Hierarchy of the HOME; Beyond the Tangible

As an interior designer I not only work to understand buildings, finishes, and furnishings but I am also curious about the nuances of human behavior and emotions. I would define interior design as designing spaces for people to use rather than for the interior spaces themselves. Interiors are not stand alone objects to simply exist. They are meant to be experienced, interacted with, loved, and enjoyed. On a fundamental level, we have all experienced the same interior type, the HOME. However what makes up that home type will be completely different for everyone, as every person on this planet has a home base in which they locate themselves every day. But what exactly makes it feel like a home?

A developmental psychology paper published in 1943 by Abraham Maslow, presented an idea that all humans have needs categorized in five different levels and that there’s a distinct hierarchy to them. His belief was that as humans go about their lives, they transcend the five tiered pyramid as they achieve each level. He outlined those levels as physiological at the base, then safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finishing with self-actualization at the top. But how does that relate to the feeling of home? At the rudimentary level, the concept of a home can be simply be defined as a semi permanent structure to protect the occupant from the elements and danger. A structure could be defined as a traditional house, apartment, or condo. The non traditional can include a boat, tiny house, tent, RV, or any other manufactured structure the occupant designs for elemental protection and shelter. This is the foundation level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

At the next more complex level, home can be defined as a specific place where someone lives and all of the stuff that’s inside it; the furniture, the decor, and the accumulated personal items such as clothes or books. Maybe there’s a pet or two, maybe the person lives with other people or has a family, maybe they work from home so it also acts as a place of employment. This covers the middle section of Maslow’s pyramid. Covering needs such as love, belonging, esteem, cognitive needs and aesthetic desires, the home becomes richly layered with decor, trip souvenirs, sentimental tokens from loved ones, books, plants, coordinated furniture, and personalized touches such as colorful paint or pattern wallpaper. Large rooms for entertaining family and friends become a priority, comfortable guest rooms and pretty front hall powder rooms are desired. Home offices are needed to focus on work, and the latest aesthetic trends in decor are introduced. These are all beautiful ideas and items, however what happens when the home interior moves beyond the tangible?

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At the top of Maslow’s pyramid is transcendence and self actualization. Prioritization of accumulating items and creating a coordinated interior changes as the occupants shift their beliefs to the intangible. Dreams of simple stress-free living, minimalist lifestyles, scaling back decor, reducing one’s carbon footprint and going off grid blossom at this top tier. It can even be as basic as downsizing the size of the home as one prepares to age in place by moving out of their larger empty nest. People at this level know their style, whether its colorful and quirky or monochromatic modern to coastal grandma and are striving for a home that’s calm, tranquil and nourishes the soul.

The application of Maslow’s needs hierarchy theory to interiors and the concept of home creates questions to ask yourself next time you are shopping for new home decor or pondering a renovation project. When gathering items for your home, pause a moment and ask yourself what is it providing for you physically, socially, emotionally, or financially. Will it serve your best interest long term or simply meet an immediate feeling or need? Do you need it or do you just want it? But, most importantly…contemplate about why and maybe work on that deeper issue instead.

Thanks for reading, please join me again next time. Check out my new “All Things Interior Design” podcast, available on all podcast platforms, as I delve into my blog archives.

Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ

Studio Owner and Interior Designer

Daricilar Design Studio – Millis, MA