Interior Design for Mental Health

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    • #51197

      We’ve been doing a lot of decorating work around our new home. Something struck me the other day, and I wanted to ask the community. Basically, have you ever come across resources for interior design for mental health?

      The thought I bumped into went sort of like this.

      If someone in my house was wheelchair bound, I’d build a ramp, widen pathways and a variety of other accommodations to support their physical needs. All of these considerations would clearly outrank aesthetics.

      In my home, there are two people who are medically disorganized, and forgetful; one of which also suffers anxiety attacks if there is too much visual clutter.

      I’ve never seen or heard of people designing for these sorts of things.

      Well, that’s not totally true; but the typical design advice all seems to be for neurotypical folks. For example, someone might say “if you have a lot of stuff, build shelving into a room.” But that’s not a great accommodation because (1) things probably won’t make it onto the shelf and (2) if you can see the shelf, then you can see tons of books and such – aka visual clutter and in turn anxiety. In our house we’ve accommodated the second by facing shelves such that you cannot see their face when you are sitting. (Placed perpendicular to, or behind, a couch).

      So anyhow, I’m just curious if anyone else has thought about this.

    • #51215

      Yep, I thought about this (and a thousand other things, beware! :)). There is actually a fair amount of thought about that, although they will call it “good living” or “a restful place” rather than mention mental health. The tricky part is that everybody seems to need different things. If you go on a site like Houzz, you’ll see the minimalists and maximalists battle it out, with the minimalists feeling too supercharged when they look at too many things, and the maximalists feeling that they are in a sensory deprivation chamber in a minimalist environment. The battles over neutral vs. color vs. “pops of color” can get equally heated. (Ok, not nearly as heated as about bidets and duvet covers (!), but I digress).

      However, I will never have a house like any of these, because we are all ADHD here. Books on organizing for ADHD people exist, and the most useful tips for me have been to have all parts of a project clearly visible (no putting them away in a drawer to tidy the workspace), have a place where everything needed for next day is put, only have the tools needed for a day’s work in the house (a set number of plates, 2 spatulas, a pair of scissors etc.) since duplicates will give you the illusion you can find something and never put it back, no overstocking on toilet paper or food or emergency supplies, or everyday life will become an emergency, have an item near where you will use it, corral all kid and husband toys in their own messy enclosed rooms with dire warnings if they somehow escape… So in summary, for a working ADHD house, pretty takes a back seat to usefulness or nothing will ever get done.

      Here are some fun reads on the topic:
      House Thinking and The Power of Place by Winnifred Gallagher ( — easy and fun readings; she also has a book on attention and one on novelty seeking, so I suspect she’s from our tribe
      House As a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home Paperback by Clare Cooper Marcus ( – a reviewer called it psycho-babble and he/she is correct, but it was an interesting psycho-babble, if a bit dense
      Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, 2nd Edition-Revised and Updated: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized by Susan C Pinsky ( – grand title, but useful ideas

    • #51283
      Penny Williams

      I’ve read a few articles on creating the right environment for kids with ADHD over the years. Basically, soft colors and textures, minimal visual and physical clutter…

      Here’s a great article from Susan Pinsky with organizational advice for each room:

      The Ultimate Room-by-Room Organization Guide

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #51296

      Even ADHD people are either understimulated or overstimulated (and sometimes both at different points in time). Soft color and textures etc. are ideal for overstimulated ones (aka me). Would not work for my husband, who needs strong colors, comforting clutter, physical contact and studying in coffee shops (gasp!). Other ADHD people I met were similarly divided. I tend to agree with the experts that argue that ADHD is in fact an umbrella diagnosis and there are several different mechanisms at play. And that doesn’t even cover co-morbid conditions like SPD, OCD etc. I know ADHD people that find indoor plants comforting (natural exposure and all that). All I think is dirt, water spots and the possibility of fungal or insect diseases.

    • #63070

      Hi there

      I’m currently embarking on a career change into interior design specifically to support those suffering from mental health problems. Having lived with both depression and anxiety for many years I’m extremely passionate about helping others through creating positive living environments for them. My research has led me to a number of larger organisations involved with regeneration projects but it seems there’s very little out there to support the individual. This might be someone without the skills, time or finances to support themselves in this area.

      I’d be very grateful if anyone had information on such organisations or individuals who do this sort of thing. I’m still in the research phase before embarking on this full time.


    • #71641

      Interesting topic! Thank you for all the good info and, best wishes in your new venture, Rhi. Sounds like a great and helpful niche market!

    • #114202
      Carmen Nave

      Hi! I just found this topic and I know it’s old, but I am building a design business that focuses on design for ADHD so I thought I’d drop in and share some of my findings. I clicked the notifications for replies, so if anyone is curious I can post more follow up.

