It's time for dopamine decorating.

July 24, 2023

Things are changing fast in the world around us. After a prolonged period where practicality has held sway in interior design – and squeezing the most out of every inch of living space was at the forefront – it’s time to put the fun back into functionality.  London-based forecasting agency Wunderman Thompson has some news, saying it’s now about looking at our world and our surroundings, through the lens of re-enchantment. The new home standards are beauty, fun, and fantasy as we seek jaw drops, heart swells, and goosebumps. Our surroundings can help people transcend tough times and jolt us from long-standing malaise by celebrating the uplifting, the awe-inspiring, and the magical.

Whether numbed by pandemic isolation, burned out by grind culture, or shocked by the 21st-century horrors of politics, war, and climate crisis, people are feeling a sense of absence that is hard to neatly define. More than three-quarters of people now say they “just want to feel something, to feel alive” and 74% say they feel like they are waiting for something good to happen. Check our design predictions for the Year Ahead.

Uncertain times might imply a shift to a more practical attitude, but instead, people are yearning for emotion-inducing experiences that deliver feelings of joy and wonder, craving the spectacular and the otherworldly. And it all starts with the place we live.

The entry of Marta Ferri’s Milan residence features De Gournay ‘Jardin Chinois’, a vintage archival design that brings vibrant blooming flowers and colourful birds indoors and lightens the mood. 

People have always enjoyed being transported but, crucially, there is now an appetite for homes to deliver this more than ever. Homes need to deeply immerse and engage people, tantalizing all of the senses. Research says 65% of people would like their surroundings to wow them with spectacular settings, and 61% want things to help them feel intense emotions. In fact, almost twice as many people say they are likely to buy items that bring them a sense of joy (49%), or pieces that surprise and delight them (45%), than things that just do what they say they will (26%). Yet few brands are tapping into this desire: 70% of people say they can’t remember the last time a brand did anything that excited them.

In part, the need for re-enchantment is linked to the dull fate of becoming adults: we lose our sense of childlike wonder over time and the world becomes less magical. This has been compounded by the pandemic experience: the least fun years any of us will collectively experience.

In more ways than one, something has been lost. There is a vacuum to be filled. That is why we crave re-enchantment.

As our trends show, the emotions of re-enchantment are powerful. They can help us make sense of a complex world, they make us feel part of something meaningful that is bigger than ourselves; and they can instill optimism, opening our eyes to future possibilities. Read: Can you design a happy Home: It’s Easier Than You think. 

De Gournay’s lush ‘Bamboo River Blossom’ wallpaper adds a dose of curiousity, magic and wonder to a London hallway. The adjacent corridor features De Gournay’s Asian-inspired “Siam” exotic flora and fauna. Interior by @malvez__ Photo; @alexander.shamis.

Mystery and surprise are becoming increasingly important tools in design to deliver meaningful experiences in our homes. Using the surreal, the dreamlike, and the wondrous to inspire, helps us find beauty in a chaotic world.

We live in a rational, explained world, and one in which we are harried and anxious, with little time to pause and pursue these sensations. Our lives are quantified in data, and our choices are marshalled by algorithms. Little mystery remains when we can summon up the answers to almost anything in seconds. The “efficiency-oriented life” is driving a yearning for something deeper in our lives, a greater sense of purpose and meaning. Don’t miss the big design trends for the coming year. 

How do you do it? Here are the most compelling trends and themes for the rest of 2023. We hope they give you plenty of ideas, inspiration and food for thought as you build your home and interiors for the future and discover how people are scheduling out their ultra-tailored lifestyles to include bursts of joy in their homes.

Wit, fun and fantasy are powerful tools for interiors in 2023.  Go ahead, and embrace the playful spirit of a wallpapered room, scenic murals or a tented ceiling such as the foyer by Mark D. Sykes room at Wow House, where 18 top decorators wowed design fans in London this summer. Image via Introspective Magazine.

