The Psychology Of Space: Perception

By applying basic psychology principles, we are going to explain how perception works and how we can use this understanding to maximise the spaces that we occupy in our homes.

The modern day tiny house movement aside, space is still considered the ultimate luxury when it comes to our homes. It continues to be a symbol of wealth and is increasingly difficult to come by, especially in the UK, where the dimensions of the average living room are 4 by 4 m. The interesting thing about space is that it’s not quite as straightforward as it seems. How space is perceived depends largely on two factors: perception and proportion. In simplified terms, how we see the space and how much of a space we take up. In our first interior design lesson, we are going to focus on perception. By applying basic psychology principles, we are going to explain how perception works and how we can use this understanding to maximise the spaces that we occupy in our homes.

The Psychology Of Perception

Our perception of interior space is defined by columns, beams, floors, walls and ceilings, whereby height always adds to an impression of space. While we live in a three dimensional world, our eyes only see two-dimensional. This initial two-dimensional image is created when light enters the eye and is reflected onto the retina. Using the information our brain has acquired since our childhood about size, shape and distance, we are able to fill in the rest. We draw different information from each eye, as well as from things like perspective or texture. For example: we are able to distinguish that an object is further away, because we know that distance causes objects to have a lower contrast. By manipulating the cues, we can fool our visual system.

Lesson 1

Light is key to perception

By maximising the light, we maximise the feeling of space.

Whitebox

You may have heard that painting walls, floors and ceilings white can make a room seem bigger than it is. There are two reasons for this:

  • Firstly, white reflects light and therefore increases the overall brightness of the room, whereas darker colours absorb light and make it seem smaller.

  • Secondly, it is hard for the eyes to focus on corners in a blank white box making the differences between walls, ceilings and floors disappear so that the room seemingly has no limits. In general, choosing only a single colour for a room will have similar results.

Daylight

How much light enters into a room is first and foremost determined by the windows in the room. Humans are naturally drawn to nature, which is why, in most rooms, the window serves as the main focal point. Besides letting light in, views also act to expand and stretch the rooms.

    Richard Rogers Wimbledon House pictured in Dezeen
  • One of the key ways to expand a room is by bringing the outside in. This can be achieved by keeping the windows clear and drawing the eye out. The Japanese gardening principle of “borrowing scenery” can be applied to our homes. In this practice, the gardening artist uses existing landscape and incorporates it into the background of his design in order to make it look as if it is actually part of the design. Similar results can be achieved in our homes: by placing a plant on the outside in front of our window, we draw the eyes out and incorporate nature into the room.

  • Psychology Insight

    Psychology Insight: Daylight is important for our health. When sunlight enters through the retina, serotonin is released in our brain, which is believed to boost our mood and help us focus.

Mirrors

Light can also be increased by reflecting it. Mirrors, and to a lesser degree glass (ie. picture frames), are excellent at bouncing light around the room. Mirrors can also double the illusion of space. They act almost like windows by reflecting corners and vistas of the room and therefore making the space feel bigger.

  • Mirrors are ideally placed in such a way that they best reflect the daylight that comes through a window. Typically, this is across from the window or above a focal point, such as a fireplace. Other less common but very effective places to put mirrors include but are not limited to: the ceiling, to frame the inset of a window or on each side of an object of furniture (ie. fireplace, sofa) instead of over it.

  • Fantastic Frank
    Fantastic Frank

Texture

Texture absorbs light and thus reduces the perceived size of a space. Smooth texture reflects rather than absorbs light. Therefore, if you want to increase the size of a space avoid textured ceilings and replace rugs with hard and relatively shiny surfaces that will increase the light reflection.

    Reform Ostebro
    Hops Collection

Lesson 2

Visual Trickery

By manipulating the cues, we can fool our visual system and increase the perception of the size of a room, make a large space feel cosy or change the perceived proportions of a room altogether.

Drawing The Eye Into The Center

This takes attention away from the rest of the room. A large dark picture, pictures hung low in the middle of the space or a bold rug below draw the focus of the eyes to themselves, rather than to how low the ceiling is or where the corners of the wall are. The walls become blurry and the room subsequently seems larger.

    Mut Design

Annexing Another Room

Parts of another room can be annexed by using the same floor to connect the two rooms. This is especially effective if the annexed room has a window and therefore increases the overall perception of light in the space.

    Emi Architekten

Directional Lines On The Flooring

  • Diagonal lines increase the feeling of width whilst vertical lines extend the perception of length and depth. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to paint your floors but can just as well apply to the pattern of the wooden floorboards (also: carpet, tiles, rugs, etc.) that you choose.

  • RMGB Studio
    Ristorante Clandestine
    The Beach Club by Sarah Hellison

Directional Lines On The Wall

  • Vertical lines draw the eyes upward, increasing the feeling of height.

  • Horizontal lines, including picture rails and colour blocks below a certain line, bring the height down but increase the feeling of width.

    Home Studios

Using Strong Colour

  • Strong colour that comes forward to greet the eye on short walls, decreases the depth but increases the width of a room.

  • Dark colour on the ceiling or on the floor decreases the height of a room.

  • The Collectionist Hotel
    Design Sponge
    Emily Henderson

Wondering how you can apply the psychology of perception to maximise your space? DM me a photo with a brief description on Instagram — @atelierakuko — and I'll happily send you some suggestions.

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