What our apartments say about us | Lifestyle | DW | 21.01.2016
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What our apartments say about us

Interior furnishings are the talk of the town all this week in Cologne – a topic not nearly as boring as it sounds! Two psychologists believe that the way we decorate our houses says more about us than we might imagine.

"Show me how you live and I'll tell you who you are."

That's the philosophy followed anyway by American psychologist Samuel Gosling and Munich-based living expert Uwe Linke, who believes that you can tell a lot about a person by his or her choices in interior decoration.

It's an interesting thesis, one that's on the minds of attendees at two of the world's largest trade fairs for home furnishings taking place in Cologne this week. IMM, the Cologne Furniture Fair, has been put on by the Association of the German Furniture Industry (VDM) since 1949 as a way for interior designers and furnishing manufacturers to get a glimpse of home trends and do business together. The traditional fair, held this year from January 18-24, has been accompanied in recent years by an event for smaller designers, PASSAGEN, held at various locations throughout the city.

The IMM is especially important for industry experts this year, with the VDM estimating an increase in turnover of more than five percent in 2016. In terms of earnings spent per capita on furnishings, Germany is number two in Europe. But what do all those sofas and high-end kitchens actually say about us?

The psychological art of 'snoopology'

The American social psychologist Samuel Gosling gave a name to his method of uncovering more about a person's character through his or her choice of furnishings: snoopology.

Through the use of scientific research methods combined with intuition, one can use even small spurs to create a bigger picture about a person. Although an assumption cannot be made based on individual items alone, taken together, a lot can be deduced.

"Anyone can be a 'snoop,'" Gosling says, as he explains his techniques.

First, it's important to determine if the décor in question was created intentionally or accidentally. According to Gosling, there are two different kinds of objects to consider: those placed somewhere deliberately, such as alphabetized books on a shelf, and those that develop accidentally, like a messy closet. In uncovering these clues, the bedroom is an interesting place to start.

At least that's what Munich-based coach specializing in the psychology of how live, Uwe Linke says.

"The bedroom is thought of as a "private sphere," making it the ideal place to consider the subject of openness, whereas living rooms are often subconsciously arranged based in part on the knowledge that friends or other visitors will see them."

In his German book, "Single-Frau wählt Single-Mann und schaut sich seine Wohnung an" (which roughly translated as "Single woman chooses single man and checks out his apartment"), Linke visits various apartments to explore what they say about their residents' personalities.

A self-professed "tracker" or "snooper" in Gosling's terminology, Linke says that even the coldest, most sterile living arrangement can say a lot about the person living there. White, he says, is "just as neutral as any other color. When a person chooses not to decorate, the flat's bareness is also a form of compensation - one sees the opposite of the person's inner state."

IMM Cologne 2016, Copyright: DW/T.Weinmann

Snoopology is the term used for examining other people's living styles

Interiors as a symbol of distance or closeness?

The color white, according to Linke, can likewise stand for calmness, tolerance, emotional unavailability. He'd refer to people with such an attitude as the "distant type."

A contrast to the "distant type" is the person on the search for closeness. The so-called "close type" shows a lot of love in his or her decorative choices, wishing everything to appear soft, with sunny colors. Yellow, as an example, can represent openness, cheerfulness and the longing for a whole world. Additional decorative elements are often a response to the search for orientation, playfulness and romance. Trinkets reminiscent of travel are especially emotional, for example.

That doesn't mean, however, that every item in a living space has a special meaning, or that a person's apartment fits the bill precisely.

Linke recalls visiting one flat that threw him for a loop. "The interiors and the style was so cold and impersonal, I could've sworn a man lived there. Only later did I discover that it belonged to woman - one who wore the pants in her relationship, however. There was just one emotionally reflective picture on the wall, which seemed to symbolize a frustrated attempt by a lover to leave behind the wish for emotional openness. It was a man that had gifted her the picture."

While both Linke and Gosling have had years of experience getting to understand the psychology behind interior design, becoming a "snooper" and feeling out a person's personality based on their home is something anyone can do. It just takes a bit of practice.

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