From time to time, at a cocktail party or when visiting a friend, someone will corner me and confess to me that they are depressed. As if I were a member of the clergy, they whisper in sotto voce that they believe their decorating is making them sick. I sometimes want to chuckle, but as I listen closer, they tell me that their interiors are not to their liking because of the choices made by their spouse or designer or their own misguided attempts at decorating. Is it possible for their environment to make them feel sick? As I think about it more and more, yes, it is possible for design to alter moods.
In the mid-1950s, Norbett Mintz, a researcher at Brandeis University, and his mentor, the renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow, decided to conduct research about the effects of “beauty” on behavior. Mintz had already conducted experiments about the effects of color on human behavior and concluded that color selection has a palpable effect on personal behavior.
In their experiment about beauty, they designed three rooms. The first was the ugly room, replete with clashing colors and patterns, disorganization and too much furniture for the size of the space. The second was the average room, arranged with a monochromatic scheme, basic furniture pieces and subtly colored nondescript art. The third was the beautiful room, decorated with quality casegoods and fashionable fabrics and colors. Overwhelmingly, the test group rejected the ugly room. The average room and the beautiful room were tied as the preferred room. When asked to describe the rooms, the test group was best able to describe the beautiful room.
As a designer, this is not news to me. There are rooms, especially those that I like, that I can describe with remarkable detail. Although our notion of beauty itself cannot be quantified because what is beautiful varies from person to person, it can be said that beautiful design is more memorable. In that instance, we can deduce that each person prefers the beautiful.
From the time we are born, there are foods that are preferred — some love sweets, and others prefer more savory flavors. Over time, our taste buds evolve, and what was once a favorite food can come to nauseate you. The same stands true for interior design. Over time, everyone develops preferences in what we eat, how we dress and what makes us feel comfortable and at home.
When I hear that someone’s home is making them depressed, I am most concerned, because home should be a place of comfort and respite from the world’s chaos. I usually suggest they take action immediately and change what bothers them the most. A feeling of discomfort at home for a prolonged time can have health consequences. If it is a wall color, well, a painting party is overdue. If what bothers them is furniture, I ask them to consider slipcovers or new upholstery. And for those who are too timid to tackle the problems head-on, I suggest they hire a professional interior designer.
Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Florida. To find out more about Joseph Pubillones, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.