From arcade machines to galleries: designs that make you feel happy

Last week, Morag Myerscough transformed the interiors of Sheffield Children Hospital’s new wing with colourful designs to alleviate patients’ anxiety. Now, we ask designers about the work that most helps their state of mind.

Sam Bompas, co-founder, Bompas and Parr. © Ben Ottewell
Sam Bompas, co-founder, Bompas and Parr. © Ben Ottewell

“There are countless ways to release endorphins in the brain that make you happy. Professor Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford has investigated drumming circles and choral singing. His work indicates that singing in choirs produces oxytocin, the ‘cuddle chemical’, essential for bonding and attunement, also produced by orgasms and breastfeeding.

If you don’t have the time to join a choir or the inclination to go to church then we recommend a trip to Tim Hunkin’s Novelty Automation – design guaranteed to result in happiness.

Tim is the godfather of makers and the installation in Holborn is entirely composed of DIY arcade machines he has designed, digitalised and fabricated himself. If you can’t smile while testing your skill on Pet of Meat, Divorce: a competitive tug of war, another game based on City money laundering or a pinball machine themed with the Large Hadron Collider, you are basically dead.”


Pippa Nissen, director, Nissen Richards Studio
Pippa Nissen, director, Nissen Richards Studio

“I visited the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen last week, and was struck by how calming the building and exhibition design was, and how serene I felt walking round. There’s something about the way that the curators and designers have had a simple idea – displaying sculptures on plinths to bring the objects up to an intimate eye height, painting the walls and plinths different rich colours, then relentlessly playing this out through a series of galleries – which had a profound emotional impact on me.

Each gallery twists this idea slightly; sculptures facing each other, facing the door, surrounding the room or spaced evenly through the space. It’s a lesson in calm restraint, being precise with an idea, and not over-complicating the experience.”

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, courtesy of Flickr user Pedro Layant
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, courtesy of Flickr user Pedro Layant

Daniela Nunzi-Mihranian, creative director, Studio Minerva
Daniela Nunzi-Mihranian, creative director, Studio Minerva

Maison Assouline in London’s Piccadilly always helps my wellbeing. Once inside, being surrounded by beautiful, elegant and well-crafted objects puts me in a euphoric trance.

The architecture is breathtaking, with high ceilings, huge windows and exquisite decorative plaster work. The coffee table books are a source of inspiration from Dior to Rajasthan Style, special edition.

With limited edition prints that make your pupils dilate and the kind of gifts that you would gift yourself if you could afford it, it is a place that heightens your senses to an all-time high.

Above all, this place has a petit but beautifully stocked bar, which for me has an immensely positive effect on my mind, body and soul. A martini really does taste better here!”


Leah Harrison Bailey, creative director, Thomas Matthews
Leah Harrison Bailey, creative director, Thomas Matthews

“For me, design has its most positive effect on state of mind when working with architecture and materials. There is something about being surrounded by ideas skilfully translated into beautiful form that communicates in a physical way – it really makes you feel something.

The absolute, heart-thumping delight of the Alhambras Hall of the Abencerrajes in Granada, Spain is a perfect example of design that makes me go ‘ahhhhhh’.”

Alhambras Hall, courtesy of Flickr user Jennifer Morrow
Alhambras Hall, courtesy of Flickr user Jennifer Morrow

Jason Bruges, founder, Jason Bruges Studio

“As perceiving beings, we’re constantly searching for clues about our surroundings – important markers, shapes, shadows, textures that help situate us in our environment. This continuous decoding and prediction-making is natural, but today we are bombarded with additional information fighting for our attention. This makes it increasingly difficult to pause, orientate and navigate ourselves amid this dizzying agnosia (especially where meaning is subjugated to sensation).

This is why spaces that arrest this sensory overload and allow us to pause and reflect are increasingly important. James Turrell’s ‘breathing spaces’ are masterful examples of design that nullify increasingly superfluous noise and allow us to reconnect to a deeper sense of presence.”


What designs make you happy? Let us know in the comments section below.

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