Designing for wellbeing
Fraher & Findlay
By Lizzie
April 2020
We design spaces that create the right environment for people to thrive.

Particularly with the current climate, many people suffer from anxiety and stress related illnesses. Our homes can play a vital part in either alleviating these feelings or compounding them.

A massive part of our work is focused on understanding people's lives...
The problem:

We work primarily in people's homes and on a day to day basis these are the spaces which have the most sustained impact on occupiers' mental health. When you complete a building project you secure Building Control Approval and other statutory approvals, but technically, nobody needs to checksin to monitor the performance of the building in terms of how it supports the occupier's mental health.

How do you feel about the spaces that have been created for you?

Have you felt your anxiety levels have reduced since the project has been completed?

How are you feeling now in comparison to the old spaces?

*We keep in contact with our Clients and have been to repeat dinner parties....our version of a Post Occupation Evaluation report.
Identifying the spatial problem and its relationship to mental health:

Whenever we speak to a new client, they are very open about what they love about their home. However a key question we also ask during the briefing process is:

'What do you dislike about your spaces?'

The answers to this are varied but they tell us a great deal

  • "The corner of the kitchen feels cold and dark so I never want to sit there."
  • "I get depressed waking up to the view of a brick wall from my window."
  • "The children's clutter STRESSES ME OUT!!"
  • "Getting into the house is a pain as we are falling over each other in the hallway - that's my every day experience each time I return home"
  • "We have damp in our sitting room - we have been ignoring it but it frightens me that we don't know how to deal with it"
  • "The house is freezing in winter and it makes getting out of bed really difficult."

Sometimes there are a number of things that really irritate or upset a client and it is easy to see how the eat, sleep, repeat pattern day after day within these spaces can have an impact on mental health.
So how do we work to improve well-being of the spaces that we design?
Lighting - We design to optimise daylighting and sunlighting, reducing the use of artificial lighting. Artificial light decreases levels of melatonin, a hormone that is created in the brain by the pineal gland. Melatonin is critical for our body's health due to its control over our circadian rhythms. So more windows and rooflights are beneficial. Where artificial light is necessary (and this is the UK afterall!) we take a great deal of care with both design and product to ensure sympathy with the space and its use.
Acoustics - We all want a quiet and tranquil home - good sound insulation to party walls and double glazing to reduce external noise making its way into the home are key.

Light Walls House / mA-style Architects. Photograph by Kai Nakamura

Comfort - We work hard to ensure passive design, higher levels of thermal efficiency through insulation, double/triple glazing, maximising solar gain etc. If you are not comfortable inside your home - you are not going to enjoy living there!

Air Quality - We often use Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery units in our projects to bring in fresh cool air, improving the air quality within the home. Windows and the layout of spaces should be considered to maximise natural ventilation - we love a courtyard for helping with this! Similarly stack and cross ventilation are crucial as this reduces the chance of mould growth which can cause respiratory problems, allergies or asthma. Damp and mould can also affect the immune system.

Natural Ventilation Sketches

Social - We need spaces in our homes that provide stimulating environments for social engagement as well as quiet spaces for focused work and privacy. Kitchens are important spaces to promote family interaction and encourage healthy eating. The relationship between outside space and food preparation is key and helps us design more connected spaces.
Storage - Humans are by nature, collectors. Modern life has its pros and cons - and one of the cons is the amount of stuff we all seem to accumulate. Trust me.. I am a mum of 2! Often the lack of storage space is the biggest 'fix' that clients ask us for. Fitted furniture also has a tremendous impact on our spaces. Cleaner lines, accessible storage, easy to sort systems.. All have an impact on our well-being.

The Artists House: Fraher & Findlay

Access to green space - this is not always physical access but can be visual access. All habitable rooms have to have windows and so their outlook is so important in shaping and framing views. Even if that is a car park view - the design of the window reveal - window box etc can all have a positive impact on us. For those with a garden, the way in which we access our green spaces is particularly important so we promote flush thresholds and floor to ceiling glazing in areas. We also use green roofs extensively to bring the green space up to the first floor windows. Also why not bring a garden into the home - a courtyard space or winter garden is ideal for this.
Natural materials and sustainability. We try to encourage our Clients to consider the use of the following in their projects:
  • Reduced Low Volatile Organic Compounds which people can breath in form paint, new furniture and laminates. Low VOC paints and natural material finishes such as clay wall plasters are much better for us.
  • Renewable resources such as timber. Timber has been shown to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity. It has also been shown to calm the sympathetic nervous system within humans, which can contribute to reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving digestion and recovery.

The Courtyard House: Fraher & Findlay

So when thinking about your project - think about how your existing spaces make you feel and then consider how to use your budget to support as many of the above principles as possible. We are all currently spending a lot of time in our homes and there is not much that the very expensive marble worktop can do to make you feel better, calmer and more relaxed but a heck of a lot that the dappled light coming into your house can.

#Staystrong #Stayhome #Staysafe
Further Reading:
Happy by Design:

UK Green Building Council: Health and well being in Homes:

Please feel free to contact the studio to discuss your project. We look forward to hearing from you!