BY JENNIFER RUDOLPH
Overstimulation in the world at large has led to a counter movement in interior design. Creating mindful sensory spaces — using natural materials, tactile design, ergonomic furniture and mood lighting — regulates our nervous systems and brings calm to our frenetic lives.
In a culture that demands more and more from us, forcing us to be continually connected and overstimulated, there are interior designers embracing a counter movement. These designers understand the importance of designing intentional spaces that keep us connected to our bodies and maintain metacognition (an awareness of our thinking); a challenge in today’s world, where we rely more and more on technology to think for us.
Most of us living and working in a city experience an overload to our systems, through technology, increasing population numbers, the fast pace and other environmental factors. The philosophy behind sensory design is to keep our senses engaged but balanced, so that we are regulated and calm — in contrast to being overstimulated, unfocused and in a state of dysregulation.
We can achieve this balanced state through sensory integration, the things we process through sight, sound, smell, touch and movement. Sensory integration speaks to how our senses relate to our environment and experiences. For example, furniture that offers compression gives the body proprioceptive input — awareness of one’s body in space — and is deeply regulating and calming to one’s nervous system.
Soothe the Senses
So how can we bring sensory integration into our homes? Designers are coming up with options from colour-spectrum mood lighting, sensory integration furniture, bringing nature into the home and using natural building materials.
Green walls, once considered novelties of the design world for commercial settings, are finding their way into homes. Living walls are as esthetically impactful as they are functional, sustaining a healthy environment. Along with purifying the air, the benefits range from dampening noise and reducing the ambient temperature to increasing productivity and offering a sense of well-being to creating a natural fire-resistant layer.
Hemp drywall is a versatile and natural option that can be shaped into any structure, giving the option of curves and contemporary forms. Made from a mixture of hemp hurd and hydraulic lime and water, it offers incredible natural insulation, resists fire and mould and eliminates the need for a gypsum vapour barrier, leaving you with no plastic in your walls.
Sensory integration chairs gives us awareness of our bodies in space, making them deeply regulating and calming. In addition, the sensory integration experienced by the feeling of compression helps us to organize our brains in matters of focus and concentration. Weighted blankets can also reduce anxiety and promote better sleep.
Swings, hammocks and chairs with rocker bases all stimulate our vestibular systems. While the sense of movement is not usually considered in the category of senses, it is vital to our ability to organize and calm ourselves. The new designs are modern, with a hint of the futuristic, and give a large dose of intuitive grounding, resulting in a cascade of good feelings to our nervous systems and minds.
Texture and tactile inputs can also help with focus and soothing anxiety. Bring in touch-friendly elements, such as textural throw pillows, rugs and wall coverings.
Lighting has more of an impact on our everyday lives than we might realize — and it can be mood-enhancing and calming. Options range from Himalayan rock salt lamps (which some believe emit neutralizing ions into the air) to colour-spectrum LED lights, which can mimic natural light very closely.
This emphasis on a meaningful connection to our homes can help us thrive in this frenetic world. By creating more grounded natural environments, we can escape the on-the-go urban lifestyle and thrive.