The joy deficit 

Mental health is now a global crisis and more than 1 billion people have a form of mental disorder, according to the World Health Organization. This was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, which will be remembered as a generation-defining event, exposing millions to the impacts of illness, grief, isolation, and sensory deprivation. Research reveals that in many parts of the world, we are suffering from awe deprivation. Younger generations in particular are more stressed, anxious, and self-conscious than at any time in history.

When we experience awe, regions of the brain that are associated with the excesses of the ego, including self-criticism, anxiety, and even depression, quiet down.

Awe shifts us from a competitive, dog-eat-dog mindset to perceive that we are part of networks of more interdependent, collaborating individuals. Experiencing awe elevates our thinking beyond making meaning out of the every day, and changes our perspective to a more prosocial outlook that can offer transcendence. Awe includes witnessing moral beauty, enjoying nature, music, and visual art as well as experiencing collective effervescence.

De Gournay’s cult Chinoiserie paper, ‘St Laurent’ gives walls movement and mystery. The handpainted prawling oriental garden design, is inspired by original 17th-century panels that belonged to Yes Saint Laurent. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna.

Joy and fun 

Joy and fun may be regarded as frivolous and childish, but living a joyful life at home, or “putting the fun habit into play,” forces us to act more mindfully and deliberately, which gives us more control over our lives.

This can create an upward spiral that improves our mental hygiene, as well as cultivating a more optimistic growth mindset.

Mini-moments of serendipity and surprise in your abode offer a quick route to  excitement for increasingly jaded homemakers. This delightful nursery transports its young inhabitants to faraway lands with walls decorated in giraffes and zebra. Wallpaper De Gournay; Design Marta Ferri. 

Bringing back the humour 

Humour is a powerful tool for interiors in 2023. During the era of pandemic and purpose, people shied away from it. Now, interiors are bringing back lightness, wit and fun in large doses. Go ahead, and embrace the playful spirit of a wallpapered room, a tented ceiling, or striped walls. Adding cheerful colour or a playful note doesn’t have to involve an entire remodel. Use bespoke details. Make shelves with a fun scallop edge. Add trims to cushions and furniture. That “Insta moment”, for example, could be a dining-room alcove papered in a punchy wallpaper (the perfect spot from which to take Zoom calls when working from home); a bar trolley decked out for cocktail hour; or a chequerboard rug under the coffee table. Don’t feel bound by tradition. Add a shot of unexpected bright colour or pattern on the inside of a wardrobe, cupboard or pantry. You get to see it when you open the door; it’s just a little moment of fun that no one else knows about.

Bring in the fun with floor-to-ceiling colour in at least three different rooms. Bonus points if the curtains match the paint. Even bite-sized moments count.

Replace the cupboard door beneath the sink with a patterned or ruffled curtain. It’s a great place to use a fabric and a good way to break up the cabinetry; plus it’s easier to hide bulky items behind a curtain than a door, so it’s utilitarian too. Go large with accessories for wit. An oversized pendant light can create an instant sense of fun in a space.

Hang your art in a fun way to promote a sense of playfulness. Hang a small sketch or photo that makes you smile above a light switch, for example, or above a doorway, or on the back of the front door. It’s about small moments of humour.

Magic and the dreamlike collide in this happy playroom where a hidden cupboard doubles as a reading nook. The starting point was the de Gournay wallpaper, with animal characters and treehouse. Wallpaper has a matte glaze to make it child-friendly. Photo: @horwoodphoto.

Serendipity and surprise 

Experiencing the unexpected and the surprising provides a profound uplift while jolting us out of the monotony of the everyday. As efficiency-focused modern living can be both predictable and relentless, serendipity and surprise offer a route to anticipation and excitement for increasingly jaded homemakers. Defy convention and mix plates in an amorphous arrangement on walls, like art, in an unexpected location. Make them look like they’ve been smashed onto the wall. It gives walls movement and energy that feels chic. Don’t forget the fifth wall – painting the ceiling of a room in a colour other than white adds surprise. A bold statement such as this works well in a room that doesn’t get day-long use, such as a dining room or library.

