Do you need design therapy? with Kim Colwell

Los Angeles-based designer Kim Colwell has a transformational approach to interior design—one that intricately weaves together environmental psychology and the principles of feng shui. Rooted in her early experiences within her grandparents’ historic home and influenced by her mother’s background as a shaman and therapist, Colwell’s design philosophy revolves around understanding how environments shape human development and what interior designers can do about it. She calls it design therapy.


In a compelling discussion with DNN Editor in Chief Courtney Porter on this week’s episode of Disruptive Design, Colwell delves into the transformative aspects of design, intertwining psychology, set design, and shamanism. Reflecting on her methodology, Colwell emphasizes the importance of objectivity in her approach. By asking clients probing questions about their self-perception rather than designing for their professional persona, she aims to bridge the gap between their true selves and their existing environments.

Design by Kim Colwell | Photos by Jay Lawrence Goldman
Design by Kim Colwell | Photos by Jay Lawrence Goldman

Designing from a place of insecurity

Colwell’s design therapy sessions often focus on dismantling the societal roles individuals feel compelled to play in society, which, in turn, impacts what they think they need to have in their homes. She advocates for spaces that authentically represent the inhabitants, rejecting trends and instead prioritizing comfort and personal identity. Drawing parallels between interior and set design from her theater background, she emphasizes the significance of altering environments to influence happiness levels, behavior, and personal development.

Understanding how interior designers can use design psychology

Environmental psychology can be a critical tool guiding interior designers in crafting spaces that foster positive human experiences. This interdisciplinary field explores the intricate relationship between individuals and their physical surroundings, elucidating how design elements impact emotions, behavior, and overall well-being.

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For interior designers, integrating principles from environmental psychology can be instrumental in curating spaces that promote productivity, relaxation, and social interaction. Concepts like biophilia, centered on infusing natural elements into indoor spaces, and attention restoration theory, focused on stress reduction through restorative environments, serve as guiding principles for designers seeking to create psychologically supportive spaces.

Considerations of spatial layout and ergonomics tailored to psychological needs, including privacy and social interaction zones, enable designers to cater to diverse human behaviors and preferences. Ultimately, environmental psychology stands as a vital framework empowering designers to not only aesthetically please but also nurture the well-being and psychological fulfillment of the occupants of a space. Through this holistic approach, designers like Kim Colwell exemplify the transformative power of design rooted in psychology.

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