What Everyone Should Know About Joy

I’ve never been a fan of anything too pointy. Not in fashion or design.

Years ago, someone gifted me a pendant in the shape of a triangle.

I never wore it.

It’s probably why my design aesthetic is more traditional vs. ultra modern. Traditional design has way more curves, while modern has a lot more straight lines.

A builder once told me that if you build a traditional and ultra-modern house right beside each other, the traditional house sells way faster than the modern one.

The most simple way to illustrate this is is with chairs (below), if you HAD to choose one of these chairs, which one would you choose?

So I’m guessing you like the chair on the right (to be fair, there are obviously lots of curvy chairs in modern design as well).

Related posts: Rule for Chairs

Left | Right

While we are on the subject of chairs, probably the chair I dislike the most is a style like this (below) and similar ones that you’ll often find in a Chinese food restaurant. They must be available by the dozen and CHEAP because they are so common.

As I said in the post I linked to above, a chair should look good sitting all by itself. If it doesn’t, keep looking. You’ll never see a chair like this in House Beautiful. If you don’t believe me, scroll through all 50 photos of dining rooms on their site here.

Wayfair

See? Not a slatted chair in sight?

If you have dining chairs that look similar to this, don’t despair, paint will make them much more joyful, read on.

I will never look at shapes in furniture the same way again since this Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee on ‘Where Joy Hides and How to Find It’ (below):

After interviewing and polling countless people she met everywhere, even randomly on the street, she started to see a pattern on the kinds of things that brought people joy.  (below)

Universally, people responded that joy was represented in things like, rainbows, bubbles, polka dots, hot air balloons, bright pops of colour, etc.

And it made her wonder why we go to work every day in offices that look like this:

This past week I was downtown for a meeting in an office tower where the finishing touches were just being added to brand new offices that looked like this:

We sat in a meeting room with black carpet, black chairs and STARK white walls and I actually noticed that my eyes got tired.

As I learned years ago, when I was in colour training, high contrast workspaces like this, create eye fatigue because your pupils have to keep dilating to adjust to the contrast. It makes the workplace a high stimulation environment which is not good.

In her talk, Ingrid stated that research conducted in four countries, says that people working in colourful offices are more alert, more confident and friendlier than those that work in drab spaces.

I did find colour in this office building, in the elevator carpet which I posted on my stories last week.

Why do we love colour so much? Researchers say it’s because colour in a very primal way, is a sign of life, a sign of energy, and of abundance, we evolve in a world were scarcity is dangerous and abundance is survival.

This next piece of her talk was the most interesting, she said that neuroscientists tested people and found that when they showed them pictures of angular objects vs. round ones, they found that the part of the brain that associates with fear and anxiety, lit up when they looked at the angular objects but not when they looked at the round ones.

And they speculated that angles in nature are often associated with objects that might be dangerous to us that we evolved an unconscious sense of caution around these shapes (above).

While curves (below), set us at ease.

It’s why I don’t get tired of the colour in my house, it fills me with joy walking through it every day. In fact, I’ll often say out loud “House I love you! You are the best!” (not kidding, haha).

Decorating with Colour | Pink Powder Room | Bathroom Design | Farmhouse Sink | Styling Ideas | Classic White Bathroom

Maria’s powder room (see my full house tour here)

As much as I understand the hidden colours found in neutrals and live to teach them, the reason I’ve been writing posts about clean and dirty colours lately, (here, here and here) is because that is where the SECRET to choosing and specifying colour CORRECTLY, actually lives. Neutrals are best at being the backdrop, but colours create the feel of a room.

My Specify Colour with Confidence workshops involve learning how to specify neutrals (which we’re doing 80% of the time) and COLOUR. Why? Because it makes no sense to understand neutrals if you don’t understand how to choose colour as well.

My mission in life is to help people choose classic and timeless finishes so that they don’t need to be torn out when the next trend comes along, AND most importantly, to feel more confident choosing a colourful sofa, over a trendy grey one (for example). Or to choose colour over neutrals anywhere in the interior OR exterior.

