The Missing Ingredient in Home Design (Your House is More Than a Backdrop)

Inside: How to use the concept of “peopling” in home decor to give your home warmth and life. This is the secret to a house that feels good.

Imagine a small log cabin with two rocking chairs on the front porch. A candle is glowing in an open windowsill. Fall mums are on the porch in hand-glazed planters. Now imagine this: a tall, shiny office building emerges from the sidewalk, all glass and steel. Inside is a room with desks placed in a grid. There’s a slightly dusty fake houseplant on the floor.

Obviously, one feels welcoming, and one gives you the creeps. But why? Why?

Have you ever heard of the term in architecture to “people” a space? It was used by the architect Donlyn Lyndon as a way to make spaces feel more human, inviting, and alive. It’s not about being beautiful; it’s about the human experience within a space.

I know. This sounds weird and boring. Are we in some kind of strange college lecture? Stay with me. This is anything but boring.

Let’s explore how we achieve this feeling of being ‘peopled’ through Lyndon’s principles of human scale, windows of appearance, interaction spaces, and the use of handmade or hand-maintained elements.

It will give your home that magic feel that it’s missing. Really.

Watercolor painting of a rustic log cabin at dusk, with warm lights glowing from windows and autumn leaves scattered around, set against a forest backdrop.

1. Use Human Scale

This principle says: this place was made for people.

This just means creating space that fit people! Why have an oversized couch when you can have one that’s… normal? Why have a two-story grand entryway when you have a…normal room?

  • Comfort and Reach: Items should be easily within reach, heights should avoid excessive bending or stretching, and seating should be designed for comfort over long periods.
  • Ceiling Height and Window Height: Standard (8-9 feet) feels balanced in most rooms, High (10-12 feet): can feel formal and less cozy. Techniques like contrasting paint colors or architectural details help ground the space.
  • Psychological Perception: Even grand spaces can incorporate human scale by visually breaking down large areas into smaller, more intimate zones.
  • Room Size: While preferences vary, smaller to medium-sized living spaces are typically perceived as more comfortable because they relate better to the scale of the human body.
Watercolor of a sunlit attic space with a plush chair, surrounded by books and a large window showcasing a lush green view, creating a perfect reading nook.

To understand the power of human scale, think of spaces that lack it:

  • Enormous foyers in public buildings can feel imposing and intimidating.
  • Overly high ceilings in a home with no visual breaks can feel cold and unsettling.
  • Industrial warehouses prioritize function over comfort, making people feel small and insignificant.

How to add human scale to your home

This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything if your home feels too big and impersonal!

  • Indoor plants that are the size of people
  • Darker wall paint in rooms with high ceilings
  • Tall floor lamp in a corner to visually fill the space.
  • A large, plush area rug to ground a seating area.
  • Oversized artwork or a gallery wall to break up tall walls.

It is about creating environments that feel comfortable, intuitive, and safe to navigate for the people within them.

2. Windows of Appearance

This principle says: a person can appear here at any time.

A “window of appearance” is a design feature that creates a sense of potential human presence. These windows visually suggest that a person could inhabit the space behind them, whether they currently are or not.

Examples of Windows of Appearance Done Well

  • Front Porch Windows: Large windows facing the street, often with curtains or drapes open slightly, signal life within. They suggest that the occupants can see out and welcome visitors.
  • Kitchen Windows: Windows overlooking a backyard or dining nook feel inviting, as they hint at the possibility of someone preparing a meal or enjoying a cup of coffee.
  • Bedroom Windows with Visible Furnishings: A glimpse of a bedside table, lamp, or a chair in a bedroom window creates a sense of intimacy and personal space.
  • Dormer Windows in an Attic: Even small dormer windows, perhaps with a cozy window seat visible, make an attic space feel inviting rather than just a storage area.

This fosters a feeling of warmth, connection, and avoids a sterile atmosphere.

Watercolor painting showing a bright, sunny window view with curtains tied back and a vase of wildflowers on the sill, overlooking a colorful garden.

Examples of Windows That Lack This Quality

  • Flat, Non-Operational Office Windows: Large, featureless windows often found in corporate buildings offer no glimpse of the interior. They create an impersonal and uninviting feel, sending the message that the space is functional but not designed for human habitation.
  • Mirrored or Tinted Windows: Windows that prioritize privacy over visibility can feel cold and unwelcoming. They suggest someone is watching from within without offering a welcoming interaction.
  • Small, High-Set Basement Windows: While practical for ventilation, these windows offer little visual connection to the inside and can make the space feel more like a storage area than a potential living space.
  • Completely Shut-Off Windows: Windows perpetually covered with blinds, heavy curtains, or external shutters create a sense of abandonment or disuse.

