In order to create wellbeing-centered living spaces, biophilic design reproduces the essence of nature indoors.
Together with literally bringing the outdoors in and imitating natural features, biophilic design also takes inspiration from nature for space planning – the so called Nature of the Space.
The aim is making interiors more compelling, and the strategy is a combination of prospect views, refuge corners, "risky" features …and mystery.
So let’s dive into the use of mystery in interior design, starting with the Biophilic Moodboard of this month!
Mystery in biophilic design
Imagine you are visiting a museum.
From where you stand, you can peak through thick curtains that have been left partly open and you see a dimly-lit area.
Do you also feel that irresistible temptation to go and discover what's behind the curtains?
Well, this is the power of mystery.
Essentially, mystery refers to partially obscured views that stimulate our innate curiosity about what’s covered, inviting us to move and explore the space further.
If we think about it, partial unveiling is used extensively in other fields (take the appeal of sheer clothes for instance). And it is no news that mystery has something fascinating to it.
So why not using it in interiors too?
The effects of mystery on wellbeing
The reason why mystery works goes back to our innate features.
As humans, we’ve always explored the space around us. For our ancestors, understanding the surroundings was also a matter of survival as it ensured there was no danger around the corner.
While this is no longer the case in our living spaces, the curiosity part of it has remained. We just find it intriguing to explore a space and mystery nurtures our instinctive drive.
On top of this, we are also instinctively drawn to anticipation.
The thought of a vacation is often almost better than the vacation itself…
The preparations for a celebration are often more exciting than the celebration itself…
These are all everyday examples of anticipation and studies* have proved that our brain responds positively to it in many aspects of life, from music to food.
In space planning, mystery is exactly a way to create anticipation, to tease without revealing, to stimulate curiosity.
Therefore, an interior that includes elements of mystery will become more captivating and engage with our mind on a deeper level. In short, mystery is yet another strategy to make interior design go beyond aesthetics.
* Sources at the end of the post
Mystery in interior design
When using mystery in interior design, balance is key, as too much of it can be counterproductive.
In particular, it has been shown* that mystery can sometimes cause a sense of fear as opposed to a pleasurable anticipation (a concept that in literature is described with the difference between surprise – or fear – and mystery).
Turns out that what makes most of the difference is the depth of the view.
To have a pleasurable result, the area that is visible should be at least 6 meters deep, going up to 30 meters and more for bigger spaces.
To put it simply, a good mystery feature needs to partially obscure the view, but still allow to see quite far in the distance for the viewer to feel safe.
So how to practically introduce mystery in interiors?
Curved walls are often effective as a mystery feature. They gently shield the view while leading the eye forward. For this very reason, they are also a particularly good choice for transit areas, as they invite people to move.
Partially see-through partitions also work well and they provide privacy and separation at the same time. From stained glass, to open bookshelves and plants, there are a million and one ways to create a partition of this kind!
Light can also be used to create mystery. Less illuminated areas will naturally feel more mysterious and accent lighting can be added to lead in a certain direction.
To sum up, adding a touch of mystery to interiors will create more interesting spaces, that are not only beautiful to look at, but that also feel more engaging and stimulating!
Salimpoor V.N., Benovoy M., Larcher K., Dagher A., Zatorre R. J. (2011). Anatomically Distinct Dopamine Release During Anticipation and Experience of Peak Emotion to Music. (opened in a new window/tab) Nature Neuroscience, 14 (2), 257-264.
Ikemi M. (2005). The Effects of Mystery on Preference for Residential Façades (opened in a new window/tab). Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 167–173.
Blood A., Zatorre R.J. (2001). Intensely Pleasurable Responses to Music Correlate with Activity in Brain Regions. (opened in a new window/tab) Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences, 98 (20), 11818-11823.
Herzog T.R., Bryce A.G. (2007). Mystery and Preference in Within-Forest Settings. (opened in a new window/tab) Environment and Behavior, 39 (6), 779-796.
Herzog T.R., Kropscott L.S. (2004). Legibility, Mystery, and Visual Access as Predictors of Preference and Perceived Danger in Forest Settings without Pathways. (opened in a new window/tab) Environment and Behavior, 36, 659-677
Nasar J.L., Fisher B. (1993). ‘Hot Spots’ of Fear and Crime: A Multi-Method Investigation. (opened in a new window/tab) Journal of Environmental Psychology, 13, 187-206.