      What I’ve found online is mostly around decorating and organizing. So the idea about bookshelves is organizing, the paint colour theory is a decorating idea. There has been no research that I can find into design and ADHD in living spaces, which would include things like the layout of the space, the materials used to build, as well as more organizational and decorative elements. There is a small amount of research on design for classrooms, but it has pretty limited value for home environments.

      I have been doing research into autism and design as a related field. I found ASPECTSS, which is a research based architectural guideline for developing designs for autism ( The attention to sensory experiences is quite useful for ADHD, but this is a guideline that is highly tuned to autism, so the usefulness to ADHD is somewhat limited.

      I’m working on my own guideline to use with ADHD clients, so that we can work together on analyzing their relationship with the space, routines, and people they live with. Creating spaces that support memory, limit sensory distractions, and contain immediate, intrinsic rewards are some of the guidelines I’ve created.

      From my own experience, I really think that two of the most important things a designer could help with is layout (creating functional and/or sensory zones) and acoustics. Being able to hear people’s voices well in conversation areas and not hear things from other zones when you need quiet are two huge things for me 😀

      Anyway, if anyone wants to revive this thread and chat about design with me, I’d love it!!

    • #114292
      Dr. Eric

      Organization is one important factor.
      Another factor to consider is sensory processing and/or sensory overload.

      There are plenty of articles on interior design and mental health and/or productivity.

      However, I am only able to find those articles are in interior design sources… not mental health or productivity journals.

      I have read articles that say, “This color increases productivity 10%.”
      I have never seen a business say, “We repainted to this color and our productivity went up 10%.”

      Take with that what you will.

      • #114345
        Carmen Nave

        The woman who created ASPECTSS has done some significant follow-up work and my opinion is that her findings are robust, but I also haven’t found much that has really direct measures like “productivity increased 10%”.

        Sensory processing and overload is one of the areas I think design could help with a lot. Depending on at what stage you’re working from, there’s a whole lot a designer can do with acoustics, light, and zoning to mean that you only have to pay attention to a limited number of things at a time.

        I’m an anthropologist by trade, not an designer (that’s my sister). So, my interest is in the relationship between behaviour and space. From my research, I think that unlike some kinds of issues, it doesn’t take special knowledge within the standard scope of interior design to design for ADHD… that is, anyone who has the knowledge to design for neurotypical people also has the knowledge they need to for ADHD. But what is missing, potentially for both the client and the designer, is knowing what to ask for. The designer may not realize to ask about sensory stuff, or to investigate memory issues and whether the space supports the person’s routines and that sort of thing. Meanwhile the person that wants their space to work better may not know what it is possible to ask for, or even how to articulate what’s wrong. So that’s the sort of intellectual space that I think needs work.

        From that bigger picture, I find it kind of frustrating that so much of what’s out there is focused on “calming colours” or whatnot. Colours do impact how we feel, but it’s only one part of what a design does for our mental state.

    • #114556
      Dr. Eric

      Also a funny, not funny story…
      My wife oversaw the construction of a new mental health clinic, but not directly.

      She ran the clinic for a private contractor for the government contract who owned the building.
      She has one of those relationships where the people that she has a working relationship with really honor her feedback, but people that don’t know her take a “who the hell do you think you are?” attitude.

      She tried to give the designers feedback during construction, which they readily denied and one of the county people told her to stay in her lane.

      The result which needed to be fixed after the fact for much more money…. a very zen and welcoming entryway, a very environmentally friendly design, oh… and . three common-sense security mistakes and two areas that were designed to not be legally compliant for patient and medical record privacy and security. Kind of a big oversight when the entire building was supposed to be designed for public health.

    • #173437

      Hi Carmen Nave.
      I realize it has been awhile since your last post. Hopefully your notifications are still on.
      I was wondering what kind of progress you have made in researching and addressing ADHD with interior design?
      I am an interior designer (mostly kitchens and bathroom). I have not been officially diagnosed with ADHD yet, but my therapist and I strongly believe I am severely ADHD. This means there have been wonderful things that have come along with it as well as challenges. I think I have been drawn to interior design because of how much I know my interior environments greatly affect me. In light of my new personal ADHD revelations, I find myself thinking about the practical ways that I can help those with ADHD through design…but it is also becoming an overwhelming abyss of ADHD ideas. I would love to know more about your thoughts on “needs” as well as possible helpful resources? Thanks in advance!

    • #176133

      Look into Feng Shui. It’s an ancient eastern practice of creating an environment that encourages positive energy flow to create good well being. Whether you believe in the concepts behind it or not, following Feng Shui principles usually creates a peaceful, harmonious space where people feel comfortable.

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