Make your spaces fit you better: Tips from environmental psychologist Lily Bernheimer
As director of Space Works Consulting, Lily Bernheimer studies and advises on how workspaces, dwellings and urban environments can better help the people and purpose they serve.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that surroundings – the intensity of lighting, a grid-style or organic town plan, a messy or clean desk – all contribute to mental health and have an even greater impact on well-being than previously thought. Bernheimer, an environmental psychologist and author of The Shaping of Us: How Everyday Spaces Structure Our Lives, Behaviour, and Well-Being (2019), focuses in her work on creating spaces that are conducive to mental health. Think of how you might respond to the colour white. In the West, it is a symbol of celebration, and immediately sparks happiness. In many other cultures, an overwhelming wash of white can have the opposite effect, because it is associated with mourning.
At the level of city planning, such little missteps can have major impacts. Even a templatised grid of streets, the signature of a modern living, “is very different from the way cities grew in history,” Bernheimer says. There’s a reason winding lanes and street corner pubs feel charming. The curves and local landmarks left over from the history of older towns feel more comfortable because they’re more natural than the grids and strict order of a modern planned city.
Here then are three tips that might end up making you happier where you are.
A neat room for a healthier diet? If you’re trying to eat more healthily and / or lose weight, try cleaning your room, Bernheimer says. Studies suggest a link between order in the environment and good eating choices. In a messy space, you’re more likely to make food choices that adversely impact your health.
If you’re creating a work-from-home nook, focus on lighting first. A good work area must have at least two sources of light. “It helps if we think about the cycle of the sun,” Bernheimer says. “Its light reaches us from multiple directions through the day.” Designing a workspace such that it gets light from different directions at different times of day, preferably natural in the day and warm tones after dark, has been shown to have a calming effect and boost productivity, Bernheimer says.
Plants always help. Anything natural will make your space more conducive to mental health — whether it’s wooden flooring, a bowl of fruit or even a tiny rock garden.