Inside Influence:
Creating a Rich Sensory Landscape


Interior materials and finishes, and textiles in particular, can help to bring a sense of warmth and comfort to building interiors.  

Thus far, we have considered ways to promote activity, incorporate nature and address issues of disruption and privacy—all important to create the conditions for a safe, healthy, engaging and inspiring work environment. We’ve begun to sketch a building filled with natural light, supplied with a variety of spaces—pools of activity and quiet nooks—as well as open stairways and access to shady courtyards or rooftop gardens. Next, we consider the critical role played by textiles, color and materials in defining the built environment and influencing building occupants.

The character of our surroundings provokes a visceral and an emotional response—whether from specific color combinations, the juxtaposition of materials or a mix of textures. Our sense of sight enriches our experience, as we perceive the light and luster that activate and enliven space. Our sense of touch elicits response through the tactility of soft, plush textiles or that of strongly textured wood and stone. Such contrasts or dualities create beautiful and meaningful spaces that conspire to keep people engaged and refreshed.

Dualities in textiles and materials that stimulate and create interest
• Warm / cool
• Textured / smooth
• Shiny / matte
• Formal / informal
• Natural / synthetic
• Pattern / solid
• Organic form / geometric form
• Large scale / small scale
• Dark / light
• Action / rest

As interiors change to reflect social and cultural transformations—specifically, a paradigm shift in our attentiveness to how the built world affects human experience and aspiration—textiles are responding in significant ways. Today, design addresses the fact that people spend more time at work and interacting with technology and looks to the natural world for texture and tactility as an antidote to the pervasive flat, smooth surfaces of screens and devices.

Interior materials and finishes, and textiles in particular, can help to bring a sense of warmth and comfort to building interiors. After all, for much of human history, people have used local materials and the themes and patterns of nature to create structures. Humankind has always used grasses and leaves, animal skins and fur, stone, wood and metal to build and ornament its dwellings. Surrounded by technology, we still respond to natural stimuli—sunlight, water, landscapes— essential contexts for human health and even survival.

Bring nature indoors with materials by using
• Earthy, metallic mineral tones and colors found in nature
• Warm and cool tones together
• Strong or extreme textures that mimic nature
• Patterns found in nature
• Natural fibers such as wool and linen
• Natural materials such as wood, metal, stone

Along with enhancing comfort and aesthetics, sustainability and wellness are now fundamental when selecting textiles for the workplace. Today, textiles need to perform for durability and be easy to clean and maintain. They should not emit VOCs or contribute harmful substances into water streams or landfills. Chemicals of concern like formaldehyde and heavy metals should be avoided. Because textiles play an important part in the health of building occupants and have potential environmental impacts, designers can select those made using post-industrial or post-consumer fibers, along with natural materials from renewable sources.

Sustainability and wellness concerns with textiles and materials
• Indoor air quality = Low VOCs
• Free of chemicals of concern (PVC free, no heavy metals, etc.)
• Antimicrobial to prevent spread of germs
• Easy to clean with water and mild cleanser
• Recycled content (recycled polyester)
• Natural fibers (wool)

Materials are also very useful in responding to the challenge of balancing quiet/privacy with interaction/public in an open, democratic workplace. Textiles help to maintain balance via their multi-faceted aesthetic and functional value. Acoustic treatments that create a pleasant, comfortable setting can be accomplished in various ways, but textiles play an important role. Carpet, textile wall covering, fabric wrapped panels and partitions, ceiling panels, drapery, wall systems finished with fabric, and upholstery all enhance the perceived and actual acoustics of a space. As furniture evolves to incorporate acoustic elements, textiles are an important part of that evolution.

Types of acoustical treatments involving textiles
• Thicker textiles (like felt) used for upholstery, wall panels, and partitions
• Wrapped wall panels with acoustic backing to fabric
• Demountable wall systems with textile fascias
• Ceiling panels or “clouds”
• Drapery

Color is perhaps the most important feature in an interior space. It is a means of instant communication, a powerful tool for conveying mood and evoking emotion. It can energize or calm. It can change one’s perception of scale and temperature. Today, color is often used to brand interiors and convey a company’s ethos—most often, by translating brand colors into accents that activate a space. Accent colors are used for wayfinding as well, where bold colors help building occupants find different departments or common amenity spaces, such as the pantry or café.

Neutrals, both warm and cool tones, provide a foil for stronger and brighter colors, while also providing visual relief from the brighter, more active areas. And white is extraordinarily powerful with many positive connotations: purity, clarity, serenity and simplicity. It acts as a foil to darker tones, but is also clean, crisp, and bright, enhancing every space with light.

Uses for color
• Earth tones = warmth, comfort
• Spice tones = warm, bold
• Warm neutrals = subtle, sophisticated
• Cool neutrals = technical, modern
• Yellows = bright, cheerful, optimistic
• Metallic tones = rich, elegant
• Reds and Oranges = active, lively, energetic
• Greens = fresh, natural, balanced
• Blues and Purples = tranquil, calm

Of course, the messages and meanings of color also depend upon value and saturation, the interrelationship of adjacent colors and, very importantly, context, which must be carefully considered in determining the effects of color in a given space. Without doubt, however, the selection of color and color combinations is essential to creating an inspiring and restorative interior environment.