Home is such an integral part of our private lives and yet many of us have spent little time thinking about the feeling of home in much detail. What is it that makes a house feel like a home? Or what is it that makes us feel at home even in places we have never been to before? What contributes to creating that feeling of ease, contentment and belonging that can make a place feel like home even when we have never spent time in it before? There is a comforting feeling of belonging that arises when we enter our homes but that feeling is not necessarily restricted to private spaces. Public spaces like restaurants, shops, churches, museums, parks or even entire areas of a city can evoke that feeling of contentment, warmth and belonging making us feel completely at home even in places we have never been to before. What are the factors that contribute to creating those feelings of ease, familiarity, comfort and belonging?
I have been trying to understand that feeling a little better. If we can understand what contributes to creating that warm, comforting feeling of home we can begin to understand how to intentionally translate that into the atmospheres we create and the objects we bring in to our spaces to facilitate. Ultimately, the aim of this exploration is to guide the products we select for our store as well as inform any advice we offer on how to create interiors that make people feel contented.
Of course, the idea of what makes a space feel like home is deeply personal. But I believe there are some commonalities across people that stretch back to our common evolutionary heritage and that are tied into a very basic need to feel comfortable and safe. It is these commonalities that I am interested in and want to learn more about.
But before diving deeper into investigating this topic, as a starting point, I wanted to note down a few ideas from a naïve viewpoint, informed only by personal thoughts and experience rather than research and investigation. On that note, below are a few thoughts on some of the factors that might contribute to facilitating the feelings of home:
- Feeling safe and secure – a sense of physical safety is absolutely essential for feeling at home. But I think that it is a sense of emotional safety and security that makes us feel truly at home in a space. This is a huge topic and there are many diverse factors that contribute to a feeling of emotional security. Everything from a sense of privacy (anyone who has lived in London knows how uncomfortable it can be to hear every footstep and even worse every sound neighbours make, making one hyper-aware that they must be hearing the same) to how layout, furniture and objects can make us feel snug, safe and secure. Are there objects and design decisions that evoke a feeling of being embraced, enveloped or evoke notions of being nurtured? What makes a space feel like a nurturing shelter? From furniture and materials that make us feel comfortable to layout decisions that offer places for retreating in to, spaces that evoke a sense of emotional security are more likely to make us feel at home.
- Thought, care, effort, hospitality – spaces that have been considered and have had care and thought put into them are much more likely to evoke a sense of belonging than those that have been put together without much care and attention. What’s more, whether it is a public space like a restaurant or someone else’s home, a sense of being welcomed within a public space or someone else’s private space through care, effort and hospitality will play a role in making us feel at home. When spaces and the objects within them are cared for, when thought and consideration has gone into them, when care and effort have gone into creating a space or an atmosphere, we are much more likely to feel at home.
- Atmosphere – what contributes to creating a homey atmosphere will differ across people and cultures. But what are some common, primal, ancestral feelings that evoke a sense of home that we might all have in common? And how do these contribute to creating an atmosphere within a space? Our common experience will be rooted in our hunter-gatherer ancestry where feelings of ‘home’ would have been evoked by sitting around a fire, feeling safe and satiated, resting and recharging with family and familiars. Today this could translate into many diverse experiences all rooted in this same common scene. From actually sitting around a fireplace to the atmosphere created by candlelight or even atmospheric artificial lighting, to the feelings of rest and comfort evoked by a nurturing meal. But I believe this desire to feel something ancestrally familiar is also echoed in our use of natural materials in our homes. The feel of materials like wood and wool which humans have worked and lived with for millennia as compared to new man-made materials like plastic which have only been around for the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms are more familiar and therefore more likely to put us at ease and make us feel at home.
- Soft and rounded over edgy and hard – soft furnishings, material and texture, as well as rounded shapes, are more comforting from an evolutionary perspective than sharp edges and scratchy textures. We tend to have an innate preference for soft and rounded objects as sharp objects are more closely associated with threat. Contrasted with clinical and sterile environments like hospitals which are not known for being warm and welcoming, I wonder whether soft furnishing and the comfort of nesting contributes to creating a feeling of home?
- Creating a sense of ease and belonging – places that use symbols or a visual language we identify with have an ability to put us at ease and create a sense of belonging. The use of symbols we are familiar with and identify with signals that we are among like-minded people and therefore welcome which results in a sense of belonging. For example, a restaurant that echoes design preference of our demographic tapping into the popular visual language or the symbolism of a sports bar that caters to fans of that team.
- Pleasant and inviting sensations – from smells to sights to sounds and physical sensations, stimulating our senses in a way that feels inviting to us is an important part of creating an atmosphere and a feeling of home. Common threads might include smells of food cooking, baking or seasonal and natural scents, materials that feel soft and comforting to touch and spaces that have symmetry or a visual rhythm that makes them pleasing to the eye.
- A space that reflects those aspects of our own character back to us that we identify most strongly with – when we value certain characteristics over others whether that is the desire to feel calm or to be creative or intelligent, we are likely to feel most comfortable in environments that reinforce and reflect back those aspects of our personality we wish to nourish and cultivate. While these will differ across people, the common element is that we will all feel most at home in spaces that are able to reflect back the most desired aspects of our own personality back to us.
- The social element of home - in contrast with the point above which relates to feeling at home in spaces that foster our own individuality, spaces designed to create a sense of communality and conviviality will also have a role to play in evoking that comforting feeling of home. Many people will seek a balance between private spaces to hide away and retreat in with places where they can gather, connect and socialise. A sensation of feeling at home is probably best conjured up by spaces that have the ability to cater to both of these needs.
While individual difference, cultural, demographic and socio-economic factors, and trend-based factors will certainly make their contribution to the immense variation we see in spaces that feel homey, I would like to explore what they have in common that might be rooted in our common ancestral heritage.
While it is unlikely that we will find answers that span across all people I am interested in exploring the common elements and parameters that are important for fostering that wonderfully comforting feeling of home.
If you would like to share your own thoughts on what makes you feel at home in a space, I would love to hear from you! Are there any spaces or places that you feel particularly at home in? What are the most important factors that contribute to making you feel this way? If there are several, what do they have in common? Please feel free to send your thoughts and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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