Just today we received an inquiry asking about our New Build eDesign package and the question was “Can Maria help me even though I like warm, earthy colours and don’t want white walls?” So first, I have written many posts about how most people CANNOT have white walls even though that is a huge trend (as noted by the office pics I posted above).

Therefore, if you want to paint your house a true white, and it works, I will specify one for you. If you want an earthier colour scheme which dictates a more off-white/cream foundation palette, you can have that too. As well as a house filled with colourful walls, that’s where the balance of understanding clean vs. dirty (earthy) colours comes in.

When I travel to Europe I’m always struck by how much more colour lives there and it makes me wonder why North Americans are so colour averse.

That’s why I was so excited when I watched Ingrid’s talk about Joy.

I love how this video completely changed how I look at shapes in the world. I will never look at triangular objects vs. round objects the same way ever again.

And neither will you.

Ingrid also wrote a book about joy which I found out has just been released, I can’t wait to read it.

What was your favourite part of the video?

Related posts:

Ask Maria: What is the Most Timeless Colour?

Happiness is. . . a Colourful Hotel

Aimee’s Happy Home Makeover, Before & After

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  1. Funny, I just bought a round rug to replace my old rectangular one in squarish dining space, and I love the feel of the room so much more!

  2. Well as a homeowner, I truly value your opinion. So may I ask a question?

    We are committed to a oil cured French oak floor and a cerused oak kitchen cabinets. My wife loves the idea of a Carrera marble kitchen countertop. So here is the question. Should we go with a consistent tone white subway tile or would it be “too much” to continue with the Carrera marble theme and use Carrera marble subway tiles in an interesting pattern as our kitchen backsplash?

    Thank you very much
    Richard Harper

    • I think it would be fine to repeat the Carrara on your backsplash as long as you don’t think that look is too busy, but you still have lots of colour options for decorating because it’s a blue white/grey. . . hope that helps, Maria

    • If I may weigh in here, as a homeowner with Carrara marble countertops and subway tile backsplash (two walls, actually), if I visualize what my kitchen would look like with marble on the walls, I would find it far too busy. You and your wife may have a higher tolerance for pattern than I do, of course, but if you like serenity in your surroundings, subway tile is probably a safer choice. Maria posted pictures of my kitchen some years ago, if you’d like to see it: https://mariakillam.com/whitekitchentransformation/

  3. I love reading your blog. I always learn, usually after I have made a mistake! I have a husband who loves slatted chairs. It has been a challenge to make design and decorating selections when “the other half” likes the opposite. I did use your paint selection service for a neutral in my main living area, every day it is evident that Balbia Mist was a perfect color for my home. It was money well spent!

  4. This may be my favorite post of all time. I have also wondered why Americans accept such watered down design. I actually get depressed looking through real estate listings, and the reason is the lack of color rather than the lack of good design.

    • I’m looking at Ingrid Lee’s book online right now – they let you read a bit of it and it’s good. I will have to get it because she is speaking my language.

      I think there are people who love color, but are also afraid of it. I know a person who writes adventurous novels and lives in a house that is nothing but gold-beiges and cream. Yet this same person has a Pinterest account of everything that captures her author’s imagination, and it is an explosion of color, beauty, and fantasy.

      I find the contrast very interesting.

  5. This is so timely as I’m about to select paint color/s for our new office/warehouse/showroom space. It has tons of old flourecent lighting, high industrial black ceilings, no natural light, and is 13,000 sf (!!). I can’t find ANY good paint color recommendations online for flourecent lighting. Would LOVE if you could write a post about that!! 😉

  6. I often wonder why design blogs like Remodelista and Planete Deco show mostly angular, white/black interiors (maybe with a noisy tile in kitchen or bath.) Ugly to my eyes. Feng Shui theory says pointy things produce bad negative energy, so maybe that’s why I don’t like them.