How to add this to your home

  • Open windows
  • Curtains
  • Windowboxes
  • A candle in the windowsill
  • Leaving a light on inside near a visible window at night.
  • Vase of flowers in the windowsill

Key Point

It’s not about whether someone is actually at the window! This is about subtle hints of human life and activity that make a space feel alive, even when nobody is currently in view.

3. Spaces for Planned (and Unplanned!) Interaction

This principle says: more than one person is here!

Examples of Well-Designed Interaction Spaces

  • Wide Hallways: Instead of narrow, utilitarian hallways, wider spaces allow people to comfortably pass each other and potentially pause for a quick chat.
  • Landing Zones with Seating: A bench near the entryway or at the top of stairs invites people to linger, drop off belongings, and potentially interact with others.
  • Kitchen Islands or Breakfast Nooks: Large enough for multiple people to work or dine together, these spaces foster casual and extended conversation.
  • Cozy Living Room Arrangements: Comfortable seating configurations that encourage face-to-face interactions, as opposed to everyone facing a TV, promote spontaneous conversation.
  • Porches and Patios: Outdoor spaces with comfortable seating arrangements easily transition between spaces for private relaxation and spots for welcoming visitors or neighbors who stop by.
Watercolor of two rocking chairs on a foggy porch, overlooking a lush landscape, evoking a serene, peaceful setting.

Examples Where Interaction is Less Likely

  • Homes with Open Floorplans Lacking Definition: While visually expansive, these spaces often create awkward furniture arrangements.
  • Bedrooms Lacking Seating: Rooms without chairs or benches make extended conversations unlikely, as people won’t be comfortable standing for long periods.
  • Kitchens with Small or No Eat-In Spaces These don’t encourage helpers to interact with the person cooking or provide casual seating for visitors to the kitchen.
  • Outdoor Spaces Visible from the Street: Without some privacy, patios facing a busy street feel exposed, making it less enticing to sit and relax.

Adding interaction spaces to your home

  • A chair in the bedroom
  • Clearing seating that people can actually use!
  • Bench or a couple of chairs on the porch or by the entryway.
  • “Game ready” side table with a deck of cards or a simple puzzle.
  • A designated spot for hobbies in communal areas (knitting basket by the sofa).

Interaction spaces are about creating opportunities, not forcing them. It’s about two seats under a shady tree on a hot day, not a dining room table where everyone is forced to stare at each other.

4. Handmade or High-Upkeep Materials

This principle says: a person was here, and they’ll be back!

The craftsman people’s the space with his work. Someone who cares for that item peoples the space with their work as well.

Examples of Handmade/Hand-maintained Items that “People” a Space

  • Handmade Items: One-of-a-kind pieces such as quilts, hand-thrown pottery, knitted blankets, or carved wood furniture. Their unique imperfections and details hint at the skill and time of the craftsperson who made them.
  • Restored or Upcycled Furniture: Older pieces refinished or repurposed show a continuation of care. These items have a history, inviting others to continue their story.
  • Items with Visible Wear (Patina): A beloved wooden table with marks from years of use, polished copper or silver displaying natural tarnish – these signs of life evoke a sense of warmth and a home that is truly lived in.
  • Houseplants: Thriving houseplants require regular watering and care. They represent life within the home and demonstrate the occupant’s nurturing presence.
  • Well-maintained Objects: Gleaming doorknobs, a freshly painted mailbox, or a tended garden signal that someone cares for the space.
Watercolor of a charming home entrance surrounded by lush greenery and vibrant flowers, enhancing the welcoming feel of the house.

Contrast: Lack of Human Touch

  • Mass-Produced Décor: Identical items found in many homes lack a personal connection and can make a space feel generic.
  • Sterile Surfaces: Perfectly smooth, high-gloss finishes or materials that never change in appearance feel impersonal and artificial.
  • Disposable Items: Objects designed for short-term use and quick replacement don’t foster a sense of individual care or lasting value.

Adding handmade/ high upkeep elements

This one is easy!

  • Baskets
  • Quilts
  • Pottery
  • Artwork
  • Embroidered items
  • Cut flower
  • Bird feeders.

It’s not about everything being handmade or requiring labor-intensive maintenance. Even a few thoughtfully chosen items, cared for over time, add a human dimension to a space

They are all just ways to say “humans made this house, and humans live in this house”. Seems so very simple, but so many items seem to say “machines built this house, and for no particular reason.” These simple principles hold the secret to a space that feels deeply personal and alive. Start small – open a window, cut some wildflowers, or set a chair by a windoww. Notice how these little touches create a sense of warmth and a home that truly reflects you.

cozy, quilt-covered bedroom with rustic furniture and sunlit windows adorned with curtains and framed paintings.
The Missing Ingredient in Home Design (Your House is More Than a Backdrop)

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2 Comments

  1. “machines built this house, and for no particular reason”. Ha! Love it! Our house is a 1940s craftsman so it’s impossible to get those light-filled Insta photos but we’ve got cozy in the bag.

    Your dining room is lovely!