Does good design improve your quality of life? You may think this an obvious question. Many people take it for granted that a beautiful comfortable home that suits their lifestyle and personal style will obviously make them and their family happier.
But what if you’re not 100% convinced? Are you considering a major renovation or new-build home, but you’re concerned about cost, and wondering if paying for architectural design is really worth the money? Will it really improve your life that much?
This post explores all the ways in which good design will make your life better.
There are also compelling economic reasons to invest in good design, most notably reduced utility costs and increased property value. But in this article we specifically focus on quality of life.
Good design maximises space
You probably imagine the amount of space in your home will be determined by your budget and the constraints of the site, and that’s the end of it. But in actual fact your choice of design can do a lot to maximise internal floor area even on a limited compact footprint – with basements, split-levels, attic rooms and mezzanines.
Even when budget is also a limiting factor, there are many creative ways to maximise space and create the feeling of spaciousness – even when that’s not objectively the case.
How much you socialise isn’t just down to your personality – there’s also practical considerations. You’re not likely to throw a party if you have no floorspace and your walls are so badly soundproofed that your neighbours can hear every word. You’re more likely to invite friends and family over for dinner if you have a dining room or at least space for a decent-sized dining table.
The flip side of socialising is of course, privacy. Do you have secluded places to retreat to in your home? Does everyone in the household feel they have a space of their own? It may be economical for children to share bedrooms, but they also need ownership over their personal space. If two people are sharing a room, or if a room has multiple functions (relaxing/studying or dining/cooking) then divide the space in two with furniture, moveable screens or folding doors.
Having a dedicated space for hobbies means you’ll engage in them more often and with more ease, which is likely to boost wellbeing. It needn’t be a large space, it just needs to be well designed. A craft table with plenty of storage shelves in a quiet part of your home and by a window could be just as good as a dedicated craft room.
Good design is better for your health
Poor design often leads to poor health, as explained in this RIBA report on design and quality of life:
“The Building Research Establishment (BRE) reported in 2010 that almost a quarter (4.8 million) of homes in England contain defects that can give rise to Category 1 hazards (measured by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System) – hazards that can lead to serious health risks such as cardio-respiratory disease, stroke, asthma and even death caused by falls, excess cold and other events.
Estimates put the cost to the NHS of these hazards at £600 million per year, and the cost to individuals and society from loss of earnings, for example, at £1.5 billion per year.”
Two of the aspects of home design that have the most health benefits are air quality (particularly ventilation) and daylighting.
Ventilation – removing stale air and bringing fresh air in – is essential for a healthy home with good air quality. Inadequate ventilation causes damp and condensation, allows a build-up of air pollutants and reduces oxygen levels. This can cause health problems including “a variety of symptoms including headaches, allergies, reduced productivity, a sore throat and dry skin … in addition, poor air quality can provoke asthma” according to toxicologist Paul Harrison. The most effective way of ensuring good ventilation is to use a mechanical ventilation system.
Another way design can improve air quality and therefore health is by using natural materials. Compared to artificial materials, natural ones such as timber, stone, slate and natural plant-based paints and varnishes are naturally non-toxic. This means they don’t release toxins into the air (called ‘off-gassing’) like some kinds of plastics, foams and chemical coatings do.
Plants also improve indoor air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
Indoor spaces with plenty of sunlight are better for your health than darker spaces lit with artificial lighting. Exposure to sunlight during the day helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms – regulating daily rhythms of alertness and sleepiness.
Sunlight is essential for absorbing Vitamin D, which is needed for healthy bones. Daylighting has also been shown to enhance mood and productivity – likely because of the effect on rhythmic energy levels. You can maximise daylighting potential by ensuring living spaces are on the sunnier southern side (in the Northern hemisphere) and bathrooms/utility/storage are on the shadier northern side.
Smart orientation is an example of a design intervention that doesn’t cost anything extra if done at the design stage, but has a big impact on the quality of the building and is expensive to change later. Large areas of glazing on the southern side also helps to maximise daylighting and passive solar gain.
Good design enhances your mood
There’s no denying that the quality, comfort and appearance of our homes effects our mood and our mood effects overall quality of life.
International research by Human Spaces found people are more likely to feel happy and motivated and less likely to feel bored or anxious when entering a room rich in daylight with indoor plants and good ventilation.
However much of the impact on mood is likely to be more personal and subjective. A comfortable room with aesthetics that suit your personal style is likely to boost your mood, and a space that someone else enjoys may not work for you.
There is also some evidence that colour has an impact on mood, for example with red correlating with passion and blue with relaxation – although it’s often culturally specific. The important thing is that bespoke design is tailored to what makes you feel good.
Good design allows personalisation to suit you
Perhaps the strongest way in which design enhances quality of life is through personalisation.
With an architect working to your brief, your home will suit your lifestyle and circumstances. If you know you love to eat outside, you can design the garden to be ideally viewed from the patio area. Your elderly mother-in-law can have her own annex with accessibility and mobility features designed in from the start. Your teenage daughter’s room can have extra sound-proofing.
Everything you need to make your life run smoothly can be accounted for, rather than having to make do with a bodged fix later on.
The more aesthetic side of personalisation is that your new home will better reflect your personality. Houses built by mainstream developers are typically of a very standardised form, as developers want to guarantee sales as quickly as possible so won’t push the boat out with unusual designs.
With a custom build, you have an unique opportunity to choose an architectural style that suits your personal taste and reflects your personality. Like wearing your favourite clothes, architectural and interior design that reflects your personal style affirms your identity and contributes to quality of life.
Sometimes, personalisation can mean creating a home which helps you live your values. Our client Geoff Aucock speaks of his environmental values and how the passivhaus we designed for him helps him achieve his desired lifestyle:
“After four years living in our eco home designed by Koru we remain very happy with the lifestyle the project has helped us achieve. Mark helped us explore our brief for the new house and came up with a wonderful design in response which maximises the natural attributes of this rural site and harnesses new technologies.”
Are you convinced of the wellbeing value of design? Let us know your thoughts at @KoruArchitects!
Are you looking to design your new home, add an extension or organise a renovation? Our experienced and friendly team can help. We welcome you to get in touch and discuss your options.