Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Our surroundings affect us. At the basic level, their walls and spaces shape how we go about our daily routine; where we eat, sleep and work. At a more refined level, they can be designed to support our lifestyles providing places to entertain, to relax and to play. But what if they could provide more? What if your house could be like your favourite sweater? Designed to provide you comfort and joy and not just warmth; something that added meaning and fulfilment while also supporting your lifestyle.
As an architect and artist, I’ve always been interested in exploring connections and meaning in our spaces. We all have spaces and places that have had an effect on us; spaces that have embodied that something more. For me this was my grandparents home, a lovely two story rancher overlooking a creek, a landscaped area and a farm. It's something more was derived from a staircase and table carved by my grandfather, as well as from a variety of spaces that seemed to effortlessly support meaningful family interactions.
So what makes a space meaningful? And how can we create spaces that we connect to? There is an entire branch of psychology dedicated to exploring this: environmental psychology. Unfortunately, there isn’t a step by step guide. But there are some starting points, some factors that help point us in the direction of creating meaningful spaces, like the concept of Place Identity.
Place Identity - “those dimensions of self that define the individual’s personal identity in relation to the physical environment by means of a complex pattern of conscious and unconscious ideas, feelings, values, goals, preferences, skills, and behavioural tendencies relevant to a specific environment” (Proshansky, 1978, p. 155).
Spaces that Reflect our Identity.
So how to we start to build spaces that reflect our identity? I think we start by paying attention to the things that define us, our interest and our values. Are you into fashion, collecting, travel, or the outdoors? Do you value organization, sustainability, or history? Why can't those be driving factors in the design of our homes. Spaces that reflect our values, interests and even our cultures can be much more meaningful. And that can create positive connections. If you love organization, think about transforming your home to. reflect that. Create specific built-in’s for everything. Add some closet-walls, which are an amazing way to divide space while creating storage space. Even add a window seat with blanket or toy storage underneath. If you are a fan of history, why don’t you refinish the farm sink you found in the basement or repurpose the stones from the original home. Fashion? Create a dressing room that reminds you of a boutique store and displays for your favourite pieces. There are so many ways we can reflect ourselves in our spaces. You make your home truly your own when you customize it to your own identity.
Designs that Highlight Memories and Stories
Memories can imbue a space with meaning and connection. Some homes have stories and that can be highlighted and used as resource to add more connection. For example, one of my favourite clients had a lovely story about their home. Just after getting engaged they walked past a specific, very grand house that they both had always loved, and they envisioned that one day they would live there. Many many years later, they returned to their hometown and were able to purchase and renovate this home. I always loved that they had a story associated with this home. We can’t always have decades long romances with our homes, but there are other ways to design with memory. You can design your space to reflect past memories taking inspiration from shapes and materials that remind you of it. Why can’t your vacation happy place or your honeymoon be present in your home? This can be an abstract connection, something that reminds you of this memory or more direct like using barn board from the old family barn.
Spaces that Encourage Memories
Not only can memories be the inspiration for our designs, promoting their creation can also be the purpose of our designs. When designing, i like to think about what activities we find meaningful, and then provide spaces and details that encourage and support those activities. Instead of designing by what rooms we need: living, dining, kitchen etc. Why don't we instead design by the activities they support: a place to play games with the family, a place to sit and enjoy the view, a place to cuddle. Whether it is a comfortable quiet window seat where you sit every morning and enjoy your coffee or a mindfully designed kitchen that connects you to your food, design to add moments to your home that make it something more.
Spaces for Our Objects
Most of us are attached to our objects. We often rely on them to create the experiences we want from a space: our couches, our pictures, our chairs etc. However, creating spaces for a specific object or that highlight them can elevate both the object and the space. This can be as simple as built-in shelving for our favourite objects. Or a lite alcove, designed for a specific, meaningful piece of art. Altering spaces attaches ourselves to the space. Altering spaces for our objects and possessions gives us a purposeful and meaningful way to do that.
I think there are so many ways to give our spaces meaning and connect with our surroundings. The initial act of altering the space itself can start the process, but we can delve deeper. We don’t have to settle for the only identity we have in a space being our possessions and a paint colour or flooring that we like. #buildmeaning
Place Identity: How Far Have We Come in Exploring Its Meanings?
Proshansky, H. M. (1978). The city and self-identity. Environ. Behav. 10, 147–169.