The Goods

Neuro-architecture: How to design a space that will help you stay sharp and stimulated

Sarah Keenleyside explains why this trend is sweeping the design world, plus tips for incorporating it at home.

Sarah Keenleyside explains why this trend is sweeping the design world, plus tips for incorporating it at home

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

This article was originally published April 17, 2018 and was updated October 19, 2018. 

Sure we may feel more at ease when the house is clean and tidy and there's a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the table, but there's actual science behind how your brain reacts to design. It's called neuro-architecture and it's the study of how the body and brain respond to the built environment. This design style is regularly applied to hospitals, schools and the workplace but the same principles can also be applied to your home to create bright and positive environments in ways that you might not expect. So designer Sarah Keenleyside stopped by The Goods with easy ways to embrace the concept of neuro-architecture in order to change up your home so that it boosts your mood.

Neuro-architecture can be broken down to 4 simple principles:

  • Sensation and perception
  • Learning and memory
  • Decision making
  • New experiences

Sensation and perception 

The focus with this one is on sight and smell. Unnatural lighting — particularly blue light — can really affect your body's biological clock by throwing off your circadian rhythm and even impacting your sleep cycle. And according to one study, it can also have a negative impact on your mood. To combat this, and make the light you use in your home less harsh, Keenleyside recommends installing dimmers in rooms that you spend morning and evening time in. This helps your body adapt to the cycle of day to night. The cost is roughly $30 per dimmer and makes a world of difference. Look for ones that slowly increase to the set intensity and slowly fade off when you turn them off. Include different sources of lighting such as overhead, sconces and floor lamps so that you can layer lighting as needed.

Move TV's and computers that emit blue light out of the bedroom. This type of light interferes actually tricks your body into thinking there is still daylight.

Bring in the green! Research has found that plants can reduce stress and improve concentration, so bring in live plants throughout your home. They add a lovely vibe to whatever space they occupy. Humans have an inherent connection to nature and they help purify the air. According to NASA the more effective air purifying houseplants are peace lily, snake plant and aloe vera and they are all ideal options for people who are not great at keeping plants alive.

Learning and memory

The focus here is on shapes and movement. Incorporating soft geometry through furniture is a great way to help flow in your home. One study found that rounded decor encouraged more brain activity compared to a room with boxy furniture. Rounded decor is also perceived as more friendly, whereas modern clean lined furniture evokes feelings of negativity.

Curvy furniture is all over the place at the moment! Lucky for all of us, curvilinear furniture is very on trend right now and you can find great pieces that sit beautifully pulled away from the wall. You don't need to buy all new furniture though — even adding some rounded pieces into this existing symmetrical layout will achieve the effect you are going for.

If you have a boxy sofa, just add some round pillows or think of incorporating a round coffee table, or round decor pieces like bowls and rounded table lamps. A simple floor poof and some objects can also help soften up a space and make it more interesting.

Decision making 

Objects and where to store them define the decision making principle of neuro-architecture. Our modern lives are so busy and decision-fatigue is something that many of us deal with whether we know it or not. Our brain is making micro-decisions all day long and you can eliminate some of these in your home by making some simple changes. Reducing the amount of clutter you're surrounded by is the easiest way of doing this. It's usually something that is waiting to be put away or purged and you'll waste valuable brain power every time you see that item.

Determine what objects are in your space that bring you joy and what objects just ended up there and should be removed. Look at your patterns when you move through your home and set your space up to not collect unwanted items. Provide concealed storage for those pesky items that are always on the counter. Keenleyside reassured us this doesn't mean you cannot have any items on shelves though. Designate a junk drawer so at least you can put it out of sight but know where to find it where you realize what shirt that button fell off.

Neuro-architecture is about creating design that works for your lifestyle. Make it easier for your mind to make every micro decision by having things where you need them — so keep the dog leash, reusable bags and umbrellas at the front entry. Everything having its place in a logical location means you don't have to think as you go out the door. Place a bin at your front door so when you come in with junk mail, you can get it out of sight immediately.

New experiences

Rearranging room elements can help keep us on our toes, but it's not just about object placement. Paint can transform more than just our space. Dopamine is the chemical that motivates us to explore. Its pathways are activated when the brain is exposed to new environments and not the same things day in, day out. A change in the look and layout of your home can stimulate this part of the brain. Keenleyside suggests going bold with paint — it's the cheapest facelift your home can have and can create a whole new experience in a room.

It's not always easy to see our spaces with fresh eyes, but it is totally worthwhile. The idea is to "move out and move back in" every few years. Consider the foot traffic through your home and is there a way to re-arrange furniture to change that.

Simply changing up throw pillows or accent chairs can really mix up the look of a space, and so can a cheap new shade for an existing pendant light or new artwork. Look at how much personality they lend this breakfast nook.

You can also make your space feel refreshed by simply rotating your artwork. If you have multiple pieces but only so much wall space, consider keeping some in storage and changing it up every few years. It's amazing how much a new piece of art or new gallery wall can change a room. This also doesn't mean you have to buy new — consider a temporary swap with a friend who might also be looking for a change.