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  • Writer's pictureSusan Wilson

Stimulating or Calming? How to make a room feel just right for you

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

It's true--our physical environment greatly affects how we feel. When I meet with a client at the start of a project, one of the first things I ask them is how they want their their new rooms to feel.

Do they want to feel energized? Do they want a soothing space that lets them just exhale and relax? How we decorate a room can dial up or down the the visual stimulation, which affects our state of mind when we're in the room.

How do you want to feel in your home?

The level of energy you'll want probably differs from room to room, depending on its purpose. For example, a bedroom is a place where you're looking for serenity (serenity now!), setting the stage for your solid 8 of beauty sleep. In a home office, drifting off is (probably?) not what you're looking for; you want an environment that will allow you to be sharp and focused.

And the energy wanted in a room varies from person to person: maybe you're a person whose happy place is filled with colour (this post is for you!) and pattern and contrast; maybe you need visual calm to help you recharge. This is one of the first things I want to tease out as I get to know a client during our first meetings.



Here are the elements I play with when pulling room together, scaling them up or down to get the energy level just right:


Using Colour Create a Mood

Colour can have a huge impact on the energy level in a room: palettes with intense colours, bright colours, or a wider range of colours make a room feel energized.

Neutral palettes in whites, greys, creams and beiges create a calming effect


At the other end of the spectrum (so to speak, haha) using a darker colour can also have a calming effect when used in a tone on tone palette.

Dark walls in bedroom tone on tone olive green walls with olive green drapery
Design Susan Wilson

Using Pattern to dial the energy up or down

Pattern, like colour, adds more visual stimulation to a room. Throwing more patterns into the mix will make for a higher energy level in the room, and the bigger and bolder the pattern, the more energetic it feels.



A low pattern content creates a feeling of serenity, and the eye is given more opportunity to rest.


airy minimalist dining room in white and wood tones
Design Susan Wilson


Using Contrast to Control the Feel of a Room

This is a less obvious element that can be tweaked to adjust the energy level in a room. Contrast can be created with the use of very light next to very dark: picture a room painted with all the walls and trim painted all in the same light colour; now picture the same room but with the window and door trim, fireplace mantel, crown moulding and baseboards painted in a dark colour. Totally different feel, right? Both of them are great, it just depends on the feel you're going for. (Read more about selecting trim colour with intention in this post)


Of course, we can also create a higher level of contrast in a room painted completely in white, by adding contrasting darker colours in furniture, fabrics or art. The hits of black in this ivory add interesting contrast and energy.

Another way to play with contrasting colour is to make the deliberate choice to use colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel for a more energetic feel, or to select a palette with contiguous colours, blue and green, which sit right next to each other. Going tone on tone with versions of the same colour is taking the calm feeling to the max.

This living room creates a calming shell with the walls and trim painted out in a neutral colour, but energy is added with the high contrast fireplace and the seating in complementary colours.

Contrast can also happen in subtler ways, and I always consider this when selecting furniture pieces. Contrasting heights between the chairs and the sofa, or between a chair and a bookshelf next to it keeps the eye (and therefore the brain) moving up and down. The dark sculptural pieces in varying heights and shapes in this living room contrast with the white shell.

Chances are you're spending more time than ever in your home these days, so it's worth it to take the time to create an environment that supports you in all the aspects of your life. Think about what you want from each room, energy-wise. Stimulating for work or for time with friends (some day soon) and family? A calm retreat from the world outside? Even if 'the world outside' currently means your home office.

Next think about what works for you personally. If you're looking to create the living room of your dreams, take a look at as many inspiration photos as you can, pin the ones that instantly appeal to you. Then go through those pins, and notice energy level in those rooms. Imagine yourself actually living your daily life in each of those rooms and take note of the ones you're instinctively comfortable in; you'll be on the way to targeting your own energy level preferences for your home.

From there, you're ready to play with the elements of colour, pattern and contrast to get a room that feels perfect for you.

And if you want to make sure you really nail the energy --and the form, style and function ; )-- in your newly designed rooms, reach out to me about my room design packages; I would be happy to help.


Until next time,





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