• Sharon Crockett

Perceptions of the Family Home

A recent study described in the JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY (Volume 64 (August 2019) 39-47) looked at the design of the home environment as a predictor of family functioning -- "affective responsiveness, emotional acceptance, acceptance and decision-making". It was found that more than the actual physical attributes of the designed environment itself was family members' perceptions of density (i.e., distance, crowding) that had the most significant impact on how families with young children interacted.

Designers try to design the layout of rooms in domestic spaces to fit the functional needs of families. But, every family is different, and, every family has different ideas about privacy and togetherness. Great room versus more compartmentalized spaces with nooks? The "family bed" versus the "master" bedroom and separate kids' rooms? Which characterizes your own family? More than likely, families need a combination of private nooks for reading quietly, sleeping and contemplation and more open spaces for congregating to dine, converse, relax and play.

Also, characteristics of spaces that designers think about, such as ceiling height, paint color, scale and spacing of furnishings, style of furniture, textile colors, textures of finishes, lighting, window coverings, floor coverings and details like artwork and pillows, apparently none of these characteristics in and of themselves influences family interactions. More significantly are parents' and kids' perceptions of spaciousness that impact how they interact and function. So, to the extent that any of these aspects of design mediate perceptions of density and crowdedness versus spaciousness, they will impact how positively family members interact.

Any design approach that opens up spaces -- mirrors, lengthening curtains, darker paint colors in small rooms, layers of artificial lighting with dimmers, storage to hide clutter, furniture arrangements that permit movement, neutrals and cohesive patterns -- heightens perceptions of lower density in the home. And perceptions of lower density can foster the privacy needed by parents and kids in between those times of family sharing, gathering and communication.

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