Some aspects of a home that is just right for you are very personal.Homey elements can be symbols of places from your past- perhaps a childhood bedroom that was a sanctuary, a favorite collection of books, a photo of the front porch of your grandmas house, fabric from the first crazily painted freedom space of your young adulthood or a postcard evoking the shadowy memory of a glimpse of a perfect room in your travels.

These are items that can make us feel good and at home. Most of us are aware of the importance of these positive memories and the benefit of including symbols of them in our current home..

However, other elements of a “just right home” resonate with what environmental psychologists call our evolutionary needs. These are deep, often unconscious, feelings about habitat that are particular to our human species.

Architect Grant Hildebrand studied the common denominators of inherently likable buildings by beginning with the question; Why might homo sapiens be drawn to some places and repelled by others?  His conclusion correlates with other thinkers; on a survival level, the first people needed food, water and protection. Thus, their ancestors (we) have inherited a preference for fundamentally supportive environments.

According to Hildebrand, we instinctively prefer an environment that is a combination of field, stream and grove of trees- hunting range, water and shelter. Our fondness for this combination is evident in the paintings of old masters, images on kitchen calendars. as facets of most parks, etc.

Hildebrand sought ways to bring the essence of this deeply attractive fertile meadow veined by a winding brook and edged by a beautiful forest into our homes.

Home designers can incorporate these archetypal elements into the homes they were designing and thus contribute to quality of life for their clients.

Hildebrand teamed up with other architects, a biologist, a geographer and a psychologist to study and identify 5 characteristics that enhance our human experience of home- prospect and refuge, enticement, peril and complex order.

The most important evolutionary elements of an appealing home are “prospect” and “refuge”. Prospect is a big bright space that has a broad, interesting view (the meadow). Refuge is a protected haven that is nest-like (the forest). What makes a house feel like a home are three things; 1) the ability to observe both kinds of spaces from the viewpoint of the other 2) to have the option of occupying either the snug or the expansive space  and 3)  to be able to enjoy the contrast between the two.

There’s not a single formula for the right proportion of prospect to refuge. Homes in  different climates might evoke different needs, like a windy prairie home might need more refuge than a cottage in the forest which might need more of an expansive feel to balance it out. Also, different temperaments and genders can prefer different ratios. For example , Hildebrand’s female students designed more refuge into their projects, the male students tended to bring more of the element of prospect into their design.

Understanding this principle can offer some interesting ideas for how to design your new home or inhabit your current home in a way that connects you more deeply with your archetypal roots.

How do you make your home feel ‘just right’ to you? Do the ideas of prospect and refuge ring true for you? Which part of your home is open and expansive , which part is nest-like?