WINTER WARMTH: Interior Design Strategies to Beat the Winter Blues

various photos with white or light color themes Record-breaking lows, wind chills, snowstorms and precipitation mixes can make the winter months seem long in much of the United States.  Even places like Phoenix, Arizona and Southern California have recently experienced unusual snowfalls.  As many of us are already looking forward to the arrival of spring in the next month or two, there are a number of ways to brighten interior spaces during the remaining cold and dark days of winter.

Bring in the Light

edenwald cafe with large windows
Outdoor views and natural light are especially appreciated during the cold winter months. Edenwald Cafe, Alain Jaramillo Photography

Winter is definitely a good time to re-evaluate window treatments.  Eliminating heavy blinds or draperies and replacing them with sheers or at least pulling them open during the day allows more natural light to enter your spaces.   If privacy is a concern or you want to block a less than ideal view, operable plantation shutters can be a good option for still allowing light to shine into your spaces. Shutters can also help insulate your space and reduce energy bills.

White or other pale colors on the walls can help make spaces feel larger and brighter. However that doesn’t mean you have to repaint all of your walls for the winter months.  Just keep in mind that if your walls are dark, you may want to utilize light colored furnishing or accents, and also consider increasing task and accent lighting in those areas.  Strategically placed mirrors are helpful to create the perception of more light, particularly when positioned on an opposite wall from exterior windows.

Turn on the Light

led color temperature correlation example chart
Image Credit: Lights for Learning

Proper lighting is critical to creating appealing, comfortable and in the case of work or educational settings, productive indoor spaces.  For most indoor settings, this requires a mix of overhead, task and accent lighting to make spaces comfortable and bright without being overwhelming or creating glare.  Particularly for the winter months, candlelight is an appealing, soft light source that provides visual interest and a sense of warmth.  In commercial spaces, those same effects can be achieved with contemporary lighting options that simulate the flicker of a live flame.

It’s also a good idea to consider the color temperature of your lighting, measured in Kelvin (K).  Bulbs on the lower end of the scale (2000 K) are warmer, while the higher end (4000 K) are cooler.  We typically recommend between 2700 and 3000 K.  For those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), there are light therapy boxes available to supplement the limited natural light during the winter months in Northern climates.

Color Your World

waverly heights - woodcrest villa
Color and light add visual interest and warmth. Waverly Heights, Woodcrest Villa, Nathan Cox Photography

If we take our cues from Scandinavian designs, white is the color of choice for stylish spaces that exude bright simplicity and openness.  Pairing white, beige, gray, soft pink or blue accents with dark floors or casework elicits a fresh, warm feeling. Interjecting a few vibrant elements into your design can be accomplished through decorative lighting, bold patterned elements or noteworthy accessories.   For more saturated wall tones, keep in mind color can impact how we feel, with reds fostering feelings of warmth and vibrancy and blues exuding a cooler aesthetic.

Add Light & Warmth

fireplace at rlps office
Today’s fireplace options have expanded opportunities for including them in spaces well beyond our homes. Our own office features a ventless fireplace that uses a clean burning bioethanol fuel.

One of the most appealing strategies for counteracting the chill and darkness of winter is through the addition of a fireplace. Fireplaces are available in many styles, designs, and functions from wood burning to gas to some new electric and now water models.  There are even digital options, such as the Apple TV fireplace.  The many chimney-free, alternatives can be used in a wide range of commercial settings—from hotels and restaurants, to condos, senior living communities and healthcare and even offices. Whether rustic and natural or elegant and sleek, a fireplace provides visual interest and adds light and warmth to any setting.

Strengthen Connections with Nature

wood tiled wall, desk and two chairs at woodcrest villa
Wood-look tiles and branches appeal to our innate affinity to nature. Woodcrest Villa, Nathan Cox Photography

Biophilic design is increasingly embraced to create indoor spaces that support health and well-being, as well as attention, creativity and productivity—even during the dark days of winter  Some of the easiest interior design strategies for fostering nature connections are adding live plants or green walls, using decorative elements such as branches or berries or adding artwork featuring botanical prints or realistic nature scenes.

Natural wood furnishings, flooring or even wall panels provide a warm appearance that is cozy and welcoming.  Many wood or wood-look ceramic tiles or vinyl flooring have a subtle reflective sheen to add even more brightness.

Simple, natural forms are innately appealing and calming without feeling overdone which is especially important when spending extended periods of time indoors.  A mixture of textures and patterns emulate the variability found in nature to create visual interest and appeal and spaces that include natural geometries such as fractals and curves can satisfy our innate affinity for biophilic design.

table with tea set in front of a couch with textured pillows
Adding textured pillows can help to foster a feeling of hygge during the winter months.

No conversation about how to beat the winter blues would be complete without mention of the Scandinavian term Hygge, pronounced “hoo-ga.” The English Oxford Dictionary describes hygge as “A quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).”   There is a diversity of opinions as to how the term translates to design, however typical features might include fireplaces, candlelight, cozy nooks or thick blankets.  So grab a mug of hot cocoa or your favorite coffee drink and curl up with a book or gather with a few close friends by a warm fire, secure in the knowledge that spring is just around corner.

Jessie Santini, IIDA, WELL AP, LEED AP BD+C, has 15 years of commercial design experience.  She holds certification for the National Council for Interior Design Qualifications (NCIDQ)  and is an Accredited Professional for both the LEED and WELL building programs. These credentials reflect her understanding and respect for the impact interior environments can have on quality of life, well being and productivity.

Jodi Kreider, LEED AP, Blog Editor