Pair the old with the new. Use traditional design references, but freshen them up with modern colours, prints and patterns such as Australian designer Anna Spiro does in this sitting room. 

Add a shot of dopamine decor

If you can count at least seven Algerian-inspired print patterns within any given area of your house, you’re doing very well. The worst thing you can do when putting a scheme together these days is to try and match colours. It’s a rebuff of the parade of clinically flawless interiors found on social media.

Experience has taught us that ‘picture-perfect’ spaces are unattainable, and a little boring. Rather than staid rows of stripes, today’s in-demand walls feature, laissez-faire lines.

Embrace the clash. Decorative bespoke cabinetry and a mix of prints and colours feature in the Melbourne home of Australian designer Anna Spiro, she shares with her husband. 

Awe-inspiring moments

Add a dose of curiosity, magic, and wonder to rooms. Mood-enhancing fruit, flower and foliage arrangements are a good place to start. Or set up a festive drinks table. It’s about creating small moments at home that can help people feel excited and inspired, shaking off malaise and emptiness. Redecorate with murals of scenic landscape views – this year’s must-have. Add scenery to your dining room, or kitchen banquette area, with ebullient scenic wallpaper.  Hang art that makes you smile. Thoughtfully curated art isn’t just prettier—it’s also better for you. Research shows people viewing art experience a surge of the feel-good chemical dopamine, as well as activation in the same part of the brain associated with falling in love. Don’t forget to turn the music up.

When it comes to furniture, raid auction houses for antiques that will suddenly give the whole room some soul and patina. It will make a space look more thoughtful, inspiring and invigorating. Seek out late Regency pieces, particularly chests of drawers – the new comeback kid.

Embrace the clash. Add a little extra magic to a room with a playful mix of pattern and colour which is a signature touch of Australian designer Anna Spiro who usually includes a good dose of printed fabrics on windows, cushions, sofas, armchairs, even floors and covers walls in art. 

Go for mystery 

Small-enclosed spaces within your garden give you a place to slow down and can even make small yards seem bigger. They function like rooms in a house—for reading, resting, and entertaining. Better yet, they visually add intrigue. If it were just one open lawn, you would say, ‘Gosh there’s not much space here. But now there’s an element of mystery. You don’t know what’s past the terrace or behind the hedge.

Use your imagination — and some beautifully patterned wallpaper such as De Gournay’s x — to bring the outdoors in. Image via De Gournay.

Find your happy hue

Sometimes, a pop of colour is all it takes to lighten the mood.  It is a fun and simple way to shift energy in the home. Different wavelengths of colours affect us differently. Shorter wavelengths, like blue, are more soothing than colours like red or yellow, which are more energizing. Colour is the key to achieving a sense of fun, whether that’s painting kitchen cupboards in a happy hue, or updating bedroom walls in an uplifting shade. Get traditional art or a portrait framed in an interesting way, with an unexpectedly bright colour, so it suddenly seems bright. Find your happy hue here. 

Colour really evokes emotions in you, so find a colour that ignites joy. You don’t have to use it on every wall to get the effect.

Use botanical prints and patterns common in nature, such as fern fronds of leaf petals for walls, and even soft furnishings. They provide a sense of order, we are naturally drawn to. De Gournay’s ‘Botanical studies’ has scale illustrations on tea paper featuring a lattice of orchid tree, grapevine, chestnut, gardenia and more. Interiors by Michael S Smith.

Bring the wonders of nature inside

Nature helps you instantly feel part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and it’s good for your well-being. It will quiet the chatter in your mind and focus your attention outward instead. It’s prosocial, enthralling the senses, sparking imaginations, and tapping into the power of transcendence. It’s about being more in any given moment.

Homes designed with views simulate or provoke self-transcendence—in other words, losing yourself and forgetting your worries. We live in an age of hypervigilance, where we monitor threats present and future, seen and unseen. The demands of work and home are leaving many exhausted: almost half of people say they feel tired and burned out all the time. Screens commandeer and consume what’s left of our attention. People are feeling more estranged from themselves, both internally and from each other, because of this often efficiency-oriented life we live. They’re yearning for something deeper in their lives.

