Understanding The Psychology Behind Interior Design

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated October 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Interior design is the practice of planning, supervising, and executing the design of architectural interiors and their furnishings.

You may have heard about restaurants and stores that use interior design to elicit specific responses. For example, some businesses may use interior design psychology to boost sales. In addition, some companies use it to support mental health or increase productivity. However, you may be wondering whether interior design can impact mental health or has any evidence-based psychological background. While it is not a replacement for appropriate mental health treatment, research has shown that certain interior design elements can reduce anxiety and stress and induce feelings of tranquility.

Understanding how psychology, color, and interior design combine can help you know how to decorate your home to improve your mood and understand why businesses might make particular design choices. Ultimately, learning about design psychology and the psychology of space can help you create your own peaceful space that’s conducive to better mental health.

Explore Insights About Psychology And Design With A Professional

Explore Insights About Psychology And Design With A Professional

Interior design might not seem like it’s directly related to mental health, but research suggests otherwise. Some interior design choices might be more likely to make someone feel nervous, and others may help evoke feelings of calmness or productivity. In addition, some are linked to increased stress and depression levels. Below are some of the ways interior design can impact your mood. 

Color Scheme

The color scheme in an interior space can impact mental health and behavior. It's linked to a field of research known as color psychology, which examines how specific colors may impact thought processes and emotions. Below are some common associations with different colors:

  • Blue: Calm, productivity, reduced anxiety, reduced depression
  • Red: Energy, higher heart rate, increased appetite, increased aggression 
  • Green: Creativity, broad thinking, calm, harmony, reduced anxiety
  • Yellow: Happiness, innovation, optimism, increased appetite, creativity
  • Brown: Grounding, strength, professionalism, harmony
  • Pink: Calm, energy, happy, increased appetite 
  • White: Clean, modern, cold, reduced productivity, increased risk of errors

Color associations may help you understand the built environment around you, and can also give you a deeper understanding on how color psychology is used to improve the spaces that you interact with. For example, green and brown are said to promote feelings of harmony, and yellow can create a sense of happiness – this could be why people tend to use earthy tones in their homes. Additionally, yellow and red are said to promote appetite, which may be why interior designers often suggest a restaurant use this combination within their dining spaces.

You might want to use these associations to make purposeful choices about the colors in your home or surroundings, with specific colors for different spaces. For example, you may add green to an arts and crafts room to enhance creativity. Color can change your perception of space, so use a lighter, cooler color to make a small room feel less cramped.

Greenery and Indoor Plants

Studies show that people’s interactions with indoor plants can reduce physical and mental markers of stress. In environmental psychology, house plants have been shown to promote concentration and positive moods. This information correlates with research demonstrating the positive effects of outdoor activities and the mental health impacts of lives spent indoors. 

For example, one study found that kids who grow up closer to nature and plants have a 55% lower risk of developing a mental health condition. For this reason, you may notice that therapists use the color green or incorporate nature into their office spaces. Plants also need natural light to thrive, incorporating another design element that can positively impact your mental health.

Minimal Clutter and Cleanliness

Decluttering your home could be a fast and inexpensive change you can make to support your mental health. Research on environmental psychology shows homes that feel cluttered or unfinished may lead to depressed mood and higher levels of cortisol, which is often known or referred to as a primary stress hormone. In addition, psychology research shows that cleaning may also have mental and physical health benefits.

Various interior design choices and styles, such as minimalism, can make it more manageable to maintain a clean, uncluttered space. However, some individuals experience challenges cleaning or decluttering due to mental health concerns. In these cases, therapy can be beneficial. Research has demonstrated that therapy can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and hoarding concerns. 

Natural or Bright Light

Natural lighting and exposure to bright light may promote mental health. For example, one study examining the impact of natural light on hospital patients found that exposure to natural light decreased depression, pain, and distress within two weeks. It also showed a reduced need for painkillers with adequate natural light exposure.

Daytime light may also help improve sleep quality, while a lack of exposure to natural or bright light sources can be detrimental. For example, studies on workers who are only exposed to dim light during the workday showed higher stress levels, higher depressive symptoms, and negative impacts on sleep. Bright light– either direct or indirect– is also necessary for most indoor plants or greenery.

Ceiling Height

While it may be more challenging to change or control than other elements of architecture and principles of design, ceiling height can impact how we think. Increasing ceiling height may boost creativity, attention to detail, and free-form or abstract thinking.

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Limits of Interior Design for Mental Health

Interior design can impact mental health and behavior, but it isn't a treatment for mental health conditions. Having a well-designed space won’t necessarily fulfill your social and psychological needs alone, and it doesn’t detract from the importance of counseling, social interaction, self-care, and other key factors that can support your mental health.

However, using interior design in conjunction with mental health support and treatment can be beneficial if you find it helpful. You don’t have to be a professional interior designer or environmental psychologist to start engaging with your space, creating feelings of balance or calm, or playing with your own design process. You can even start just by noticing how different styles of architecture in public spaces make you feel. 

Counseling Options 

Therapists, counselors, and other mental health providers can help you address symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. You can work with a therapist in person or find a provider who offers online sessions, which may be more convenient and affordable, depending on your needs. In addition, online therapy often allows many clients to get a more diverse range of professionals.  

Research indicates that online therapy is as effective as in-person therapy and can be a safe place to discuss mental health conditions. If you're interested in receiving support from a licensed therapist online, platforms like BetterHelp can allow you to match with a therapist within 48 hours after signing up. 

When you sign up for an online therapy platform, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with your therapist. You can also message your therapist whenever you need to, and they'll respond as soon as possible.  


The psychology of interior design can indicate how businesses design their layout depending on the types of services or products they're selling. The colors of the furniture you pick can also impact how others perceive you. An interior designer may be able to help make changes to the interior of your home, but a therapist or counselor is typically the most ideal professional to help manage your mental health, especially if you’re experiencing mental health challenges. If you're interested in learning more about color psychology or want support in improving your mood through design, contact a therapist for guidance.

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