How Intentional Design Makes You Happier and More Productive

If you hadn’t given your home too much thought, spending a lot of time in it recently may have changed that. Noticing how your space affects the way you feel is the first step towards intentional design. 

This takes interior design to another level—a mindful one.  

Intentional design is purposefully using the elements of interior design like color, spatial layout, and style to influence your mood and behavior. 

It makes a huge impact on your emotional, mental, and physical state. 

If you’re not sure this is true, ask yourself… 

  • How does my home make me feel? Down? Stressed? Energetic? Inspired?
  • Do I get things done or feel productive in my space?
  • How do I relate to others while sharing my home?

Everything is energy. So, it’s no wonder that the spaces we inhabit and spend time in contain energy, too. 

The good news is that the energy in our homes is something we can control through design.

There are many elements of interior design that contribute to how we experience a space. 

Being deliberate about  colors,  layout,  decor items can make a difference in our overall wellness. 

A key component to being a happier, more productive person is to get real with your environment.  Using intentional design to do this will not only improve your home but can enhance your life!

The Power of Intentional Design

Have you ever walked into a room and felt tense, uneasy, bummed out? 

I remember being hit with an overwhelmingly bad feeling when settling into a hotel room outside of Toronto. 

After having a hard time getting in initially (the door stuck to the frame and it took the strength of two guys to force it open), I was aware of an eerie feeling. 

The room was dim. Pulling back the curtains did little to improve the mood. 

 The gray tones everywhere engulfed me. The feeling of the room was heavy and foreboding. What followed was a long sleepless night.

As sensory beings, our environments directly impact us. Our moods, behaviors, and overall health are influenced by how we experience a space. 

There are a number of elements that lend to intentional design. By addressing color, light, space, and nature, we can bring about desired energetic results into our homes. 

Wanting to feel inspired to create? Hoping to magnetize abundance? Needing to reduce stress and relax? Looking to enhance sensuality in your life?

All of these things can be helped through intentional interior design. Here are six ways to get started.  

#1 Get Clear On How You Want to Feel

Typically, the interior design experience is about picking out pretty things that go well together. 

Sure, function comes to mind. The sofa or dining table we select needs to be useful and fit well in the space. 

But, something shifts when you take inventory of how you want to feel in your space. 

The first step to creating intentional design is to recognize that your environment shapes how you feel and act. Here are some ways to go about it…

  • Observe yourself in other spaces. Try an experiment. Next time you are at a friend’s house, a cafe, or any other space, check in with your body. How does it feel? Do you sense any tension or anxiety? Do you feel calm and energized? Try to pick out what in the room is contributing to that feeling. Are there lots of plants? Windows with plenty of natural light? Is it cluttered? Make note of things that contribute to your mood. Pretty soon you will have a clear idea of what you want for your own space.
  • Describe what you want to feel. Once you have examples of real life spaces you’ve experienced, make a list of words you’d like your space to reflect. Cozy, meditative, exotic, organic, abundant, vivacious, productive—these are  not just describing your home, these are an intention for your life! Part of my online questionnaire for clients is highlighting these words that will define your home and how you feel in it.
  • Collect your visual expanders. Having expanders or inspiration sources help encourage reaching a goal. When we see something is possible, we have an easier time believing we can have it. Hop on Pinterest and start your board. It’s an inspiration image heaven! You can create a board that speaks to your overall desired look or you can create separate ones for your various rooms. 

Here’s the power of getting clear on how you want to feel in a space. 

A client from Lafayette, CA, recently reached out excited to revamp her bedroom.  A  divorce has her wanting new energy there. 

She wants it to feel more romantic, sultry and as she says, “To get my mojo back!” 

She’s getting started on her Pinterest board to inspire her intention. 

Mood lighting like candles and dimmable lamps, luxurious textiles, and flirty colors like black or deep hues are on the list. 

#2 Understand the Power of Color

If you’ve noticed yourself with anxious energy in a room that has lots of red or feel relaxed in a space that is blue, you’ve experienced the mood effects of color.

The significance of color psychology goes back a long way. 

Ancient cultures used color as a healing treatment. Chromotherapy was practiced by the Egyptians and Chinese and is still used today. 

For example, red is used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation while blue is believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.

We definitely need more research to gain a deeper understanding of color psychology but experts have discovered some universal effects. 

On the color spectrum, warm colors that include red, orange, and yellow tend to evoke emotions ranging from friendliness and comfort to anger and hostility. The difference depends on the tone selected within that color. 

Let’s take orange, for example. 

“Orange is the child of red and yellow. It gives you the excitement of red, but at the same time, the welcoming, friendly, warm aspect of yellow”, shares color expert Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

The redesign of our entryway in Oakland, CA,  exemplifies this. There were night and day results with the right tone of orange.

Before the redesign, the space felt a little drab, a little dark. Not a great way to enter a home. 

