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Interior design storytelling, image showing the interior of a posh resturants design

Storytelling in Interior Design

We are physical beings. We walk inside and outside of a building, composing a personal narrative about our relationship with the building, its interior design and its decoration. This relation can be a natural result of the architecture of a building and how its occupants use it, or it can be a creation made by an interior design trying to accomplish certain emotions, trying to tell a specific story by making the users of a place walk in certain directions and pay attention to specific items.

The strategy that focus in telling a story using design is called storytelling. Storytelling is the art to tell a good story. This strategy can be used in home design, to tell the story of the family that lives in there; in the interior design of stores, to attract clients focusing on the experience of being in the store, instead of focusing in the products; and even in the design of objects, like those we see in the ceramics based on the aesthetics of Japanese Wabi Sabi, that try to tell the story of its production process and the effect of the time in its surface. The basic components of any storytelling are context, plot and structure. All these three components are fused together in the individual and subjective experience of the place.

interiors foundation

Context

Context is the background that an interior designer will use as the foundation to build the other three components. In the case of an interior design, background is what is already built, something that the designer necessarily must work with, even if it’s only to take part of it of the final design. Usually this is what is already there, in the real space, that we are working. However, furniture and other objects that are not already in the building, but are something that a client desires to have, can also be considered part of the background of a project.

Image showing a stairway and lights which help plot the path to upstairs

Plot

Plot is the sequence of events that the users of a place will experience. This defines the paths that these users can follow, what are the spatial focus points of a design and what will be experienced in these points. By defining the plot, you are also defining what are the most important parts of a place, in relation with the idea of telling a story, what are the routes that will be used to access these focal points and what are the most important visuals to see these points from distance.

Having defined what are the focal points and the paths, we also must define what are the main story that that we want to communicate. The main story of a house can be the story of its inhabitants or maybe the hobbies that someone in the family likes. The main story of a public space can be the story of the city, the country or of some hero/public figure. And the main story of a store can be some brand that is important to the store, a new collection of products or objects that are related to popular culture.

Is based on the main story that we can decide what object will be placed on the areas that we defined as focal points. These objects are partially responsible for the experience of storytelling. Is these things, in conjunction with the walls and floor, that will actually communicate with the users of a certain space what is the story about.

interior fixtures

Structure

Knowing the background of a building and having defined the plot of the story, the next step is to define the structure that we’ll use to tell the story that we want to tell. The structure of interior design storytelling is how you organize this story, facilitating the user to know what you want to tell them and giving cues to where they should be focusing to know more about the story.

However, while a consistent story is a good thing, too much uniformity can cause boredom. To avoid it, the interior designer can use rhythm, contrast and suspense to create a more interesting way to communicate. Directing the experience of the story to a more dynamic and artistic way

This is the point where we start to think on design solutions to avoid boredom and to reinforce the paths and focal points decided by the plot. We can use fixture design to create a contrast between the focal points and the rest od the space, create a rhythm that differentiates the areas that are just for passage from the ones that will be used to tell the story, etc. The design solutions are infinite and can only by thought by an interior designer together with its clients.

Main Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
lovell house interior

Interior Design, Color and Psychology

The philosopher Alain de Botton already said that we act and feel different at different places. Jung and Cooper Marcus also believed that renovating a house can change the ones that live there. Every detail of a house can have a deeper meaning that affect us from a conscious to an unconscious level.

According to Bachelard , even the lower drawer of a shelf, parts of the basement and parts of the attic has a meaning to us and help us to spatialize our mind, feelings and personality. By design the interior of our houses, we bring things from the outside world that has some meaning to us (like a photo of a loved person or a pan that we can use to cook) and put it on a place that is accessible for us. The easier that is for our body to access something, the easier it’s for us to mentally and emotionally access them, and the harder that is to physically access something, the deeper in our unconscious it’ll be.