Use your imagination — and some beautifully patterned wallpaper or fabric — to bring the outdoors in.

Use floral prints and patterns common in nature, such as fern fronds of leaf petals. They provide a sense of order, we are naturally drawn to. Incorporate things that remind you of a happy experience you’ve had outside. Like shells from a favourite beach of pine cones from a fave hike – they will promote access to your sensory self.  Introduce nature’s scents and memories of preferred smells of flowers or woods or a beach holiday.

Bringing flowers inside will instantly feel part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and it’s good for your wellbeing.  It’s about being more in any given moment. Image via De Gournay.  

The view effect

Quiet the ego, and enable a shared connection to something bigger than yourself. Transcendence delivers the serene and comforting realization that you are part of a bigger whole. Our homes when designed to incorporate nature, can educate people to go beyond the quick nature dips of the pandemic and build a habit for life. There’s so much emphasis in our culture on the quick fix and instant result—the efficiency model for living—that we’ve lost touch in many ways with a more raw contact with nature and ourselves, which can be so enriching.

The so-called #sillylittlewalk (a TikTok hashtag with more than 1.5 million views as of May 2023) was all well and good for a while, but now we’re seeking a deeper engagement with nature. It’s about learning the skill of appreciation to be open to nature’s awe-inducing powers. In March 2023, Finland was declared the “happiest country on earth” which is attributed to their homes’ “close relationship with nature that promotes a down-to-earth lifestyle”. it’s not some mystical state, but a skill that can be learned.

Go for mystery and surprise. You won’t go wrong papering a wall with a mural to disguise a secret door, wardrobe, passageway, or kitchen.  The City of Lights features on De Gournay’s ‘Monuments of Paris’ scenic design, in the private apartment of Gary McBournie and Bill Richards. Photo @annieschlechter via @degourney. 

Without a healthy home, there is no wellbeing

Modern life moves at a frenzied pace, leading us to rely on conveniences to help us get through it all. Sprinkling in moments of micro-meditation with a comfortable chair is essential to calm our minds and bodies.

Short bursts of peace and mindful practices throughout the day can help with mental upkeep without dedicating oneself to a longer time commitment.

A home that encourages you to walk outside, even onto a balcony, or look at a pretty mural of nature, throughout the day, will centre and ground you. The difficulty of finding time to workout, to rest, and to take care of ourselves is nothing new. However, a home that has nooks and special areas that encourages and promotes quick, tailored bits of care and comfort during the day is gaining popularity – making zen corners, helpful and effective. You might also like to read: 12 Predictions for a Happy Home. 

De Gournay’s ‘Temple Newsam’ in blue green colours at Balfour Castle, brings the wonders of natural inside.

You score points if you’ve tried any of these trends this year

 You have an over-size fabric bedhead in the bedroom. Your statement art has had an update for a tapestry. You’ve let richly-veined marble take over your house. You’ve extended your bathroom backsplashes up up the wall in distinctive shapes. You’ve built a window seat to enjoy being in a space. Your living room features a giant chess or backgammon set because you’re trying to limit the screen time you have as a family. You’ve embraced your curves around the living room. Nothing less than a curvilinear mirror, table and sofa will do. If your candlesticks don’t recall something from an archaeological dig, don’t even bother. If your planters don’t look like they’ve had several past lives, forget it. If your garden pots don’t have a wind-warped appearance, never mind. Opt for rustic characters and vessels, choosing asymmetrical, even blobby, forms that bear no resemblance to factory-made objects for decor, indoors and out. Oh and for thrills, you won’t go wrong papering a wall with a mural of faux books, a zoo of animals or a lush tropical jungle to disguise a secret door, wardrobe, or passageway. Check out 50 quick decor tips to improve your mood this year.

De Gournay’s ‘Monuments of Paris’ bring in the fun, cleverly concealing a doorway. Photo @annieschlecter.

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