    • @Julie: Regarding Feng Shui theory; it was only until I started to dabble in it that I realized I’ve been practicing it for many years without even knowing it. For example, the majority of my tables in my home are round, oval or octagon. As for the dislike of pointy things; I personally believe it could be from ‘a conditioning process’ (that usually begins at an early age) which teaches us such things are often harmful. i.e.: Don’t run with that stick or you’ll poke your eye out! ☺ -Brenda-

  7. I just watched that video yesterday thanks to a link from Kate at Centsational Girl. It made me realize why I keep choosing simple yet curved furniture in my new home when I had planned to decorate with more modern straight lines. It would suit the house but it either feels cheap (I think this modern stuff has to be expensive to get away with minimalism, otherwise it just looks like you couldn’t afford furniture with shapes) or just seemed too uninviting with all hard edges. Choosing simple curved stuff with no fussy ornamentation fills my need for an inviting yet calm
    Home.

  8. That was a great video. I especially liked the mention of the Sandy Hook school being built with curves to envoke a sense of safety. I just wish they had added some color to the school’s exterior to help those kids feel some joy. Lord knows they could use it!
    Your comment of not liking your triangle shaped pendant made me chuckle. The stone in my wedding ring is a trilliant cut diamond. I had never seen a triangle shaped diamond before! And that’s why I loved it so much. Nobody I knew had one. I loved the unique quality of it.
    My husband has given me a few pieces of jewelry since we got married & all of them contain various types of gem stones. But they are all trilliant cut. He knows what I like!

  9. Nice years ago, when I read your tag line about filling my home with happiness, I had a goal: to do that. You’ve helped me and everyone who lives or visits here. I love that you shared this TED talk. Thank you for all you do to bring US joy!

  10. I loved how she said finding joy in the same simple, colorful things is universal among us. It unites us all. Also, I love that you talk to your house out loud like that, Maria, I think I’m going to start. 🙂

  11. I love colour. Yet I live in a world that currently, and has for too many years now, promoted drab black and grey. I go to buy clothes – black! I look for a sofa – black! I walk into a show home – black! Look at an audience at any presentation, concert etc. and I see a sea of black. The rate of depression rises in mental health, and I have a very sneaky feeling that it equates with the black world we live in.
    Thank you Maria for bringing this video to your readers. Thank you for saying this “Neutrals are best at being the backdrop, but colours create the feel of a room.” in the clearest terms.
    Thank you for colouring us all happy!

  12. I love this post! I love modern and all it’s stark lines just as much as I like curves. My huge farmhouse table that I built has eames like white plastic chairs and I talk to it just about every day. Thanks for all of your great advice too, I speak of you often to my clients.

  13. Maria, did you notice your shoes are pointy? 🙂 But clearly the organic pattern is the boss (in a good way) so it’s easier to ignore the shape.

    • Haha, I have lots of pointy shoes as a matter of fact but I have never seen them as a sharp triangle, haha! Maria

  14. Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! This post touched me deeply. Ingrid’s TED Talk and your post confirm that my love of living and dressing in vivid color is one of the things that brings me great joy! After years and years of wearing black on black working in law firms, I released myself from both and found so much more joy in the process. Where I work now is old and gray and many of us have decorated our cubicles in brilliant ways to bring in more color. We recently were asked to “purge” our cubicles to get ready for the move into new corporate offices next year. Even though the new buildings will be filled with light, which is wonderful, I am concerned the spaces will still lack color. I am very tempted to send this post and TED Talk to our corporate real estate team to challenge them. Thank you, Maria, for always sharing brilliant, colorful content! You bring so much joy to the world! Please never stop!

  15. I just read research about why humans see in color when many animals don’t. Scientists used to think we see in color so we can identify food. But they are thinking now that we see in color so we can identify emotions and health in other people. That allows us to connect (humans outlived Neanderthals because we are so social) and it allows us to select for healthy mates.

    This research made me think of you because you are always talking about how color makes us feel. And it seems that that’s why we have the ability to see color — to recognize how people feel.

