Enchanting environments

I’m currently reading a book from Guy Kawasaki (Apple’s former chief evangelist) called ‘Enchantment’ (www.guykawasaki.com/enchantment). We need a lot of enchantment to make the world a better place right now. It means creating likability without trying to please anyone. It always brings benefits to a greater group than just oneself, as enchantment can’t happen when one only pursues one’s own interests.

We are drawn to enchanting people the same way we are drawn to enchanting environments. And most times we don’t notice consciously why we prefer some places better than others. Enchanting environment draws you in. It is easy to approach and pleasure to enter. The space takes good care of you once inside and delights you positively. It invites you to sit down and to stay longer.

Most places today are designed to impress rather than to enchant. Just think about entering a very fancy, up-market restaurant. Most of us feel a little uneasy as we are not sure ‘if we are good enough’ or ‘well dressed enough’ for the place. Many high-end restaurants have been designed to make you feel scared rather than happy. I in my opinion this kind of thinking is very old school. I’d rather enjoy great food (which ever the price range) in an enchanting environment. The Stingberg Sofas (www.stringberg.fi) in Helsinki make an excellent example of an enchanting (yet a little up-market) setting for a bar. Stingberg has been able to blur the line between home interiors and public space.

Mixing styles or uses can make an environment enchanting. Exhibition Road in South Kensington, London, has been turned into a mixed-use pedestrian and vehicle zone. Blurring the line between different road uses has made the area much more friendly. Cars, bicycles and pedestrians share the same space and everyone must be more vigilant. However, this also means that cars drive very slowly and are more considered to other road users. ‘Enchantment’ has been forced upon cars and drivers can no longer speed up egoistically.

Enchanting experience can also be created quite simply by making people smile in an unexpected situation. I often land at the Zurich Airport and take the airport transfer train from gates E to the main terminal. One minute into the underground train ride and you start to hear Swiss cowbells clinging and suddenly a young Swiss girl appears behind the train window (on a video screen) and sends everyone a kiss. This makes most of the travelers smile no matter how tired they are after their journey.

In the UK I find enchantment in beautiful country pubs. They have been kept for centuries and seldom re-decorated. Homes here, however, have become statements of wealth. Houses have been designed to impress rather than to create a most suitable home for those who live in it. Houses are fitted with the latest technology, there is a tv in every room and even a walk-in-fridge in the kitchen. This high profile consumption means high energy bills and often complete destruction of the ‘character’ of these old houses. Enchanting environment doesn’t mean perfect. It may actually mean layers of history and uneven floors. The egoistic and affluent will quickly rip out any charm and replace it with polished limestone floors.

Lack of intrusion and respect for the individual is very important when creating an enchanting space. Nordic Bakery chain of design cafes (www.nordicbakery.com) in London, where I’m a co-owner, has been successful exactly for that reason. We have designed the cafes in a way that all visual ‘noise’ is eliminated from the café experience. Walls are covered with bare wood paneling, there are no promotional signs or table decorations and the staff serve customers with respectful and friendly but non-intrusive attitude.

Here’s a list of ideas for creating an enchanting environment:

–       Create a space that is easy to approach, enter and navigate.

–       Use an unexpected, yet friendly element (voice, design, video).

–       Soft, warm materials and unfinished surfaces are enchanting.

–       Keep the space uncluttered.

–       Let nature inspire the design.

–       Respect old features, structures and materials, even if they are not perfect.

–       Let the layers of time show.

–       Create spaces with a mix of different user groups or experiences.

The most enchanting environment for me is nature. A path along a shoreline or in the forest will offer naturally enchanting spots to stop to look at the scenery or to sit down for a little picnic. Opportunity to be spontaneous is always enchanting.