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biophilic moodboards: adding mystery to interiors

in biophilic moodboards

Imagine you are visiting a museum. From where you stand, you can peak through thick curtains that have been left partly open and you see a dimly lit area. Do you also feel that irresistible temptation to go and discover what’s behind the curtains?
Well, this is the power of mystery.

In this episode of Biophilic Moodboards we’ll discover the concept of mystery in biophilic design and explore how it applies to interiors…

Moodboard showing 3 examples of mystery in biophilic design. 1: A curved corridor. 2: A plant partially hiding the rest of the room behind. 3: A partially see-through wooden partition.
Credits (from top left): Studio mk27, Cartelle Design - Visualization: The Black Monk, Mastrominas Architecture + Lambs and Lions. Moodboard: anooi studio

about mystery

Essentially, mystery refers to partially obscured views that stimulate human innate curiosity, inviting people to move on and explore the space further.

If we think about it, veiling and unveiling are used extensively in other fields as well (take the appeal of sheer clothes for instance). And it is no news that mystery has something fascinating to it…

mystery and wellbeing

The reason why mystery works dates back to our ancestors. As human beings, we’ve always explored the space around us. For early humans, understanding the surroundings was a matter of survival as it ensured there was no danger around the corner. While this is no longer the case in our living spaces, the curiosity part of it has remained. It’s still intriguing to explore a space and mystery nurtures this instinctive drive.

There’s another element of mystery that makes it so effective: anticipation.
Studies* have proved that our brain responds positively to anticipation in many aspects of life, from music to food. In space planning, mystery is exactly a way to create anticipation, to tease without revealing, to stimulate curiosity. Therefore, an interior that includes elements of mystery will become more captivating and engage the mind on a deeper level.

Outdoor seating area shielded by plants.
Credit: Piero Lissoni + Patricia Urquiola - Ph: Matteo Imbriani

mystery in interior design

Curved walls can become a mystery feature: they gently shield the view while leading the eye forward. For this very reason, they are also a particularly good choice for transit areas, as they invite people to move on. Similarly, partially see-through partitions (including planted partitions) create a sense of mystery by obstructing the view. Light can also be used to create mystery: less illuminated areas will naturally feel more mysterious and accent lighting can be added to lead the eye in a certain direction.

Introducing mystery in interior design requires balance, and too much of it can be counterproductive. In particular, it has been shown* that mystery can sometimes result in a sense of fear as opposed to pleasurable anticipation (a concept that in literature is described with the difference between surprise - or fear - and mystery). Turns out that what makes most of the difference is the depth of view. For a pleasurable outcome, the area that is visible should be at least 6 meters deep, going up to 30 meters and more for bigger spaces. To put it simply, a good mystery feature needs to partially obscure the view, but still allow to see quite far into the distance for the viewer to feel safe.

A partially see-through wooden partition.
Credit: Lambs and Lions
Dark corridor with a light strip recessed into the wall & ceiling which creates an interesting shape.
Credit: Marco Costanzi
A curved corridor.
Credit: Studio mk27

Overall, introducing mystery in interiors creates interesting spaces that – besides being beautiful to look at – are also enjoyable to experience. Spaces that feel deeply engaging and stimulating.

* Sources

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