    So you are a genius 🙂

  16. I just watched the video . It was in me but I never put it in words . What a simple , yet wonderful eye opener . JOY ! Thank you for sharing . I will share it with others . So looking forward to learning more in Charleston !

  17. Re: straight line furniture and slatted chairs – don’t forget beautiful and historic straight lines (Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, William Morris, Gustav Stickley — I love them all). But I also seek out Art Nouveau when touring, so allow for curves as well.
    I’m hoping that one of these days the cycle will change and we’ll all start to appreciate historic furniture again. The antique malls are full of wonderful things.

  18. Her insight into joy has really struck a chord! I’ve become acutely aware of my inability to feel joy. I don’t feel it in my home or life and attributed it to my husaband’s struggle and subsequent death exactly 3 years ago. But it goes deeper.
    Of course, those institutional angular spaces are cheaper to build but they’re also soulless. A little color would go a long way. I was particularly struck by the space with the colorful spheres suspended from the ceiling! Hiw simple yet effective! However, the Japanese place, while exhibiting a particular and childlike aesthetic that is very Japanese, is over the top and would drive me even craz(ier!!) What a great post, Maria!

  19. Thank you for sharing this post! I am thrilled to learn about Ingrid Fetell Lee’s work, and to celebrate the possibility of breathing life into our workspaces.

  20. Very interesting article but I must disagree on one point…slat back chairs are not always cheap and are available from many fine retailers. My dining room chairs look very similar to the ones you show here from “a chinese restaurant” and they were purchased from Ethan Allen, have been recovered 4 times over the years and we find them very comfortable and stylish and look great in our transitional home. I also chose the chairs on the left in your poll…unlike you I prefer straight lines (no triangles) over curves in most everything. Even with those differences I always enjoy the beautiful rooms you create and, like you, I love lots of color but I also love a beautiful mix of neutrals. I enjoy your blog but I just wish that you would not make such absolute statements like “you will NEVER see a slatted chair in House Beautiful” .good design is a choice that involves a combination of tried and true ideas wit personal preferences that ultimately work for the individual and absolute statements rarely fit everyone.

    • Ack, well maybe I chose one that was not enough like the ones I see. . . this one isn’t the same. thanks for your comment, I agree with your point of view too! We don’t all have to be the same that’s for sure! Maria

  21. Interesting post! I especially love color and it does make me happy. When I look at color in nature it makes me feel warm and cozy like looking at my beautiful hydrangeas, sun flowers also even though they have pointy outer leaves bring me joy because of the bright yellow centres. I love fall colors and also spring blooms! I took a course in color and design years ago and it made me aware thar contrast is the answer. In nature you have a neutral backdrop of sky, water, earth etc.otherwise you wouldn’t see the happiness of color. Great post!

  22. There are no straight lines or perfect circles in nature. That doesn’t mean that straight lines are “bad” and curves are “good”. The great thing about being human is our diversity. Some love the linear lines of Frank Lloyd Wright and others not so much. Some love the look of a salt box house and others not so much. That does not mean that one is “right” and the other is “wrong”. It means we are all humans!! The office you show can be described as a neutral backdrop for the occupants to add their own colors and knick knacks. If the office was done in color, it may offend some that may not like that color. A neutral back drop provides the perfect nurture for each individual to make their office cubby their own.

  23. I’m glad you shared this. I watched the Ted talk. This changes how I approach design and certainly makes me less inhibited about using color.

  24. This post brought me joy just reading it and listening to the Ted talk! Thank you! I love that we humans can nearly all agree on certain joyful experiences. I believe there is a divine purpose behind it all. ❤️

  25. Very interesting and also encouraging that universally ‘people kind’ (☺) agree on something, that being what brings them joy.
    -Brenda-
    P.S.: Maria, knowing how you love yellow have you seen the plaid flannel blanket scarf that Old Navy is featuring online? (It is only acrylic (not wool) however at least it is washable and probably suitable for your B.C. climate.) Just thought I’d share it with you as yellow is difficult to find in apparel.