For Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer, the founders of online design magazine Sight Unseen, the pandemic brought about a newfound appreciation for the myriad objects they had both accumulated over the years. “We were sitting in our homes and our objects were really bringing us comfort, and making us feel less lonely,” Khemsurov tells BBC Culture. This sparked the idea for the duo’s book, How to Live with Objects: A Guide to More Meaningful Interiors, published this week, in which she and Singer offer up their tips on “how to maximise the visual and emotional impact of your space” through objects.
This involves taking a more intentional approach to both acquiring and living with objects, prioritising heartfelt connection over what Khemsurov dubs a “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude. “It’s the basic idea that an object can very easily become imbued with meaning and memories,” she says. Whether it’s something a friend made you which reminds you that you are cared for, or a nick-nack purchased while travelling abroad, she observes, objects allow us to relive moments, or feel closer to loved ones, at a glance. “In terms of the aesthetic of the object, we tend to be quite agnostic,” Singer adds. “The whole point is building an interior around your personality.”
Surrounding yourself with treasured objects is, of course, only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to compiling a personal space that makes you feel good. Lindsay T Graham, a personality-and-social psychologist specialising in how we affect – and are affected by – the spaces we inhabit, suggests taking an intuitive stance right from the start. “First, go into the space, and look at how it currently makes you feel,” she tells BBC Culture. “Don’t overthink it, just ask yourself, ‘Am I feeling stressed? Or happy? Am I ready to wind down? Or am I amped up?’ Then take a step back and think about what you want to be feeling. Noticing the mismatch between the two will offer clues to what needs to be shifted in order to create an environment that’s really going to support you.”
Home sweet home
From there, it’s all about selecting the right tools to achieve the desired psychological effect. One element is lighting. “Lighting can transform a space instantly,” says Graham. “Plus, there’s been so much research about its influence on our circadian rhythm, which impacts both our mental and physical health.” Much of this research centres on using different coloured lights to incite different moods. “You can buy warm or cool light bulbs,” environmental psychologist Sally Augustin, PhD, tells BBC Culture. “If you’re trying to create a calming atmosphere where people will enjoy spending time together, for example, you want a warmer, softer light, whereas for something that requires concentration, you want the light to be cooler and more intense.” Warmer light is most effective when emitted from a lower level – “say, from tabletop or floor lamps” – Augustin explains, while cool bulbs should be placed in ceiling fixtures or overhead lighting sockets.