimately come up with a plan to bring all of the elements together so that your space supports, protects, and inspires your energy.

“Our brains and bodies are always sensing and interpreting the world around us. And we know that the design of spaces impacts our biology. The opportunity to use this knowledge to design and create intentional spaces that support our health and wellbeing - that is the future of design.” -- Susan Magsamen

In Part 2 of this series, we'll explore the leading architects that specialize in the psychology of the built environment. Part 3 of our series will be totally devoted to Biophilic Design and its economic benefits. And in Part 4, we'll show you how Elan Design is using technology to create optimized spaces for our clients.

The science of interior design lies at the core of Elan Design. We inherently understand why a well-crafted environment and enjoying artwork in your rooms change people’s lives for the better through these studies of neuroaesthetics .  

It gives us great pleasure to announce that Elan Design is among the earliest recipients of the SIDC Certification.

This is what we do, what we've always done.

At Elan Design, we know what to plan in the very beginning of your projects, the best ways to illuminate a space, and instinctually know what may be feeling off in a room. Our Room Reading is a great way to identify the energy that your existing pieces are creating in a space, and advise on layers that may be missing.

To have a completely customized space designed by us, we’re pleased to provide you with our Full-Service Offering . And as always we're happy to join you on a call to talk about how we can help you make the most out of where you live.

If you have questions click here to get in touch with us. Let us know in the comments what resonated with you, and how you would like to improve the way you experience your home.

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