RICHARD NEUTRA’S IDEAS AND THE LOVELL HOUSE
One architect that knew how a house can affect those who lives inside of it were Richard Neutra. He was one of the first architects to attempt to create a house that could enhance its dwellers psychology. Influenced by the Freudian idea that repressed psychical energy could be unconsciously projected into the outside world, Neutra stared to believe that he could cure some of his client’s mental issues and neurosis by acting in their environment. For him, the architect should act as a doctor, seeing his clients as patients, making diagnoses based on psychological tests and prescribing architectonic and interior design ideas as prescribing remedy.

The most important work of Neutra is the Lovell House, a house built in 1927 – 1929 for Philip and Lea Lovell. The Lovells were a couple very interested on healthy culture and the impacts on architecture on it. They already had a house, the Lovell Beach House (1922 – 1926), designed by an architect that were specialized on architecture and health, Rudolph Schildler. However, on their new house, they decided to contract Neutra to build another health home.

lovel house

In this house, as in his others houses, Neutra used the language of modern architecture and design, but in his hands, that language gain a second meaning. The first thing we can perceive is the use of glass walls and glass corners, a material that is common in modern architecture because it brings delicacy and lightness to a room. However, to Neutra, glass is a material that can be used to organize the flow of psychological energy, by letting them flow from the outside view. A material that lets natural light enters the house, keeping it not only brighter, but also psychologically cleaner. And a substance that can prevent the dwellers to project their desires into parts of the house. For him, glass could prevent us to create new neurosis and having metal issues caused by a “bad” home design.

glass wall

Going more on the inside of the house, we can see that he used preferably neutral colors, like white, gray and brown. These colors enhance our perception of the form of an object, like the roundness of a table or the quadrature of a sofa. However, in Neutra’s interior design, the colors gain an extra meaning as, for him, they create fewer emotional attachments than a colorful room.

A critique to neutra’s approach and the use of color

Overdijk says that Neutra focus on creating an environment that prevents the client from creating attachments or project unconscious energy into parts of the design. His idea was to create a therapeutic house. However, in a search for a house sterilized from any attachment and projections, Neutra didn’t perceive that a house can cause a series of emotions that could also be part of a heath home.

As the psychological researches about the impact of color in our perception evolved, we started to understand how color can impact our lives in many and positive ways. According to color psychology, the branch of psychology that studies the impact of color on our perception, color can influence the taste of food and the effectiveness of remedies, working like a placebo would. The studies in color show us that every color carry a specific meaning that is either learned or biologically innate. As we perceive a color, the color itself causes us to evaluate our surrounding, exerting an automatic influence in ourselves and in our perception of our surroundings.

Color is often used in logo design to make us feel something or act in some specific way, as show on the image above. When we design the interior of a house, we can and should consider how the colors we use in the walls and the color of the furniture can affect those who will dwell in it. We yet don’t know if color can cure someone or even if we can design a therapeutic home, but we know that it can influence us in subtle ways, changing the way that we behave in certain environments.

Even if Richard Neutra didn’t know that color can have a positive effect on us, he was the first to understand that architecture and interior design can change those who dwell in it. His works opened a space to experience the impact that material, color and design has on us. Some of his clients qualify him as a genius, but others says that his glass houses make you feel striped, all observed, like being on the outside of the house, even knowing that you are on the inside.

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[2] JUNG, C.G. 2011. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. USA: Random House LLC.

[3] MARCUS, Claire Cooper. 2006. House as a Mirror of the Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home. USA: Nicolas-Hays Inc.

[4] BACHELARD, Gaston. 2014. The Poetics of Space. USA: Penguin Classics.

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[7] OVERDIJIK, Maarten. “Richard Neutra’s Therapeutic Architecture”. Retrieved May 10, 2018 (https://www.failedarchitecture.com/richard-neutras-therapeutic-architecture/)

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[9] THE LOGO COMPANY. “Psychology of Color in Logo Design”. Retrieved May 11, 2018 (https://thelogocompany.net/blog/infographics/psychology-color-logo-design/).