The Importance of Personal Space | Interior Design

personal space

As our cities become denser, our lives more chaotic and interpersonal interactions more frequent, the need for ‘personal space’ increases.

It is a very human trait to want our own spaces, rooms or areas that belong to us and us alone. This is perhaps why the modern goal for a majority of people is to buy their own home. 

While personal space can often be misconstrued as a selfish need, research has found that personal space plays a vital role in its influence over human behavior and mental health with both negative and positive effects. 

The benefits of personal space can, however, be maximised through considered interior design.

Personal space can include a number of different, yet interlinking elements. Traditionally, personal space is understood in the context of ownership of a space and how personalising and considering a number of different aesthetic elements can drastically alter behavior of those who enter the space. It can also take on a more literal approach to space, where the term personal space refers to an individual’s need to be in their own space and distanced from others. Included in this is the importance of being able to move in a space that is not cluttered or poorly designed.

my roomA number of researchers have studied varying situations and how different spaces can affect others’ behaviour. One of the most notable studies is ‘Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design’ by Robert Sommer.

Sommer’s research explores areas of ecology, territoriality and the related concept of privacy in the various contexts of a mental hospital, the learning environment, and the tavern and college dormitories.

‘Personal Space: Interior design approaches to bedrooms in mental health developments’, a research study undertaken by the Architecture and Design Scotland (A+DS) Health Programme, focuses on the effects of design on the mentally ill.

The focus on the mentally ill is quite important when understanding the effects of interior design on behavior, as this specific group of people is often more vulnerable and sensitive to people and stimuli. It is for this reason that when designing these spaces to feel personal, safe and nurturing, positive results can be reaped, as was the case throughout the study where considered design was linked to a 14 per cent reduction in inpatient stays.

Taking from the learnings discovered throughout this study, there are several important elements that go into creating personal spaces that are good for our mental health.

These include acoustic separation, personalisation, colour, lighting and connections to the environment.

Though not a physical element, noise often feels like it can fill a room. A separation of outside sounds is a key to gaining privacy, or even simply adding the perception of privacy, while allowing for individual needs such as solace, music and cleaning sounds without noise leakage. 

Having items, features and furnishings that truly reflect personal tastes or activities is the only way to make a space unique and individual. These aspects create ownership of the space, providing comfort and relaxation.

Colour and lighting also affect the mood and atmosphere of a space. Different colours can motivate or calm, while lighting can set up different zones within a space, dictating different areas for different activities.

The influencing powers of colour, acoustics, lighting and greenery are not new concepts. Putting them all together, however, can have drastic effects on our behaviour and mental health, which is why taking these elements into deep consideration is the only way to create a truly nurturing and progressive personal space.

By Emily D’Alterio
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