Dyslexia and Interiors

I recently came across a photograph of my Great Grand Father taken around 1904. He was an artist and the photo is taken in his studio in London. But something jarred with me right away.

I live in a house with no pattern at all, no  pattered cushions or pattered curtains or bed linen. I dress in plain blocks of colour and actually feel quite unwell if I try to wear patterns. I’ve never really given it much thought, despite people often mentioning my ‘minimal’ or ‘ordered’ taste.

Looking at the vintage photo all I see is the wallpaper jumping out at me, confusing my mind into a chaotic tangle of thoughts. How on earth could Great Grand Father paint in such a decorative room? And very well he painted too as he exhibited at the Royal Academy Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute.

With help from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, I have been on a fascinating trail to try and identify the wallpaper in the studio. My findings will appear in The History of Wallpaper Review later this summer.

But back to pattern versus plain. As I spend a lot of time specifying wall colour, I thought I would do a little research into why some people are comfortable surrounded by pattern and some are definitely not.

I was diagnosed a ‘dyslexic’ when I was very young and have chosen to work in areas where right-brained individuals can thrive so therefore don’t give my label of dyslexia any thought…until now.

When you look up ‘symptoms of dyslexics’ on the web you will see lists containing  attributes such as being intuitive, sensitive, perfectionist, artistic, and often very orderly. All very nice. Something else I hadn’t clocked until now which made me smile – dyslexic children are often first to learn and identify colours! There are of course many other indicators including being very light sensitive, often ambidextrous, thinking in images rather than words, having a strong sense of justice and interestingly often left eared. Well I tick all of those boxes and more but then something popped up which may well answer the question as to why I choose to live in an uncluttered interior.

It is actually common for dyslexics to feel anxious in decorative interiors. They contain far too many random visual stimuli which can led an ordered mind of a dyslexic to become extremely anxious. Our minds which operate on visual imagery receives an overload of information which needs to be ordered and the task becomes overwhelming and leads to confusion and stress.

For me, this answers a lot of personal questions and for interior designers, it is important information to bear in mind. If your client includes decorating a  bedroom for a dyslexic child you could quite easily create a stunning room in your eyes but one which creates a lot of tension for a child. It is less likely to happen when working for a dyslexic adult because they are likely to have discovered their preferred ‘style’ which will almost certainly be very clean and simple i.e one where they feel at ease in.

So perhaps the Father of Modernism, Albert Loos who famously wrote, Ornament and Crime, was perhaps a fellow dyslexic? Well I would like to think so anyway…

31 thoughts on “Dyslexia and Interiors

    • Thanks Lois, its an interesting area isn’t it.
      By the way, its awfully frustrating but I’ve not been able to comment on your blog for months. I’ve asked wordpress about it and they blame blogger. There are so many posts I tried to leave a comment on as you always have great stuff on your blog. I will keep trying though.


  1. Absolutely fascinating, Niki. As you know my house is a bit cluttered, although not necessarily with interesting patterns as did your great-grandfather’s studio (and what a wonderful photo to have!). My family is quite messy and when it reaches a certain level my heart races and I can think of nothing else but creating order. When they are away for a day or two all is in its place, candles are lit, etc. I know I am not dyslexic as such but I think I tick a lot of the boxes you mention. Not all the really good ones though! Really thought-provoking, and it explains a lot. The point you make about designers making sure about the cilent’s needs are noted, esp regarding dyslexia – I would include autism too – is hugely salient. I hope this piece goes viral! And kudos for the Wallpaper Review piece upcoming. Give us the link?


    • Oh, thank you so much Kellie, what a wonderful comment. Yes, I’ve also been told by the whatsgoingonatconran blogger that the same is true for autistic sufferers. Perhaps Interior Design courses teach this, I’m not sure. Im aware of colour choice for visually impaired but other conditions may not get so much coverage. It certainly explains a lot for me anyway – always wondered why I answer the phone with my left ear!


  2. Light sensitive, ambidexterous, left eared and colour-strong. That’s fascinating!

    I am definitely one of those people who get stressed out in decorative interiors, clothing etc – but i’m fairly sensitive to sensory overloading in general (India was a helluvan eye opener in that respect!) so it’s constant with my hermit-like tendencies.

    Have you uncovered anything about the people who prefer a lot of decoration? Do they feel similarly stressed by minimalism?


    • Charlene, you never cease to amaze me with your enquiring mind. Actually I didnt think of looking at it from the other foot ie whether people who prefer decoration get stressed in minimal interiors. I suspect they do but I would love to check that out. Thanks for raising that point.


  3. That’s really interesting Niki, I love decorative wallpapers and am very interested in looking into the history of it. I know the V & A have a book about it called Wallpaper in Interior Decoration which looks interesting, and I would also like to read about your findings in the wallpaper review, which I didn’t know existed by the way!! Even though I love pattern I also love minimalism and I hate it when my studio gets cluttered I just can’t think. Love the photograph of your Great Grandfather in his studio surrounded by his paintings 🙂


    • That’s interesting you mention Wallpaper in Decoration I must have a look. I’ve been recommended to read Sanderson: the Essence of English Decoration, Thames & Hudson, 2010 by the Whitworth Gallery, which I will also look at. You sound like the perfect balance of being open to decoration & minimalism – lucky!


