Neuroarchitecture: the Science of Getting Your Decor in the Right Frame of Mind


It’s not preposterous to think your next resource for revamping your home is not ASID but ANFA: The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.

It is the mission of this think tank, and others like it, to promote and advance knowledge bridging neuroscience research to how we humans respond to our built environments.

Apparently, so much new information in this area has surfaced in the last two decades, excited architects, designers and scientists are calling it the new Renaissance in physical design.

There are even books being published on the subject, such as Inquiry By Design: Environment Behavior/Neuroscience in Architecture, Interiors, Landscape and Planning by John Zeisel, a consultant to ANFA.

His book covers the new field of neuroscience for design by describing the creative design process, how buildings and spaces work , and observations of behavior in the physical environment. We’ve seem a similar collaborative direction in green design as visionaries from various areas of expertise band together to work towards the common goal of sustainability.


Savvy architects and designers have always considered color, light, scale and layout as room elements that are important to pleasing their clients. But the neuroscience aspect goes much deeper to explore how one’s habitat triggers hormones that add stress, invite calm or stimulate thought. A room can even make one feel loved. It’s all about how you’re wired.

For me, order is the mother of invention. When everything is in its place, I’m happy as a meticulous clam. For others, the more disorganized and cluttered the room, the better. Those with teenage daughters know what I’m talking about. It all boils down to controlling all the little things we put in the cage. Hey, it’s true for hamsters and it’s true for us, as well.

“The premise is to consider how each feature of the architectural environment influences certain brain processes such as those involved in stress, emotion and memory,” Eve Edelstein, Ph.D. explains, in a recent article from Oprah. Edelstein, another consultant to ANFA, is an adjunct professor at the NewSchool of Architecture & Design in San Diego.

In terms of tips for influencing happy feelings, these experts point to designing good vantage points in the main gathering rooms, such as the kitchen or great room. Here, the ideal floor plan includes a view of the entryway, a window onto a pretty landscaped yard and a fireplace.

“Being in the kitchen links you to hardwired feelings of comfort – beyond getting food, there’s a sense of protection, warmth, sociability, sharing stories,” says Zeisel. He explains how Alzheimer’s patients need visual clues like pictures and objects to connect them with their lives, and the same clues aid the average homeowner in feeling grounded. These might include family photos or books you’ve read and enjoyed.

Zeisel adds that having a place to feel safe and to gather is especially important after a busy work day when we can feel anxiety, fear and stress brought on by an adrenaline rush. He says it’s good to face into rooms that you create to see what is going on and feel more in control.

“Then oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and serotonin, associated with relaxation and enjoyment, have a greater chance of being released.”


Other features that help: big windows or a balcony for seeing the weather; curvy edges instead of hard ones on counter, furniture and cabinets to feel more content; original art and sculpture to convey a sense of authenticity and trust; privacy via a room of your own away from the noise.

My favorite component, however, is the idea that rearranging one’s decor is actually a healthy habit that keeps your environs from going stale.

My husband compares me to a little hamster re-shuffling its cage when I spend hours rearranging photo collections and switching around pillows. See! I’m just moving energy, sweetie, and doing that neuroarchitecture thing. Brain scientists say it’s good for me. And think of all the money we’re saving on therapy!

Image: Fernanda Mancini

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.