How To Create a Residential Feel in a Commercial Space
March 28, 2019
Capturing that “homey” feeling in your place of business.
“There’s no place like home.”
There’s a reason this was the magic phrase Dorothy repeated over and over again to be transported back to home, sweet, Kansas in the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz. I couldn’t agree more, Dorothy! Home is where the heart is, after all (to continue with the idioms). Home is that special, soothing place that is safe, cozy, welcoming, familiar, and above all, yours to come back to at the end of a long day.
When it comes to commercial interior design, whether it be for an office, a restaurant, a hotel, or a retail shop, an adjective we hear often from clients when they’re trying to describe the desired feel of their space is “homey.” This is a drastic change from even 20 or 30 years ago, when, for example, office design often meant a sea of cubicles atop dreary, gray carpeting with blinking, blue-toned fluorescent lights beating down on employees.
But times are changing. We’re seeing the lines blur more and more between residential and commercial design, as business owners have realized the compelling, unique power of capturing that homey feeling through design. It not only draws people to shops and restaurants, it also makes employees happier and more productive. Adding small residential touches to commercial spaces can go a long way, and it’s a win-win for both the business owner and the consumer or employee.
But how can this be accomplished? Here are 10 design elements I think are crucial in capturing the spirit of residential design in any commercial space.
10 Design Elements to Create a Residential Feel
Plush textiles and seating. What’s homier than a cozy, plush lounge chair? One thing that a home must be is comfortable above all else — why should commercial spaces be any different?
Adding residential-feeling textiles such as cozy upholstered soft seating, area rugs, window treatments (whether it be drapery or fabric shades), and throw pillows will add instant softness and can immediately transform a commercial space into a welcoming, homey, haven.
Statement artwork. People often associate commercial design with stark white, depressingly empty walls. No, thank you! Whether it be paintings, sculpture, photographs, or 3D installations, adding custom artwork immediately brings color and life to an otherwise unremarkable space.
Art is also a fantastic form of self-expression, and in the context of commercial design, can help a brand define its identity and seem more accessible.
Greenery and houseplants. Perhaps you’ve heard of biophilic design, which seeks to find ways to bring nature into the built environment. Studies have shown that biophilic design can “reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being, and expedite healing." In other words, nature = happiness.
For you fellow Seattleites out there, Amazon’s glass-paneled, plant-filled Spheres are a perfect (albeit larger-than-life) example of this, but unfortunately, we don’t all have as deep of pockets as Jeff Bezos. One simple, inexpensive way to incorporate nature into your design is by adding plants and greenery into your commercial space. There are some really convincing fake ones out there for those of you who don’t have a green thumb!
Warm lighting. Did you shudder at the vision of those notorious flickering fluorescent lights I mentioned earlier in this post? Me too, and that leads me to a quick little science lesson. For those of you who don’t know, light temperature is measured in Kelvin. That warm, inviting light we all associate with the average residential table lamp is around 2700 Kelvin.
The higher up the scale you go, the bluer (and colder) the light gets, so keep this in mind when designing your commercial space. Nothing says “home” like harsh white, almost blue light (not). It’s fine to keep lighting bright white for task and focused lighting, but ambient lighting should lean towards the warm side to create an instantly-inviting space.
Decorative lighting. And while we’re talking about it, add more lighting on the decorative side. Decorative lighting — whether you choose a large, sculptural statement chandelier in a lobby or beautiful pendant lights suspended over individual restaurant tables — can have a huge impact on a space.
It might be tempting in an office, for example, to go with more functional, inexpensive lighting that get the job done, but adds nothing to the aesthetics of a space. Beautiful decorative lighting that looks like it belongs in someone’s foyer or living room can transform cold commercial spaces and make them feel more welcoming.
Fun accessories. When trying to emulate a residential feel in a commercial space, you want the place to feel a little “lived in,” not like a museum where you can’t touch anything.
Decorative accessories like cocktail books, vases and planters, candles, and other (tasteful) knickknacks will make your space feel instantly more inviting and will remind users of home.
Color and texture. Bringing pops of color into your space will help brighten up the whole room and make it feel more full of life. More of a neutrals person? Try using contrasting textures to add visually interesting layers to the design, whether it be through textiles, accessories, artwork, or architectural materials.
Try juxtaposing large format tile on the floor against small penny-round mosaic tile on the wall, for example, or the smooth grain of a leather couch against a really nubby woven throw pillow. Mixing and matching will give your space nice residential-feeling touches.
Beautiful outdoor space. Let’s face it, humans are drawn to natural light like moths to a flame; it makes us feel more awake, alert, and happy.
Similar to a home deck or patio, a beautiful balcony, courtyard or roof deck with lots of inviting greenery is an instant draw for customers looking to sit and chat or dig into a good book. Any outdoor space is better than none, so even if it’s small, it will go a long way, especially during those beautiful summer months!
Informal seating arrangements. Try to emulate that residential feeling by creating less formal, more flexible seating arrangements that remind someone of their cozy living or family room in your lounge spaces.
The looser layout will make it more user-friendly, adaptable, and inviting, and will remind the users of the comforts of home.
Warm building materials. People gravitate towards wood for a reason: it’s warm and of the natural world (see above spiel on biophilic design).
Given that the traditional association with commercial design is cold, unwelcoming spaces, it always helps to introduce wood and other warm materials (like warm metals) into interior design to help create a more welcoming, inviting space.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: there will always be a place for those small, homey touches, even in commercial spaces! How have you brought that residential feeling into your commercial design? We’d love to hear from you.