  4. Great post. Lots to think about with this one! I imagine, in addition to dyslexia, there are other emotional and psychological factors at work specific to different individuals. I am curious – what was your childhood home like? How was it decorated?

    Love the photo of your grandfather! Amazing.


  5. Oh…and, as someone with a BFA in interior design…no- there was never any education/exploration on this topic. My experience is that interior design “psychology” courses don’t go this deep. This topic typically falls more under Environmental Psychology, however it would be VERY important for us designers to be aware of this type of information. My only concern would be the potential for this info to turn into watered-down prescriptions and formulas for “dyslexic design.” Because, even if there are some consistent design preferences to adhere to, each individual is still unique…and still requires a uniquely designed and personalized space.

    Again- great post! Thanks for getting my brain moving this morning.


  6. Thank you Kelly for such a thoughtful comment.
    You make a very good point that designing ‘for a dyslexic’ could become prescriptive and I totally agree that would be unhelpful as every individual is different even when they share the same condition. Probably just information to keep on ‘the radar’ rather than to create ‘rules’ for designing around.
    As for my own childhood home, well, I was brought up in a contemporary ‘Scandinavian’ styled interior – Mum and Dad have always championed ‘less is more’ but the house always had a lot of character as most of their friends were artists and architects so there were loads of hand made artefacts around which all told their own story. I think they have greatly influenced my own preferred style – and its fortunate for me that the space was lovely and simple.
    Thanks for asking Kelly 🙂


  7. Thank you so much for this post. I don’t believe I’m dyslexic, but I did check off in my mind the things you mentioned. Interestingly I almost never wear patterns, colors or have patterns in our home. Everything is soft neutrals. As an interior designer I do use color and patterns for others, but for myself, I have always been aware of and sensitive to “information overload” with regard to space. So – thank you again! It’s great to meet you via your blog.


    • You are very welcome and thank you for such a lovely comment. It is interesting that we all have different ‘tolerances’ to information overload isn’t it. I am quite sure its in our genetic make up and I also think that if you enjoy looking really closely at things you can see beauty in even the most simple form and therefore very pared down shapes can often offer enough satisfaction.


  8. This is such an interesting post. I am massively Dyslexic and proudly so, I love pattern but I very rarely wear or live with it comfortably but had never considered that it may have something to do with my Dyslexia how interesting.


    • Lovely to hear from a fellow dyslexic 🙂 Well I am convinced that I feel uncomfortable with pattern due to my dyslexia but like you, I really appreciate pattern, just not in my house or on my clothes – only on other people! I look forward to connecting more with you, Bevin touch and thanks for your comment.


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  10. Hi Niki,

    I am wondering if you have a source for your quote: ‘It is actually common for dyslexics to feel anxious in decorative interiors.’

    I have dyslexia and I find places like make-up departments really make me anxious. I have recently been exploring minimalism at home and at work to help me relax. So I am interested in any sources on dyslexia and visual stimulation.


    Rudyard (ironic name for a dyslexic)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Rudyard, great to hear from you – irony in the word ‘dyslexia’ too ;).

      Hm, well I wrote this piece around 4 years ago and I cant quite remember what I was reading at the time. However, Ive been working in the interior & design sector for 30 years and I have found just from speaking to others that my feelings of confusion around too much pattern is common amongst dyslexics. Ive always trusted my gut instincts with many decisions and I can categorically tell you that for me, living in a simple, minimal interior most definitely keeps me feeling calm and peaceful (and pure greys very relaxing as its the most balanced and harmonious colour where the brain has least to do to translate/compute the colour). When I am on holiday and staying in cluttered/very decorative hotels/apartment, I find them very cloying and I feel my pulse quickens. I am naturally drawn into simple spaces.

      I am sorry not to be able to direct you onto some scientific reading on the subject, I dont know if there have been any proper studies. I would love to be able to go back to university to study it myself but thats unlikely to happen.

      I cant bear make up departments either – far too much work for the brain balancing out all the red tones (I think I wrote about that too but cant seem to find it on the blog :/ ) If I were you I would try to surround yourself in a minimal interior, its definitely worth a try. Keep me posted if you come across any good research (btw did you know Robert Redford’s son, James has made a film docu about dyslexia, called, ‘The Big Picture’.
      ps hows this for more irony. Im mainly working in textile design now making patterns (!)….but for neckties & scarves ie a limited, small and contained area to wear pattern 🙂


      • Hi Niki,

        I have recently started working full time and I have been thinking about what I need to do in order to stay on task. I guess my initial thoughts were about reducing visual stresses in the workplace and at at home. Something that I have been doing.

        The majority of the research discusses word and paper formatting but there is a couple of theories about dyslexics proccessing more in their peripheral vision. That could start to explain the difficulties in loud interiors. An example for me is that desk height of two of my coworker is uneven and every time I speak with them I am distracted by it. I came back from holiday and the first thing I noticed is that it had become more uneven!

        It sounds like you have found a good balance between patterns and surface area. I think patterns can look great on neckties but I’d go mad if all shirts had a magic eye on them.

        Liked by 1 person

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