People often find themselves physically and emotionally comfortable in specific public places. Whether one’s reading a book on the terrace of a coffee shop, sitting on a cozy sofa at a hair salon, or waiting for the train at train station, some spaces tend to initiate a feeling identical to being in the comfort of one’s home.
The field of environmental psychology has helped find the factors that achieve “human comfort”, and now, architects and designers are working alongside the field’s specialists to develop comfortable spaces.
Metropolis’ Audrey Gray was visiting a café attempting to observe it the same way real-life environmental psychologist Stephani Robson does. Robson, who is a professor at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, is an expert on how the design of hospitality spaces affects our feelings and behavior, and could make us uncomfortable. The psychologist realizes trends with countless hours of watching people maneuver through spaces, observing how they react to the details present around them.
One of the design trends Robson has been examining for over a decade is how hospitality spaces can help alleviate anxiety. In her 2008 study, she found that people who were more anxious chose to sit next to walls, corners, or partitions, giving the individual a sense of control over the environment. Robson has seen an increase in intimate, partitioned, and quiet spaces in restaurants and hotel lobbies, as a result of external factors.
Gray had chosen to observe Walnut Street Café, since it has gained a reputation for being “cozy.” Reviewers overwhelmingly use that word, along with phrases like “nice & quiet” and “good for Instagram.” She began her observation process by analyzing the elements that made people feel “chilled out”. She had taken a checklist from Robson to help evaluate the space. The checklist listed characteristics such as: natural light and floor-to-ceiling windows, intimate spaces with lots of curves, plants, gentle color palette, calm acoustic treatment, ventilation… To which the cafe has ticked off all of them.
Environmental psychologists can offer designers an ability to quantify what “feels good” so that acoustics, lighting, shapes, and materials can be integrated within the design adequately. Hospitality spaces, however, can help track societal trends with their high turnover and detailed point-of-sale data.