Photo by Getty Images/AleksandarNakic.
Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.” Science and psychology are now coming around to support the statement. The merging of science, psych, art, and design is a hot, new-ish world known as neuroarchitecture.
Neuroarchitecture goes a step beyond creating buildings based solely upon looks. It builds upon the belief that we all love to have some control over our environments. Neuroarchitecture takes into consideration the brain’s processes in relation to the architectural environment.
We are a superficial species. The same truths that apply to food porn and style influencers also make sense here. We are more positively impacted when a building we go to looks aesthetically pleasing. If the space is simple and boring, we’re more apt to steer clear and even feel bummed out about being there. Sometimes the way a building looks even alters the way we interact with others.
Case in point: Cutting-edge architectural firm Snøhetta, based in Oslo and New York City, envisions fascinating design experiments all around the world. What it did for universally loathed Times Square was particularly ambitious and effective. This particular project involved putting chic, sleek gray benches around the hood. The intent wasn’t just to make the place look cool but rather to create physical, psychological, and economic benefits for the community. The numbers don’t lie. This little design tweak worked some big-time magic: pedestrian injuries decreased by 40 percent, vehicular accidents went down by 15 percent, and overall crime in the area decreased by 20 percent.
Living in a big city among strangers can be terrifying. It’s easier for us to be kinder and more compassionate when we enjoy what we see just a little bit more.
How Does Times Square Apply to My Rented Bedroom?
Neuroarchitecture is a big picture nod to taking our surroundings into consideration when it comes to our moods. How do we feel being in the rooms, houses, or communities in which we reside?
Neuroarchitecture also reminds us of something that we all love to hear: we are creatures of our environments. Our spaces do more to define us and express our authentic essence than we may believe.
Often, when we’re considering inspiration for our homes, we consult outside sources. We may read up on trends, look to a celebrity’s home for ideas, or enlist an interior designer to revamp our space. Rarely do we approach design by consulting our internal compass or realize that home can be a multisensory experience unique to each of us. Home isn’t just a location on a map. The concept of home also extends to the items we keep there and the stories that we tell ourselves about these objects.
Intentionally Imagining When You Can’t Move
What if you’re committed to staying in your current location and can’t just up and move on a whim for financial reasons or otherwise? Many of us aren’t able to live nomadic lives or book a one-way ticket just because we feel bored one day. The good news is that you can still experiment with intentional imagining with regard to where you live right now.
You can begin by tweaking whatever room you’re in at the current moment.
Stop for a second and look around. What color are the walls? What does your intuition tell you about the room? Tune into the sights, sounds, tastes, and touches of your current space. Does it reflect back a story of who you are in this moment? If not, you can use your imagination and intuition to give the space a meaning of your own making.
I applied this to my bedroom while I was working on this book. I painted the walls light purple, a color associated with magic, mystery, and the imagination. I used items such as beloved children’s books, a hot pink cactus, and the Crayola 64 Big Box to curate a childlike mood. At my writing space, I placed a bottle of flower essences (for focus, esteem, and confidence) and an orange carnelian, the stone of endurance and courage, on top of a coffee-table-sized book about the nine muses. Whenever I sank into a state of self-doubt, these small items reminded me of my current intention: completing this book.
Curating interior design to manipulate emotion isn’t a new idea. Many of us are familiar with the Chinese feng shui or its Indian counterpart, the vastu shastra, which translates as the “science of architecture” and works by using space to enhance abundance. Then there’s wabi-sabi, the ancient Zen philosophy celebrating beauty in imperfection. Wabi-sabi challenges the imagination to look at broken or even unwanted belongings—a shattered vase, a regular candle that you ordered online—with a sense of awe and childlike wonder.
In more recent years, the Danish concept of hygge has found popularity in the mainstream. In hygge, environments are curated to evoke feelings of coziness and contentment. Part of the enchantment with hygge is that it combines story and space with an emphasis on an essential human intention—comfort.
Objectively speaking, life in Denmark may not seem so appealing. It’s dark and cold, and because of the weather, most people tend to spend a lot of time indoors. But view that situation through a poetic lens and suddenly life sounds like the setting of a Hans Christian Andersen tale. Instead of emphasizing a story of isolation, the Danes have spun one of intimacy. They flesh out their narrative by paying attention to detail—cuddling under blankets, sitting before roaring fires, gathering around a stovetop—to playfully engage all the senses. Suddenly, the most mundane aspects of everyday living become magical.
For every object, there is a story to tell. I like to think of this idea as Velveteen Rabbit–ing. In this popular children’s tale, a boy’s toy rabbit becomes real because of the love and energy he invests into it. The power comes not so much from the rabbit itself, a common toy that could be purchased in any gift shop in any city, but rather what the rabbit came to represent.
Children are wonderful at imbuing everyday objects with creative meaning. Their incredible imaginations see no limitations to what an item can represent. A carrot becomes a telephone with which to call Pluto. A stick becomes a wand designed to summon yard fairies. A blanket becomes a cloak of invisibility.
As adults, we don’t have to let go completely of our natural gift to tell stories, both fantastical and factual. We may no longer be interested in phoning a far-off planet, but maybe we want to imagine an upcoming presentation at work going well or to set reminders around our bedroom that inspire us to prioritize self-care.
Velveteen Rabbit–ing is a unique concept different from anthropomorphism, or the idea of imparting human traits and characteristics to animals and inanimate objects. The goal here is not to form a social connection with these inanimate objects but rather to give them stories of their own.
Once assigned meaning, your belongings will reinforce your ideas whenever you look at them. A four-leaf clover is only lucky because we tell ourselves it is. When we come into possession of one, we may experience temporary feelings of hope or inspiration, but only because we believe the clover brings them.
If we’re holding onto objects that carry a negative or unpleasant connotation for us, the reverse can actually happen. We look at these objects every day, and the mind jumps to a reality in which the unpleasant stories are true. For example, maybe you keep all your love letters from an abusive ex- boyfriend. Maybe a particular vase reminds you of a family member you dislike. Holding onto these pieces and styling them in a way where we see them every day makes moving emotionally beyond the stories they tell challenging.
While on assignment for an article about how to manipulate one’s bedroom for better sex, I spoke with Nidhi Huba, a healer/interior designer hybrid who works with clients to cleanse their spaces of items that subliminally may be preventing them from accomplishing their goals in life.
Huba told me about a former client who wanted to meet a new lover. As soon as she entered his space she realized the issue. He had been sleeping with the image of a vampiric-looking woman in front of his bed. In his real life, his relationships were a mess. As he looked at this image every day, the story it told him gained a strange power over him. He began to see women as toxic and to attract emotionally awful ones into his orbit. The item had taken on a new meaning that he had created and, in this case, was subconsciously sabotaging his love life. After he replaced the painting, the client’s romantic life changed, and he found himself in a beautiful new relationship.
Our homes have a unique power to shape who we are and how we think. They are influential and important to our characters and our successes.
Whether you are moving to a new location or editing your existing home, with imagination and intuition, the possibilities to make any place your dream space are limitless.