How Tapping Into the Psychology of Personality Will Reveal Your True Interior Design Style

Psychologist Sally Augustin shares tips for using the science of personality to create a space perfectly suited to you—and how to take others’ preferences into account, too.

For those who grew up playing The Sims, building a house from scratch can be a jazzy, euphoric pleasure. But in real life, designing your home isn’t as easy as choosing from a finite list of decorating options. (Plus, there’s no “rosebud” cheat code.)

Your home is your sanctuary and oasis. You may even earn your living there. Thoughtfully crafting your space to perfectly suit your tastes is crucial to your ability to both relax and be productive—but how do you begin projecting your personality onto your walls, furniture and everything in between?

To find out, we spoke with Sally Augustin, author, Ph.D., practicing environmental and design psychologist and principal at Design With Science.

“Your personality has a significant effect on how you experience the world around you,” said Augustin. “It’s the internal mental system that you use to make sense of what happens in your life. If you create a space that aligns with your personality, you’ll feel more comfortable there. And when you’re more comfortable, you’re generally in a better mood.”

Of course, everyone wants to be in a good mood. But, Augustin pointed out, a person’s improved mood can have a much larger impact than simply smiling more.

“When you’re in a better mood, your brain actually works differently,” she explained. “You get along better with other people, you are able to think more broadly and you’re better at problem-solving. Those repercussions can be so important.”

If personalized interior design can truly make the world a better place, let’s not waste any more time getting down to brass tacks.

The Psychology of Personality

As a psychologist, Augustin has written extensively on the subject. “Bringing science into the conversation brings comfort to people,” she explained. “These insights did not come on a whim—they come from rigorous research.”

Psychological researchers often use a “Big Five” model to explain core personality traits, which include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion/introversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. In terms of design, said Augustin, those first three are most important factors to consider—especially extraversion and introversion.

Designing for Extraversion and Introversion

“I’m very extroverted,” said Augustin. “People like me love really sensory-rich environments and spaces with textures and colors that are energizing.”

On the other hand, introverts are more comfortable in spaces with more carefully curated sets of experiences. “It seems that introverts are better at processing the sensory information that they pull in from the world around themselves than those who are extroverted,” said Augustin. “It’s almost as if those of us who are extroverted miss some stuff in the world around us.”

Because of this significant difference, it’s crucial that extroverts take note of their introverted roommates, partners and children, as they likely won’t love coming home to a bright yellow wall.

“Both types have to remember these differences in others and be tolerant and considerate when making design choices,” said Augustin. “For example, my husband is an introvert. I have designed my home office to please my extroverted soul, so there are more colors and shiny things. But in the spaces that we share, like the bedroom, the color schemes and patterns we’ve selected are more relaxing to view.”

Designing for Conscientiousness

The personality trait of conscientiousness “influences whether people set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices, behave cautiously or impulsively, and take obligations to others seriously,” writes Psychology Today.

In terms of interior design, highly conscientious people are more interested in keeping order within their environment. “For example, they would have cabinets that hide things from view, as well as spaces that are task-appropriate and aligned with their intended functionality,” explained Augustin.

On the other hand, a less conscientious person is less concerned about having orderly tools like kitchen drawer organizers, hiding all the electronics cords out of sight and only eating dinner in the dining room.

Which are you? Keep this in mind when designing your space.

Designing for Openness to Experience

Someone who is more open to experience is more receptive to novel, unusual elements, while those on the other end of the spectrum are more likely to select more traditional design elements.

“Being open to experience is not necessarily about being wild—it’s about being different,” said Augustin. “It’s using wallpaper or upholstery that hasn’t been seen before. These people would see new things around and be interested in incorporating them into their space.”

Those open to experience are likely to feel comfortable surrounded by knick-knacks they’ve collected through travels. They enjoy picking up new and exciting pieces every so often, and keeping things fresh and new.

Which sounds like you?

When Designing by Personality Just Feels Right

Psychologically, it isn’t a matter of how design affects personality type—it’s how personality types process the design experiences.

“The same design has the same fundamental effects on everyone. Certain colors generally more relaxing or energizing regardless of personality,” said Augustin. “We’re talking about slighting tipping the scale one way or another.”

When asked how to know when you’ve achieved the goal of decorating based on your personal level of introversion/extroversion, conscientiousness and openness to experience, Augustin recommended taking it slow.

“Generally, humans feel most relaxed and comfortable in a space that’s familiar,” she said. “Gradually changing a space is much better for us psychologically than ripping everything out in one fell swoop. You always need something on the walls, so you may change the color of the walls first, and see if that creates the right sort of equilibrium for you. The number of curves and straight lines and patterns also affect relaxation or stimulation.”

Change one thing at a time until you reach a place that is satisfying for everyone in the household. “You’ll know it,” said Augustin. “You have an experience of ‘Oh, this is it.’ Like a sigh of relief. And if you’re sharing a place with others and you’re empathetic to their experiences, eventually you’ll get to a place where family dinners are the best they have ever been.”