Every aspect of our lives is governed by sensory perception; data or signals derived from our senses, received and interpreted by our brains, giving us differentiating sensation that informs our life experience perception. I’m always intrigued by the symbiotic workings of our world and the interrelationship between different aspects to create the experience that is life.
On a fall day, I found myself in the middle of an apple orchard, engulfed by the experience of nature. Usually cautious to the unknown, I embraced this situation and allowed myself to be emotionally accessible to all around me. What I found when I was sensory engaged was a heightened experience; a collection of extraordinary moments informed by concurrent signals from all my senses.
The air was fragrant with fermenting apples, leaves were blowing in the wind and you could hear the thump of apples falling to the floor. The trees hung over our heads like a canopy of green speckled by variations of different sized red dots. I felt my boots crushing the green grass beneath my feet; I could hear the cracking twigs and I could feel the flesh of the apples crush against the weight of my foot.
The orchard was expansive! Row upon row upon row of apple trees, as far as the eye could see, felt like a scene realized from Alice in Wonderland. I could reach above my head and rub my hand against the bare skin of the fruit and feel a sense of life. We searched amidst the trees to find specific types of apples but the only differentiating process was to bite into as many as we could eat. Some were tart, some were sweet and some just were…When it all came together and I was aware of all these aspects in the moment, I smiled; I smiled from my eyes, I smiled from hands, I smiled from my mouth, I smiled from my heart.
I believe it’s impossible to fully appreciate anything without contextualizing it to the other things around it. I don’t appreciate the world by isolating aspects! Each aspect, working with each other, gives dimension and depth to the fabric of life. They are what allow us to perceive difference. In the orchard, I could hear, I could see, I could taste, I could touch, I could smell and I could feel – All aspects that informed my experience of apple picking, informs my writing experience and my life experience as a whole.
Sensory perception also affects how we engage with a space. Beyond the five senses, a well designed space will stimulate you on many levels, including your intuitive self. The sum of the parts is greater than the individual components.
I was listening to a friend talk about her friend’s wedding and the level of attention to detail. I remembered thinking about how much time and effort people put into defining the experience of the most important day of their life but not do the same for the other days that they’re living. What if every day is the most special day? What if we sell ourselves short by not heightening the experience of our lives, by not being attentive to detail? What if we’re limiting our depth of experience and connection by not being cognizant of the emotional sum of those details?
When it comes to design and decor, nothing influences your way of being quite like your environment. It’s the way I felt when I was aware of my emotional well-being in the apple orchard; it’s the way my friend felt at the memorable wedding and it’s the way you’ll feel when you explore design as the 7th sense – The culmination of the senses working in unison to create a heightened experience in every moment.
We’re all well aware of the 5 senses and the 6th tends to be an area of discussion, as to whether our intuition plays a part. From what I do and how I translate emotion through design, I am of the mind that it does play a part in our everyday lives. Translating emotion, for me, comes through intuition and therefore through cognition. Being present in the moment, being aware of your sensory signals and how they collectively affect your experience is a big part of your perception.
“The future of design is about the collective experience and how all the sensory stimuli contribute to the overall experience.”
What stimulates your senses at home?
Color, texture, pattern and form all contribute to dimension within a space. When you’re able to manipulate and layer these variables effectively, you’ll begin to evolve your sense of spatial depth. It’s the effect you get from having gray flat painted walls with white high-gloss molding, in a room with a navy blue velvet couch and fuchsia silk pillows with a light-gray patterned cashmere throw. The beauty in each is heightened by its presence against the others.
How your home smells definitely affects how you or someone else will perceive your space. It is equally important to define the smells and scents that you are positively receptive to. I tend to use candles, home sprays, flowers, fruit and incense at home that have scents that I love. Maybe you love the smell of lemon, or rosemary or lilacs; or you love the smell of mint or leather or vanilla.
Scents can be steeped in memories and may characterize a moment when you were very aware of life and living.
“They can keep us in a place we love to be and can trigger emotions that feed our mental and spiritual well being.”
The right scents, used sparingly and with purpose, can provide the sensory backdrop to engaging in a visually beautiful space.
