Sustainable Design: Space Planning for Wellness

Interior Design

Our living and working spaces subconsciously affect us both physically and psychologically?  Promoting wellbeing by designing healthy spaces, which will nurture the mind and body, requires us to consider some key questions at the start of a design project.  For instance, defining a space’s purpose, what activities will take place within it; creating a space which permits the free flow movement, not just around this area but to adjoining rooms; and the correct scaling and placement of all furniture, preventing a space from looking cluttered and stressful.  Architects and interior designers refer to this as space planning.  

At the start of a design project we all have that ideal image within our minds of how we want the space to look and feel.   However, all too often, what we thought may work (the idea), may in actual fact leave us with a space, which looks and feels over-crowded, doesn’t flow, and is an assault course just to manoeuvre around it.  A design, which was supposed to create a calming and zen space, now has a negative effect of our wellbeing.   As Julia Fairley (2020) cites  ‘a clear and open home is a natural reflection of a clear and open mind’.  The effects of  space planning on our mood has been known for some time.  It is only recently that society has been able to evaluate and acknowledge the effects of spaces on our wellbeing.

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Within the brain we have an area called the hippocampus, which focuses on our spatial surroundings.  So, every time we move from one area to the next, this area of the brain is continually assessing and providing information in the form, as cited by Fairley (2020), ‘cognitive maps’.  Think back to a cluttered and disorganised home or work place, which you have visited.  What effect did this have on your mood?  I know, when I am in a cluttered space, it can make me feel stressed and unable to relax.  The body’s reaction to any stressful stimuli is to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.  This causes an increase in our breathing and heart-rate, making the body’s internal system work harder.  The consequences of this include depleted energy levels and a down-turn in our emotions.

The United Kingdom’s Green Building Council cites, the places, which we live can have an ‘impact on every aspect of our lives’.   This includes, as cited by the Green Building Council, ‘sleeping, socialising and working’.  Our well-being is affected by the positioning and quantity of furniture within each space and the ease with which we can manoeuvre around the space.  Additionally, space planning is affected by and may affect lighting (another element of design) which determines: where and how much natural light will enter a space; how best it can be utilised; and what artificial lighting is required to create the desired ambience.  A well planned space will exploit lighting to enhance our emotional and physical wellbeing.

Let it Flow

How can you create good space planning?  Take time to study the space.  Consider what the space is going to be used for and how you can create free flowing movement around it.  This will help with the correct positioning for your furniture.  Don’t forget about the lighting.  Light is perceived to be one of the key components within the design of our homes and places of work.  The following tools can be used to promote good space planning.


Architects and Interior Designers create zones within a space, which represent where one area ends and another one begins.  For instance, if you have an open plan space comprising kitchen, dining and lounge area, you can place the sofa’s back to the dining room area.  This implies that the back of sofa marks the lounge area boundary.  Importantly, when creating zones within your home, make sure people can move freely from one zone to the next.  Ensure that cupboards, draws and doorways are not obstructed.  When planning the space, use cardboard boxes to replicate the size of the furniture you want to fill the space with.  This will ensure that your design is free flowing, therefore promoting your mental and physical wellbeing.  When creating zones, people’s requirements may differ; some people may prefer smaller spaces for certain activities – for some, a smaller space offers a feeling of being safe.  

Drawing by Rachel Fowler

Feng Shui

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art formulated some 3000 years ago.  The ‘art’ involves designing your home to maximise positive energy and vibrations to promote harmony and a balanced life.  In Feng Shui, high levels of stress create an increased amount of fire in your life.  Therefore, designing spaces, which flow and are connected to nature will have a positive effect on your mental and physical wellbeing.  Feng Shui should be used to design all the spaces within a building, including the front door area.  Spaces should not be blocked with items, promoting the free flow of positive energy.  Feng Shui is recognised as a method of creating designs which promote wholeness.  Earthy and neutral tones are favoured when applying this ‘art’; these colours help to distinguish where one area starts and another finishes.  This is especially important in open plan spaces.  

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When trying to create harmonious designs, which will enhance your health and wellbeing, be sure to take time to plan your spaces in detail using the top tips i’ve included.  It’s too easy, to skip certain processes when other aspects of life pull on your time.  However, good space planning is key to preventing a space from looking and feeling stressful: be specific about what you want the space to be used for; be sure to include all those who will be living or working within these spaces.  To help you, use  zoning and/or Feng shui.  This will help you to create positive spaces, promoting both your mental and physical well-being.  Most of all enjoy the space planning process, let it help you create great sustainable designs, which will be enjoyed by you and your family for years to come.

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