A home for all senses

“We expect every building not only to deliver a certain function but to create a certain atmosphere.”

This quote is based on one by non-fiction author Alain de Botton. I understand his idea to mean that the technical and physical essence of a building is just one part of the building. In addition, we expect a building to affect our emotions via its atmosphere. But what is this atmosphere of a building in essence?

It refers to the total effect that a person experiences through her senses. In interior architecture, this atmosphere is also called ambiance. It is created based on how a room addresses the person as a holistic being. Not only as a viewer, but also as a listener and as one who touches, smells and tastes. As one who experiences the difference between warmth and cold, recognizes movement versus staying put, and also understands what cannot be expressed in any certain way because it’s hidden behind or in the core of other things and is therefore impossible to express.

Architect and philosopher Juhani Pallasmaa speaks about multisensory spaces. He means that rooms speak to us simultaneously through our different senses. According to him, mere “architecture of the eye” is not enough nor that of reason or function. This is particularly important regarding our homes. We need more than a rational choice, more than walls and ceilings and a location for a home to speak to us. We need our homes to speak to us so that they can make us feel things and help us be human beings. A home needs to support our wellbeing.

At best, a multisensory home helps us stop and think about our humanity. Where we are coming from, where we are now, and where we are perhaps going.

What creates the atmosphere of a home?

When my friend stepped into our home for the first time, she said: “You have good karma here.” She said it quickly based on her intuition. Everything in the house was still a mess, and we hadn’t finished our renovation. Nevertheless this person sensed something and lacked a better word for it.

Obviously she could have described the atmosphere or her feelings in our space. She could have referred to human proportions, squeaky stairs and the cracks of time. However, she ended up describing exactly what she did not see. Each home is a combination of what is visible and what is invisible.

A home is born when life enters its space. A room is nothing without human activity. To be born, it needs to have purpose inside. The atmosphere of a home consists of the various dimensions of a home and how it fills up our senses. This can be done with building and decoration materials. Some of our senses are addressed by other life ingredients, including sounds, flavours and scents. This is a more subtle construction. The more carefully selected and detailed a home in question, the more attention has been paid to its items.

In a room everything affects everything else. A human being is a whole, and so is a room. A home is a home to all of our senses, whether or not we take this into account when making our home.

Maaretta Tukiainen is a non-fiction author, interior architect SIO, change management coach and podcast host. An excerpt from her recently published book Hyvän mielen koti (“A Home of Good Spirits,” Tuuma, 2021) addresses home from the point of view of wellbeing and meaningful life and challenges the reader to contemplate their deeper, home-related needs. The book can be found here.

The book is accompanied by Maaretta’s podcast (in Finnish) of the same title, which addresses the home theme with guest speakers who represent various views. Link to the latest episode Koti ja värit (“Home and Colours”) with guest Annaleena Hakola: