The size of our homes shapes so much of our lives.
A physical home is, after all, the primary place where family members or flatmates interact with one another, and a space’s dimensions and layout act as a foundation for how our relationships develop. The ways the interior is utilised – things such as the division of rooms and the amount of dedicated open space – set up opportunities for and limitations on how we’ll interact with those around us (for better and worse).
It may not just be the literal footprint of a space that creates our relationships, though. A small 2019 research report from Brigham Young University, in the US state of Utah, shows that the more positive we feel about our homes, the healthier our interactions in the home can be.
Carly Thornock, an interior designer, led a research team following 164 families with young children in the western US who came from a wide spectrum of home types and income levels – some with fewer than 100 sq ft of space per person.
Over two years, they observed how their physical environments related to four basic elements of family functioning: affective responsiveness, emotional expression, acceptance and decision making. The children and parents also took surveys about their family functioning at home, and were asked to rate their level of agreement with statements like “I feel crowded in my house” or “family members feel accepted for what they are”. Researchers then contextualised these answers with variables including the families’ house sizes, income, number of rooms and family members in the home.
The researchers found overall that increases in physical space per person did correspond to happier families. But what truly surprised them was how families perceived that physical space – the amount of space per person, and whether it felt too crowded or distant – had a much greater impact on their relationships.