In Design

Designing for the Senses

When it comes to getting inspiration for interiors, there is no shortage of images to feast our eyes on: Pinterest, magazines, books, and blogs. These sources show us beautiful spaces, many of them staged for the camera, and it’s easy for what we SEE to become what’s trendy and popular. We drool over these perfect homes and want to copy every detail for our own.

But while Pinterest can be visually exciting all day long, it doesn’t stimulate our other senses. It’s easy to forget that we have four other senses besides sight that help us create an overall experience. When I design a home, I like to think of the result as being a whole experience. I like to ask myself, “When a person walks through this space, what will they FEEL?” What will they touch? Smell? Hear? Even taste?

It might seem a little silly, but you can actually design for this full experience—something that I think gets easily missed in the design process because we don’t really think of design as something you can hear, smell, or taste. When I’m designing, I try to incorporate things into the space that will activate each of the 5 senses. To me, that’s what a home is—it’s the whole VIBE, not just what it looks like. It’s a place where memories are to be made. I think as designers or even just as homeowners, there are things we can do to help make our homes a little more complete; to make it memorable, energizing, and lasting. Because, let’s face it, we don’t live in a pretty magazine.

Today’s post presents some ideas and elements to consider when designing and decorating to help energize each of your senses.

how to design a relaxing home

Source: deVOL

Source: deVOL

Let’s start with the most obvious: SIGHT. We were taught the Principles and Elements of Design in school, and these all come into play here, but I’ll highlight what I think are the some of the more important things to consider for stimulating your eyes.

  • Color. Is your space restful with a monochromatic color scheme or energetic with bright colors? Color is probably the number one design element that strongly links what we see to what we feel.
  • Line. What is your eye drawn to? Lines, curves, and even shapes in a space can guide your eyes throughout a space.
  • Focal points. What is the primary feature in a space? Determining that can help to encourage our eyes to focus on things in sequence instead of being visually overwhelmed by too much happening everywhere.
  • Lighting. Without windows or lighting, we obviously can’t see. But we can also intentionally decide to make a space bright or dark and control the degree of lighting to influence the mood of a space. Having a variety of light sources helps us play around with atmosphere.
  • Artwork. This is no doubt a great way to treat our eyes to something unique and interesting, and art can easily tell us stories and serve as great conversation pieces.
  • Composition. Having objects arranged in a pleasing way, directing our eyes from tall pieces to short ones creates movement for our eyes.
  • Contrast. In each space I like to have black, white, and an assortment of values in between, as it brings just enough complexity to prevent a space from feeling flat.

Next is SOUND. What does you HEAR in your space? Try to give a spot in your home designated for delighting your ears. Here is a list to remind you of some audible things that can enhance a space.

  • Clocks. I love, love, love clocks. I think it helps to give a house a pulse, making it feel alive somehow. My grandpa had many clocks in his house and liked to build and tinker with them, and my parents have a grandfather clock that always reminded us of the time whenever it chimed.
  • Instruments. I also grew up with a piano in the house. I love the presence of a piano. You can gather around it to sing Happy Birthday or a Christmas carol. Or perhaps it’s a record player or sound system.
  • Water feature. If you like a Zen atmosphere, try to incorporate a water fountain so that you can hear the trickle of the flowing water.
  • Bird feeders. Attract the song of birds around your home by placing bird feeders outside your windows. And if you have a parakeet, a bird cage!
  • Wood burning fireplace. Perhaps you prefer the sound of a crackling fire to a silent gas fireplace.
  • Door Knocker.
  • Wind chimes.

Source: Joyelle West

Here are some elements that can perk up your nose and make you go ahhhhhh:

  • Plants. I love plants and I always make sure to leave space for them when space planning. They don’t all have an aroma, per se, but they certainly enhance the oxygen and energy of the home.
  • Flowers. There’s nothing like a fresh arrangement of flowers to bring life and happiness to your table.
  • Leather. Try to introduce something leather into your space, even if it’s a couple of leather-bound books, for a rich aroma.
  • Wood. Certain woods like cedar or sandalwood are notably odorous.
  • Candles and incense.
  • Coffee Bar.
  • Soaps.
  • Herb garden.

The next sense is touch. What can you feel in the space?

  • Texture. I think it’s important to have lots of different textures in every space: upholstery, leather, wood, metal, glass, wool rugs, tile, and stone. Having varying textures not only gives us something different to touch, it adds a lot of visual dimension to a space as well. Trim work, wall coverings, and wall treatments like plaster also contribute to texture.
  • Warmth. Rugs and heavy curtain panels are great for insulating a home and making it feel cozy and warm. What time of day can you feel the warmth of the sun? Think about window treatments that offer flexibility so that you can feel this warmth when you want it or shied it when you don’t.
  • Coolness. Tile floors, stone countertops, painted wood, and bare windows can make a space feel cool and fresh, while stained wood and carpet offer warmth. Paint colors are also cool or warm. Consider mixing cool AND warm finishes in every space to give balance.

Finally, taste. This is perhaps the trickiest of the senses to design for, but there are still things you can introduce into a space to tease your taste buds.

  • Garden. Whether it’s a large garden outside or a mini garden on the kitchen shelf, having freshly growing fruit, vegetables, and herbs in and around the home encourages you to get in the regular practice of tasting food straight from the earth, and it gives your home an inviting and appetizing impression.
  • Bar. Leave a space for a bar cart for liquor or lemonade.
  • Fruit basket or bowl. Find something large and beautiful to put on your dining table or console and always fill it with fresh fruit.
  • Candy dish. Place a dish of mints or chocolates on your coffee table for guests!


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