Applying an orange accent wall transformed the space immediately. 

The rust hue not only made a good first impression but it welcomed guests into our cozy home.

On the other end of the spectrum are the cool colors like blue, purple, and green. 

These are often described as calm and peaceful, but can also encourage feelings of sadness or indifference depending on the shade and magnitude.

Taking intentional design into practice, consider the colors used in your home. 

Here’s a breakdown of their energetic vibes and the best ways to use them.

Color Meanings and Use

Red. Red is a bold, confident color. It grabs your attention. It emotes vitality, passion, energy and anger. 

How to use it. Red is a great accent color, that helps balance out a cooler toned room. Known to enhance appetite, red can be applied in kitchens. Use it in decor items in a living room to stimulate conversation. 

Orange. Orange equates to enthusiasm, creativity, encouragement, and stimulation. Red-orange dips into feelings of desire, sexual passion, pleasure, and aggression. Gold, which is in the family of orange evokes prestige and wealth.

How to use it. Orange tends to be a love it or hate it color. Used sparingly, it can be a great statement color that stimulates energy into a space making it perfect for an exercise area in your home. As a deeper hue, it can be comfy and relaxing too. 

White. White can feel fresh and clean. It’s often used to evoke a sense of youth and modernity. White has the capability of giving an illusion of space. 

How to use it. Smaller spaces that want to look expansive could use white in it, especially on the ceilings. White is appropriate in any room. Just be careful not to use too much and teeter into sterility.

Yellow.  Yellow is the color of sunshine and points to joy, intellect, and energy. It is believed that people who embrace yellow are maybe a bit more willing than the average person to take risks. 

How to use it. Yellow is versatile and can be used in shared spaces like living rooms, dining rooms, and hallways. It is a welcoming color and should be used mildly. Bright shades are uplifting but need to sit between too bright or too muted. 

Black. Black is seen as a “powerful” color. It is described as sexy, sophisticated, mysterious, and even ominous. As a neutral color it is also grounding. 

How to use it. Black is an interesting color. When in the company of other neutrals, it is anchoring. A black leather sofa, for example, is both subtle and prominent in a room with whites, beiges, and grays. Mixed with other colors, though, black can be bold and dramatic.  

Use black in accessories, light fixtures, trims, paint, or in a piece of furniture. These can be quite  eye catching. 

Green. Like nature, green has the ability to soothe and induce rest. Green symbolizes growth, and harmony and generally makes people feel emotionally safe.

How to use it. In interiors, green offers a sense of calmness and security. You can use it in any room of the house either as a paint color or in furniture and accessories. It’s a balancing color and makes the transition from outdoors to indoors seamless. 

Blue. Blue has a calming effect and tends to slow the metabolism down. It’s often associated with confidence, wisdom, and safety.

How to use it.   It is said that blue helps bring down blood pressure and slows the heart rate. Due to its tranquil effects on body and mind, blue, then, is beneficial to use in interior design. Light blue can create calm. It emits softness and healing. A deep midnight blue is luxurious and comfortable. Both work great in a bedroom depending on how you want to feel. 

As a soothing color, blue stills the mind and aids concentration. It also turns on creativity. This is why it’s a perfect choice for a home office. 

A client recently asked for help designing her office space in her home. It was equipped with a desk and nice art, but she felt uninspired. 

After adding a rug, plants, and a blue accent wall, I followed up with her a few months later. 

She beamed that she had completed writing the book she had been working on for months! She attributed part of this as a result of her revamped home office.  

Brown. Brown gives off a natural vibe. Makes sense as it’s connected with trees and the earth. Because of this, shades of brown can actually make an interior quite relaxing.

How to use it. Brown can be used in any room. It encourages comfort and makes people feel at ease. Used as a background color or in design items with a wooden finish, brown is ideal in a living room. Here conversations among family and friends will be inspired.

Purple. Purple is royal and classy. It’s connected to luxury and creativity. In dark tones, it is dramatic, rich and sophisticated. In lighter ones like lavender it offers a restful quality. 

How to use it. Depending on the tone, purple in the bedroom can be calming (lighter) or mysterious (darker). Pops of purple as accent pillows or art add a little boldness and drama to a space.

Gray. The color gray is associated with maturity, intelligence, and relaxation.

How to use it.  Bathroom walls and office spaces can look a lot more sophisticated with the use of gray.

3. Be Deliberate About Lighting 

Possibly one of the biggest factors in intentional design is the use of lighting. You can have a gorgeously designed room but if the lighting isn’t thought out, it can throw the whole thing off. 

Lighting is responsible not only for adequate illumination of a room, but for creating it’s ambience. Ambience impacts mood.

Results of several studies show that both natural and certain artificial bright light are influential in health improvement.

Depression, agitation, sleep, and seasonal affective disorder are significantly reduced with the right type of lighting. 