Music and sound is a constant in my life and tends to accompany most, if not every activity. For the last two weeks I’ve been listening to sounds of India, a relaxing Zen-like blend of rhythms that allow me to be centered in my office space, while I’m creating. Whether it’s the sounds we introduce to a space or the external sounds that define a particular experience, what we hear affects our mental foray into the engagement of things.
“Sound can transport you back to a memory; sound can transport you back to a place in the world and sound can activate and access our emotional capacity to engage and feel.“
Taste, from a design perspective has more to do with your sensibility. Sensibility and taste, to me, are intuitive and varies depending on the individual. Many times, my sensibility or design taste is informed by my visceral feeling to things. It is the rationalized emotion derived from a feeling toward something. My intuitive self, driven by my emotional receptiveness, informs my brain on how to interpret how I feel toward certain things. Those collective feelings about many things begin to form patterns that ultimately evolve into my design taste.
Sense of taste, in our ability to discern certain substances and foods, can also be an extension of your design style. In the same way that smells can transport you to other places and times, so too can food and the taste of food. When I’m entertaining at home, I try to be aware of being able to play with taste, especially with specialty cocktails or even more complex desserts that play with the balance of savory and sweet, quite like my personality.
Then there is flavor which is an effect of dual sensory perception; taste and smell and can be affected by factors such as odor, texture or temperature. At home, I love to have foods on-hand that are fully entrenched in my experience; foods and cuisines that remind me of places I’ve been to around the world – Foods like fresh fruit, fresh herbs like basil and cilantro and regional seasonings like curry and asian spices.
Creating the right space décor can affect how we taste things. To capture the right experience that sets me up to be fully engaged with what I eat, I painted the kitchen a bluish gray that allows vibrant colored foods to contrast and appear that more appealing.
My partner bakes during the holidays with the taste and smell of shortbread cookies with fig jam permeating the space and evoking a feeling of the season. “The tastes of foods we prepare at home are an extension of the space we live in.” They are the embodiment of our experiences and are shared each time we invite anyone into our home.
Step into your living room, close your eyes and pass your hand against a number of items. Can you feel the softness of your couch, or your feet against your plush rug? Can you feel the roundness of your lamp shade or even the weight of your curtains? Touch informs our perception of any room.
“It allows us to see with our hands and informs our receptiveness to a space.”
When I step into a room, I experience the energy of a space first. It is the force created by combining all the aspects that contribute to that space. Whether that energy is good or bad is subjective to the person who is experiencing it. While I cannot control a person’s openness to my space, I can define a space that embodies my energy and reflects it.
I think intuition toward things and people varies by the authenticity of that thing or person. If the space seems aligned and true to the experience of the individual who lives in it, then I think others will be receptive to it. Now I am not saying they will love it, but they will respect it as an expression of self.
Letting your intuition guide your feelings toward the things you surround yourself with is a good way to approach decorating and life, in general. Be true to you and what you love and you will convey that sentiment to others and to yourself.
When it comes to defining our style, most of us defer to some external source: magazines, books, television, people, all inform who we should be. The key here is to strip yourself of all the social conditioning and allow your intuition to evolve your emotional self. Your gut feeling will usually inform you if you are actively listening
When I style a space, I tend to use 70% intuition as to what feels right for me. What feels right allows me to be secure in my choices of placement, of color, of texture.
“When you surrender to the voice of intuition, you’re allowing yourself to speak the language of your soul.”
Design Sense: Experiential Design
Experiential design is about the experience of living and how you live, When you put all 5 rational senses together and allow them to be guided by feelings, of intuition, you begin to experience the world on a heightened plane. Not only will you see it, touch it, hear it, smell it, taste it or have a taste of it, but you will also feel it. When you’re able to design life based on a harmony of the 6 senses, you begin to live in the moment and each subsequent one to follow.
“Experiential design is an all-encompassing heightened state of expression that defines sensory perception of a space by stimulating the mind on multiple levels.”
This is usually the feeling we seek to capture during a wedding and this is the feeling I sought to experience in the apple orchard, In a world of technology and things that detract from our personal engagement with ourselves and each other, is it not important to exist in a space that continually positively reinforces who you are?