Category Archives: Interview

Interview: Naomi Cleaver.

Naomi Cleaver is a design consultant and interior designer from the UK. She studied design at Willesden College of Technology and Kingston University. Naomi established echo design agency, has been a TV host for home design programs, and is the author of The Joy of Home.

Here are her thoughts on how space and happiness are related:

During your time at Willesden College of Technology and Kingston University was the idea of happiness discussed? 

Only in the bar! Seriously though, I seem to remember a general sense of joy as we went about our projects, most particularly at Willesden. I think when you are young, and especially if you are studying design, your main concern is pleasure in every part of your life, which of course can translate as angst and pain, but more often than not happiness. 

There was certainly no explicit discussion of the design of man-made environments possessing the potential for happiness.


How do you incorporate the ides of happiness into your work as an interior designer? 

I think one of the most effective ways to incorporate the concept of happiness into the design of a space or spaces is to ensure you exclude misery, that is to say to make a space easy to navigate or at least legible, easy to use, practical, fit for purpose, a pleasure to maintain, a space that is enhanced with age and use. To take this a step further I would say a happy space is one that engages in a meaningful way with its surroundings or site, that has that much vaunted “sense of place”. Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, political biographer and co-founder of the campaigning group Action on Happiness teaches lessons in happiness to his pupils, lessons that advocate psychological health, “connectedness and engagement….appreciating nature and art”. Just as these fine concepts can be a recipe for happiness for human beings so can they be for the buildings they inhabit.

To develop these thoughts further the conflation of the concepts of beauty and happiness is unavoidable but this is where we get into the subjective versus the objective. This is a vast savannah of debate and discussion, subject to the vicissitudes of history and culture. How long have you got?


In an interview for you said, “Our homes can dramatically enhance our quality of life.” How do the physical spaces we live, work, and play in affect our “quality of life” and happiness?

The spaces we inhabit can very easily affect our quality of life in scientifically proven ways. Limited daylight has been shown to cause depression. Limited volumes of space can create a sense of claustrophobia, and have recently been proven by Chinese and US scientists to compromise effectiveness in the workplace. Noise can be extremely upsetting and yet complete silence is not healthy either. The part of our brain that processes our sense of smell is located in, in evolutionary terms, the oldest part of our brain and this is why it can be the most visceral of our senses – bad smells illiciting in some cases violent emmetic reactions and pleasant smells provoking almost dream-like experiences.

If we then adjust our focus from psychological health and wellbeing to physical health we then need to consider issues of ergonomics and the effect of the substances we use to create our environments on our health and the health of the world in which we live.


When talking with other designers and clients does the idea of happiness come up? When it doesn’t come up in design conversations do you think that is because it is implied?

The idea of happiness and its role in a scheme is implicit. The difficulty here though is different people’s interpretation of happiness.


Do you think that happiness is an important component of design, one that should be more integrated into a designer’s education and practice? How would this be done?

As my answer above, the concept of happiness, of success and pleasure, is implicit in the design process. What would enhance design education and practice perhaps is an analysis of this implicit idea of happiness in terms of psychology and physiology – essentially how a human being works or doesn’t work in the context of the environments they inhabit. 

Is the facilitation of happiness something that can be designed or does the end user define happiness? 
Excellent question. No matter how much we as designers might endeavour to “design in happiness” happiness is not something anyone can control; it is an experience both spontaneous and subjective. I know I have been deliriously happy in what could be described as very ugly surroundings but the moment and the circumstances and the people I shared those circumstances with conspired to create a feeling of happiness. The task of the designer is to do the best job they can to remind people of what is useful and beautiful but in the end human beings are complex creatures and, thankfully, are not wholly subject to Orwellian mind-control.
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