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Barker Street presents Muuto

The impact our interiors have on our emotions is undeniable. Colour, shape, arrangement, functionality, aesthetics – all of these can influence not only how a space makes us feel but how we interact with it, too. Be inspired with Barker Street.

Think about spaces you are naturally drawn to, or spend little time in…what elements in the room attract or repel you? It may not be easy to put your finger on the exact element, it may just be a feeling. This is why Italian furniture brand, Muuto, sat down with Susan Magsamen, executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University and and co-director of the NeuroArts Blueprint, to ask if we should move away from the ethos of “form follows function” and rather embrace the concept of “form follows feeling” to create meaningful spaces that impact us positively.

Muuto: First things first: what are neuroaesthetics?

Susan: Well, my research centres on the human experience of aesthetics – a field adequately dubbed neuroaesthetics – examining the impact of architecture, art and design on our behaviour and being. These days, it is informing how we can go about designing more intentional interiors, how we can use elements known to us in novel or different ways, and create spaces that promote a sense of well-being.

Muuto: Research has shown that certain elements affect us on a more general level, they are universally appealing. We know something about the effect of, let’s say, colour and tactility, on us. How can we use these to our advantage?

Susan: Anjan Chatterjee of the University of Pennsylvania and Oshin Vartanian at the University of Toronto demonstrated that there are neuroaesthetic elements we can lean on to create holistic experiences of space and architecture – the way i.e. colour, light or material can be combined to create a uniform belief around or experience of a room. Artists, architects, craftsmen, designers and other professionals can rely on these to put together to create something elevated, to serve a purpose or to solve a problem.

Muuto: Light is seen as one of the most effectful elements to work with when designing intentional spaces, profoundly affecting body and mind.


Susan: We know that sunrises and sunsets affect us profoundly and that there are certain hues throughout the day or even the year that greatly influence body and mind. Bringing our natural landscapes inside helps us stay in tune with our physiological day and ultimately, stay in sync. For instance, if you want to promote a stimulating learning environment, you might consider ways to introduce elements shown to improve focus like more exposure to daylight.

Muuto: We know that looking at nature lowers our cortisol levels, and it is still the natural environment that we feel the most profoundly calm in. How can we go about introducing more natural elements in our interiors?

Susan: We create spaces and think these are the most important, but the reality is, in many ways, that we still find ourselves most authentically in nature. Acknowledging that we are deeply connected and wired to the rhythm of nature, many human-built environments are starting to bring in biophilic elements. To generate a feeling of healing and restorative quality, try to incorporate greenery as well as other natural elements and materials into the built environment.

Muuto: Research has shown that the smooth curves, like those of modernist sculptor Jean Arp’s works, produce a pleasant sensation in the beholder. We prefer rounded shapes to sharp angles – why? And how does this knowledge help us create more engaging environments?

Susan: We naturally gravitate towards certain shapes, in particular smooth, rounded curves like the shape of a cup, because our hands have shaped it and they can embrace it, hold it. We have so many millions of synapses and nerves in our hands that connect to our brain and what feels intuitively right. Honouring these physiologies is really when I think design gets better. When we disregard them, it’s also an aesthetic experience – everything’s aesthetic. But I think there’s a difference between what really moves you – peak aesthetic experiences – and things that are simply utilitarian.

Muuto: Combining this idea with a strong focus on tactility allows one to create compelling atmospheres and spaces. How does stimulating the sense of touch create a deeper connection to a space or object?

Susan: Of course, we not only perceive the world visually but also sensorily, among others through touch. Tactility, or the haptic experience, is an essential part of the neuroaesthetic perception of an object or space. Through our hands, we can feel the essence of an object, deciphering its materiality and how it was made – knowing through our hands. Our skin is the biggest organ in our body and it’s so responsive. So you cannot underestimate what texture does. We are not only about what something looks like. You might be drawn to a certain kind of texture, and how it feels when you are engaging with it is incredibly powerful. It is much more powerful than seeing it.

Muuto is locally available at Barker Street, a supplier of high-quality furniture for the home and office in South Africa. Apart from stocking an impressive line-up of international brands such as Muuto, Herman Miller and Knoll, Barker Street also assists clients with interior planning on a project basis.


Contact: Barker Street.
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