When it comes down to the best source, natural light is it. 

Rooms with large windows that let sunshine in have a tendency to boost happiness. The presence of daylight in a room is also a key factor for increased productivity and performance. 

This is seen in a study on employee health in work environments. 

When working under circadian lighting instead of traditional lighting employees showed a 12% increase in task performance. The majority also felt happier and more energized when working under the right lighting.

With evidence that lighting has psychological effects on us, it’s important to use intentional design and consider the feelings you are trying to create in your space. 

Warm light with warm light bulbs is better for socializing and relaxing. Living rooms and dining rooms where you lounge and converse do best with warm lighting.

When trying to do an analytic task that requires focus, blue and cooler light is better. This type of lighting is useful in a home office. 

4. Make Space Your Best Friend

When mail stacks up on the coffee table or an armchair becomes your next hamper, feeling stressed and uninspired is natural. 

If we’ve learned anything from professional organizer Marie Kondo, author of the bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it’s that a cluttered room is likely to contribute to a cluttered mind. 

“I believe that only in an uncluttered room, which enables an uncluttered mind, can you truly focus your attention and your energy on the matters in your life which are preventing you from reaching your truest happiness,” Kondo shares.

If you want to bring happiness into your life, take a good look at your space. 

Visual clutter overwhelms the brain. Scan your home and see where you can benefit from decluttering.

Whether it’s implementing the KonMari method  or doing a spring cleaning of sorts, know that space is not your enemy; it’s your friend. 

Good design does not mean that every shelf is adorned, or every wall is made into a gallery. Being deliberate about having free space in your home allows for things like mental clarity and productivity. 

A friend gifted her 11 year old, Mimi, a design session a couple of summers ago.  

Mimi had outgrown her room design. She  wanted a space that felt good to do homework and hang out in. 

She shares, “After my redesign, my room makes me feel calmer and it’s easier to be productive there. I really like to go there when I’m stressed because the colors and lighting in the room are really relaxing.”

5. Get In Tune With Nature

Nature calms our psyche and encourages happiness. 

Among the many emotional and mental benefits plants offer, according to Psychology Today , they enhance self esteem and increase creativity. 

All the more reason to bring in houseplants and flowers into your home. 

Needing an emotional uplift after a break up? 

Wanting to be inspired for that next creative project? 

Place a beautiful Devil’s Ivy on your bookshelf or a tall Dracaena in your living room. Inviting the outside in with botanicals not only improves your air quality, but also your mood. 

If looking to expand your abundance, Feng Shui practices point to plants to assist. 

Plants are sensitive to energy, and indicate energy flow in your home. 

When lush and blooming, your plants are signaling that the energy in your home is alive and abundant. But if they are browning, sagging, or dying, they are telling you that the energy in your home is low and stagnant. 

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Have no green thumb or no time to care for plants? Go for low maintenance plants to start or a vase of flowers instead. 

According to a study on plant health benefits, keeping ornamental flowers at home also works. 

It’s a great way to lower levels of stress and anxiety. People who keep flowers in their home feel happier, less stressed, and more relaxed. 

6. Let Your Personality Shine

Following the latest design trends on HGTV or an interior design magazine may inspire you to incorporate those ideas into your home.

But, trends come and go.

Making sure your space aligns with your personality is influential to feeling happy in your environment. 

Recent clients, a couple from Washington D.C., made personalizing their Mexican home they retired in a priority. 

We went through the sentimental pieces they wanted to bring to Mexico, and focused on the ones that made them most happy. 

These were integrated into the Mexican-made furniture and other decor to create a unique and relaxing home full of character. 

One way to optimize your home based on you is to look at your personality style.

Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?  

Introverts have a tendency to be more sensitive to visual stimuli like bold patterns than extroverts. In this case, a more relaxing design with calming colors could help. 

Another way is referring back to part of Kondo’s decluttering method.

Determine if items in your home “spark joy”. If so, keep them. 

Displaying a collection of seashells or making an heirloom painting the focal point in a room will definitely personalize your home. 

What makes each person happy is unique. Objects that are meaningful, that put a smile on your face or bring a happy memory to mind are conducive to creating a home that uplifts and motivates you. 

Exploring the elements of intentional design can improve the way you experience your home and as a result, your life. 

Needing help knowing where to start or how to implement changes? 

Sign up for a free professional interior design consultation to chat more and get started. 

Christine Martin is founder and lead designer of The Good Abode. Having created homes for herself and clients around the world, she deeply understands the importance and power of intentional interior design. Our homes are containers of ourselves; they energetically reflect and magnetize our life journeys. Approaching design with intentionality allows for the opportunity to enhance physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Through her online interior design process, Christine individualizes spaces in ways that speak directly to her clients while making comfort, beauty, and abundance key components. Christine lives in San Diego, CA when she is not visiting her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

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