The Psychology of Interior Planning: Function And Focal Points

By taking the theory of habituation into account we learn about the importance of carefully editing our belongings to create the most impact through purposeful focal points.

Of all the elements that constitute the interior design process, the interior planning of the layout and decor are the most rewarding in my opinion. In our busy, sometimes stressful lives, we need domestic spaces that allow us to recharge and relax. Our home is the only place we might frequent on a daily basis where we can exercise complete control. According to research conducted by the Happiness Research Institute, our homes are the second most important factor contributing to our overall happiness, preceded only by our mental health. This will be a three part lesson: function & focal points (the focus of this article) as well as layout & symmetry and finally display (the focus of my next articles).

Jenny Lyon's Loft

Psychology Insight: Habituation

Psychology research teaches that we can get used to an environment that we live in. This psychological learning process, termed habituation, suggests that there is a decrease in response to a stimulus (such as that cluttered corner in our room that we meant to sort out years ago) after being repeatedly exposed to it. While it is true that we may learn to ignore a stimulus because of repeated exposure to it, habituation doesn’t mean that said corner positively influences our well-being.

Lesson 1


The primary hurdle to overcome in planning your interiors is to clearly define the functions of a given space. How many functions a room can fulfil largely depends on the size of the room and the ingenuity of the layout (which we will cover in the next lesson). However, more often than not, when we try to fulfil too many functions, we run the risk of fulfilling none very well. Therefore, the most important task at the very beginning should be to carefully edit our belongings by organising them into things we need, things we want and things we want to actually look at. Only those things that we actually enjoy looking at should be on display, while the other things can find their place in hidden storage solutions.


Storage solutions can be bulky, but they are absolutely necessary for keeping our belongings safely put away.

  • Try to blend your storage into the space by having cabinets with smooth, floor to ceiling doors that are painted in the same colours as the walls. This might reduce the overall square footage of the space but allows for an extensive creation of storage.

    Home Office by 2LG Studio
    Via Cote Maison
  • To maximise storage space, make sure to take advantage of the height of the room. For example: the space above the door is valuable real estate in terms of creating storage and is often neglected.

    Lauren Rubin Architecture
    Via Akker Lighting
    Via My Skandinavian Home
  • If executed smartly, dead spaces such as under the stairs or above the bed can be great places to store your belongings.

    Via Note Design Studio
    Via Apartment Theory
  • You can use storage solutions to divide the room into different functions.

    Via Plum Guide
    Lera Brumina
  • Or hide different functions behind storage in extra small spaces.

    11 sqm apartment by Batiik Studio
  • You can use storage as a focal point by displaying the things you want to look at on top of your cabinet, dresser, or sideboard. And wall space is ideal for functional decor. Open storage is a great way to add a touch of personality to a room by displaying your favourite belongings.

    From 'More is more' by Claire Bingham
    Omar Sosa & Laila Gohar Apartment photographed by Brian W. Ferry

    Psychology Insight

    The things we own are part of our extended self. They represent the experiences and people that have shaped us, which is why we like to surround ourselves with these things to remind ourselves of who we are and what we value. This should be respected, but should not be used as an excuse for unintentional clutter!

  • Whatever you do, avoid obstructing the windows with bulky storage items!

Lesson 2

Focal Points

Our eyes are constantly looking for stimuli to settle on and explore. Focal points are the places that draw special attention and therefore should be given special care. Each room has several focal points.

Primary Focal Points: Immovable Features

A focal point is the first thing that you look at when you enter a room.

  • This could be immovable, architectural elements such as a window (we spoke in our first lesson about how the eyes are always drawn outward into nature) or something like a fireplace. In some cases you might even have two significant focal points. Your furniture should be arranged in such a way around this architectural feature that it is the centre of attention.

    Athena Calderone's Living Room
    Designed by Angie Hranowsky

Secondary Focal Points

The secondary focal points are those that are seen from different positions that you are likely to take within a room.

  • In the living room, this could be the view from the couch. These points should again be given special attention and styling by displaying something that really delights the eye. Keep in mind the height so that it corresponds with and is easily seen from the eye level, whether that is sitting or standing.

    Via AD Russia
  • Bedrooms tend to have two key focal points, the first one being the view of the bed when one enters the room and the second one being what is seen from the bed when lying on it. You can establish the bed as the main focal point by creating visual interest through interesting headboards, paintings above the bed or draping fabric to frame the bed. The view from the bed, on the other hand, should ideally be as calm and uncluttered as possible and should only display the things that you want to look at and celebrate. In the example below, the view from the bed can even be hidden behind closed storage.

    Via Domino Mag
    Via Living Etc.
    Via Pufik Homes
    Quadro Room

Wondering how you can apply the psychology of interior planning to your space? Get in touch of check out my Design Services!

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