I recently found myself in the waiting room of the paediatric ward at A&E (the Emergency Room) at my local hospital for what turned out to be a minor injury. Because it was set up for children, the space was diverting and soothing; more effort had been made to appeal to the senses. There was no overhead lighting, only ambient. Colour changing light illuminated a shaft of gently circulating pellets, recalling a water feature, and twinkled in a bouquet of decorative cords draped nearby. A finger-painted ocean scene adorned a window to the next room and a rotating projection of animals in nature scenes shone on a wall. Though the design was humble, and somewhat haphazard, it was welcoming and calming, taking the edge off an uncomfortable four hours in the middle of the night. What it got right was plenty, and the foundation of a welcoming interior: thoughtful lighting, connection to nature, sign of the human touch, and the spirit of play. Plus, with the ward itself laid out as a series of smaller waiting areas, it provided an always-appreciated sense of privacy. These elements could be applied to any space, whether public or residential, through small touches or a full architectural integration.
Lighting is arguably the most important element in an interior — even without any other intervention it can dictate the emotional space of the room; it can be energising or calming, sober or captivating. When we sit down to dinner, we turn off the overhead light in favour of something softer to move us into a more relaxed mode. As children we would get lost in the dream-like quality of fairy lights, and in grown up spaces we can find this joy through more refined forms: think of pieces like Bec Brittain’s Maxhedron pendant with its reflective surface and multiple points of light resembling bursts of starlight, or Michael Anastassiades’ mobile chandelier, with soft light in understated globes of varying sizes, like a reimagined planetary model.
Movement can bring playfulness and remind us of life beyond the walls: Anastassiades’ mobile chandelier, an Alexander Calder mobile, or even reflective surfaces that dance and change with the changing lighting conditions throughout the day.
We all want to feel more deeply connected to nature, and spaces that integrate with the outside world always put us more at ease. This can be as simple as thoughtfully introducing plant life, trail finds from our travels, or photography. It can be the choice of materials used in the interior, such as generous use of stone or timber surfaces, maybe even locally sourced. Or it can move to a grander scale where the very architecture is designed with the landscape in mind. Think Casa Na Areia, the holiday beach home designed by Aires Mateus, where the interior flooring is a continuation of the same sand as the beach surrounding, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater house built around a waterfall.
Nothing shows warmth like the human touch. In an interior, this can be as simple as a piece of artwork with a strong line or brushstroke, a well-crafted piece of furniture, or a handmade gift. We need to see a sign of life, of care, of warmth, and this comes from a sign of human intervention, a human life living alongside our own.
Finally, while open-plan spaces can feel liberating in their sense of grandeur, sometimes we need to feel held, to occupy a space that is more human scale and that provides a bit of privacy. This is something that has become particularly apparent during the pandemic, when we sometimes need to close the door to our families to work or Zoom or simply have a bit of quiet time. Sometimes it is the smaller spaces, the spaces that belong only to us, that can provide the calm we seek.
All of us need warmth, joy, and a bit of wonder in our day, especially in spaces where anxiety, worry, and a general sense of displacement can easily occur. By thoughtfully integrating lighting, nature, the human touch, and the spirit of play, we can create more welcoming spaces for everyone.
ILLUSTRATION BY RIMA STUDIO