How to Design Your Home Space For Wellbeing

By Philippa Charrier, co-founder of Fat Properties

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Where we live has a huge impact on wellbeing. Our home; both the location and the physical building itself, influences almost every aspect of our lives, from how well we sleep, to how often we see friends and family, to how safe and secure we feel. 

In Europe, we spend 90% of our time indoors, and 65% in our homes. The places and spaces where we live and work have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing.

Universities are trying to tackle some of the biggest national challenges in student mental health. In the UK half of young people are going into higher education and as many as a third of students are experiencing psychological distress. The number of students asking for support is on the rise and devastatingly there has also been an increase in suicides. 

We know from academic research that people who live in better quality housing have fewer psychological episodes, including decreased anxiety and depression. If we want to improve the health and wellbeing of our university students, then we need to start with where they live.  It’s our duty to provide homes where students can excel in all areas of their life and to encourage maximised wellbeing. 

True wellbeing goes beyond just health and happiness. Our sense of purpose in life, our health, our relationships and community belonging, and our financial stability all contribute to our wellbeing. 


4 QUADRANTS OF WELLBEING 

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To understand this better we have created the ‘Four Quadrants of Wellbeing’. This is based on an extensive study spanning 150 countries, our combined 30 years of professional design experience and our experience in successfully creating homes for students. 

Focus wellbeing: having a purpose in life, working to your strengths and liking what you do every day.

Fitness wellbeing: making healthy lifestyle choices, exercising, and eating and sleeping well.

Friendship wellbeing: having strong relationships, feeling safe and secure where you live, taking pride in your community. 

Financial wellbeing: effectively managing your finances to reduce stress. 

All the elements are linked together, and while we may be effective in some areas, we don’t get the most out of our lives unless we’re living effectively in all four. To be truly fulfilled we need to have a sense of purpose, good physical health, positive and strong relationships, a positive involvement in our community and financial stability.

Sounds easy. In reality it is perhaps easier said than done, especially if you’re a student. Being at university is an exciting time, but it can also be pretty daunting. Students are often living away from home for the first time, in a new city, away from everything that’s familiar to them and all the people who love them, and they’re trying to navigate the world on their own. 

A study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists 2011 shows student levels of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and personality disorders are on the increase, with as many as a third of students experiencing psychological distress at some point during their studies.

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FAT Properties believe that as developers and landlords we all have a role to play in empowering students to achieve optimum wellbeing, and we can do this by designing our properties with wellbeing in mind.

Most student homes have come a long way from the ones we remember. Those dark, dingy rooms, patterned carpets, and avocado bathroom suites are becoming a thing of the past. Thank goodness. 

Unfortunately, there are still some out there, but student living is finally becoming more up market and high tech. Some landlords and developers are creating really beautiful houses for students to call home.  

Whilst this is a step in the right direction, aesthetics must only been seen as the icing on the cake. There are fundamental design principles that need to be addressed before getting involved in the interior design. 

Location, space, fenestration, proportions, layout, character and materials are all critical to how the design of a home will affect wellbeing. Only once this has been realised should interior design be used to make the spaces comfortable and beautiful. 

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Here are a few simple ideas for how to incorporate elements that can improve wellbeing into your properties:

A good night’s sleep

We spend a third of our life sleeping, which makes the sleeping environment one of the most important areas to get right. Having large bedrooms with a large comfortable double bed ensures tenants have space to study, as well as getting a good night’s sleep. Using blackout blinds or curtains also ensures they won’t get woken up by the sunrise after that long night cramming for an exam (or that fresher’s party that couldn’t be missed!). 


Calm study space 

Students are on the first rung of the ladder towards their dream career. They are hopefully starting to work to their strengths and are enjoying their studies, which will get them on the right path for their future careers. We need to facilitate effective study and provide spaces designed for creativity and concentration. Don’t go crazy with the decoration in the bedrooms, this is a room that needs to be calming, so they can focus on what they are here for – studying. 

Make sure the desk is well placed in the room, with plenty of natural and artificial light and a comfortable chair. It must be well connected, with multiple plugs and USB points within reach. And it goes without saying that it needs to have super fast wifi.

Simple things like this will help your tenants to study, feel productive and achieve good grades. This helps develop their sense of purpose.


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Promote exercise

Student houses are generally situated in walkable neighbourhoods that are close to the university, and many tenants will own bicycles instead of cars, so a bike store is a must. If you can add other things to encourage physical exercise, you can be sure the tenants will welcome them. And the quirkier they are, the better they’ll be received.

You could include an exercise mat in each room, for those all-important morning crunches or yoga moves, or a basketball hoop and pull-up bars in the garden. 

You could also find out where the nearest park run is and encourage the tenants to take part. Not only will this help with their physical wellbeing but it will also help them to feel part of the community by getting involved in local community activities. 


Socialisation

Student houses are, by their very nature, sociable places to be, or they can be if they are designed correctly. Students, many of whom have left home for the first time and are among brand new people, need somewhere they feel safe and secure and where they can meet likeminded people, who often become friends for life. 

When the home is designed for optimal socialisation, tenants will form stronger relationships, which will help them to enjoy themselves more and hopefully achieve more. 


Collaboration

A kitchen is a place for cooking, eating, talking and laughing. It’s the ultimate collaboration space encouraging social relationships, which is one of the primary functions to human health and wellbeing. Having a large kitchen with ample space to store and cook food encourages tenants to eat well. 

Make sure you’ve got a dining table that fits all the tenants around it, as you’ll help to promote positive social interaction. It’s not a good idea to have a TV in this room, as this is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.


Green space encourages productivity

Green and open gardens encourage social interaction, as well as improving productivity. Try adding lots of natural plants, a green wall or a vegetable garden, so your tenants can get closer to nature. You never know the scientists in the house may come up with their greatest discovery so far in your student house, and that is what it’s designed for - letting them be themselves in their own space. If maintenance is a concern, even replacing part of the patio for low maintenance shrubs can make a positive improvement. 


No financial worries

Pricing your student home so it is within reach for your tenants and doesn’t max out their budget is a key consideration when thinking about wellbeing. It’s no good creating an amazing space which no-one can afford, so pricing it competitively and within budget will help to ensure your tenants can also afford to buy books as well as go out, and are not worried about where their next meal is coming from.

Design really can help promote wellbeing, so if you can start thinking about it now you can be sure your tenants will thank you for it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philippa Charrier trained as an architect and urban designer, before co-founding FAT Properties with her husband Tom. With 15 year’s experience working on high profile urban regeneration projects in the UK and Australia, she understands the impact the built environment has on people’s behaviour, mood and mental wellbeing. This is the basis of the FAT Properties ethos. 

For more information go to fatproperties.co.uk

Follow their journey on Instagram and for more useful tips @fatproperties and @philippa.charrier