Whether it’s a tiny corner in your bedroom or living room, or you have a sprawling floor-to-ceiling windowed room dedicated to your home office–designing the right space for creative work isn’t just a slap-some-posters-on-the-wall experience. Put some thought into it, and you can design a home workspace that will encourage focus and creative thinking.
More challenging tasks should be done in calmer spaces, says architect and design psychology consultant, Barbara Lyons Stewart, while less challenging tasks should be completed in more stimulating spaces. “You want your energy to go into the creative work, not the environment,” says Stewart. “If I know I’m designing and doing something creative, I’ll go for a lower-energy environment.”
But what design factors actually make for high- or low-energy spaces? When putting together your workspace at home, here are five factors to keep in mind to build the right space to stimulate your creative thinking.
This should come as no surprise, but nature stimulates creative thinking. Taking a walk or going to the park for some fresh air will often help trigger some of your best ideas. But it turns out that you can get that creative boost indoors too. A 2012 study out of the University of Munich found that the color green helps stimulate creative performance.
Adding green touches to your workspace can happen in a number of ways. Incorporate plants into the workspace, sit near a window with a view of trees outside, or simply add touches of green to the color scheme of the space, such as a rug or lampshade. “Think of springtime: Budding, growing, developing,” says Stewart. “Part of it is thinking of your home office as spring time.”
Design-oriented people often want to strip their workspace down to the bare minimum–using pristine white furniture and a minimalist look. If that’s your aesthetic, go for it, but working elements of nature beyond greens into your workspace will also help stimulate creative thinking.
A wood desk surface, for example, will provide a lower energy, less harsh workspace than a white laminate or metal desk. Again, this goes back to our instinctual love of nature. “There’s something that’s in you that makes you want to be outside,” says Stewart. Adding more natural elements to your workspace, like wood surfaces, wicker, and more curvilinear lines rather than harsh straight edges can help bring some of that calm into your space.
Use lighting to help you focus. A task light like a desk lamp that aims soft light directly on your workspace will help you focus, and rein in your attention better than an overhead lamp that provides more ambient light, says Stewart.
Daylight is also important to keep you energized and focused. If you can’t situate your desk near a window, then try mounting a mirror in the space to help reflect light from a nearby window.
Think of where a mafia don sits in an Italian restaurant–in the back corner, facing the door so he can see exactly who’s coming and going. “Our instinct is to protect our back,” says Stewart. But this plays a role in creative work as well. “It’s about controlling your space to decrease your stress,” she says. “You can be more creative when you’re less stressed.”
Stewart recommends positioning your desk so that you are near or facing a door rather than always turning to see who is coming. If your back has to face the door for space reasons, consider hanging or positioning a mirror so that you can see behind you when needed without having to turn around.
Would you want to be inside that artwork on your wall? When deciding what art to hang in your space, think about what kinds of calming environments most put you at ease. Abstract art can sometimes be too energizing and distracting in a space where you’re doing creative work, says Stewart.
Studies have shown that immersion in natural environments improves creative cognition. One study found that four days in nature increased a group of hikers’ performance in a creative, problem-solving task by 50%.
“If you were plopped in a natural environment and needed to survive, what kind of environment would you want to be in?” says Stewart. “That’s the kind of image you’d want hanging on your wall when you’re sitting down to do creative work.”