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Design A Mindful ADU With 6 Senses


Alvin Hwang

|Last Updated: 26 Feb 2024

In this post, we disclose how spatial perception can be altered by mindful designs based on the six senses.

Design through the lens of mindfulness enrich the occupant’s perception of an ADU. A mindful ADU design is the only way to overcome the physical limitations of an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) and enable its occupants to feel fully present, especially in the 21st century. Ultimately, these designs encourage heightened attention, engage full presence, Improve overall well-being, and bring out the maximum benefits of your ADU through mindful living.

One can have polarized feelings in small spaces.

It can be either an appreciation of intimacy or an aversion to cramped spaces.

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ADU Design That Leads to Mindfulness – A Six-senses Approach

In an ADU’s spatial experience, the engagement of the six senses contributes to the awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Eventually, it forms a mindful experience in the ADU.

Sight (Vision):

An ADU interior photo that has a clean visual design with plywood.

The clean visual design of an ADU promotes a mindful atmosphere in a small-scale space. 

Several visual arrangements below promote mindfulness and enhance the overall experience of the space:

  • Clean design: Simplified aesthetics reduce visual clutter and promote a sense of calm and focus.
  • Natural light: Ample daylight creates an open and airy atmosphere, uplifting mood and enhancing well-being.
  • Artificial lighting: Utilizing direct, diffuse, effect, and accent lighting to create a visual hierarchy to increase spatial awareness. 
  • Indoor greenery: Incorporating plants indoors connects occupants with nature, fostering tranquility and reducing stress.
  • Personalized spaces: Designing areas tailored to individual needs and visual preferences fosters a sense of belonging and tranquility. A quote by Hertzberger “The more influence you can personally exert on the things around you, the more you feel emotionally involved with them…”[1]
  • Color design: cohesive and balanced color palettes promote visual harmony.

An ADU interior with natural light penetrating through the skylight opening to the cooking area.

The changing daylight according to the time and weather increases spatial awareness by offering visual variations of light color and brightness. 

Sound (Acoustic):

In the intimate realm of ADUs, careful consideration of the acoustic arrangements below promotes a calming auditory atmosphere.

  • Soundproofing: Implement measures to minimize external noise intrusion, ensuring a quiet environment for mindfulness practice.
  • Absorptive materials: Use soft, plush materials like carpets and cushions to absorb sound and create a cozy, tranquil atmosphere.
  • Balanced soundscapes: Curate a blend of ambient sounds like gentle music or flowing water to foster a peaceful auditory backdrop.
  • Flexible acoustics: Employ adjustable features like movable partitions or sound-absorbing panels to customize the sound environment based on individual preferences.

An ADU interior photo with acoustic panels covering the walls and ceiling.

Acoustic materials such as panels, leafy plants, and soft carpets can help control the acoustic property and create a pleasant hearing experience in an ADU. 

Smell (Olfactory):

ADUs become havens where the air carries a subtle invitation to relax, breathe, and be present. Below are some key points that could be applied in a mindful ADU.

  • Natural materials: Incorporate natural wood or fibers that emit subtle earthy aromas, grounding occupants and fostering a connection to nature.
  • Fresh air circulation: Ensure proper ventilation to maintain a clean and fresh-smelling environment, enhancing overall well-being and mental clarity.
  • Aromatherapy: Infuse the space with calming scents like lavender or sandalwood to evoke relaxation and reduce stress by providing places for items such essential oil diffusers and scented candles.

An interior photo of a corner that has natural wood and plants delivering the smell of these elements.

The smell of natural substances such as logs and flowers creates a grounding effect. 

Taste (Gustatory):

The required kitchen and dining areas in ADUs can fuse memories into a place through the gustatory simulation and enhance the experience by following arrangements.

  • Mindful cooking space: Design a functional kitchen layout that facilitates mindful meal preparation, with ample counter space, organized storage, and natural light to enhance spatial awareness while cooking.
  • Tea station: Set up a dedicated area with a selection of teas, encouraging mindful tea-drinking rituals that promote relaxation and present-moment awareness.
  • Dining area ambiance: Create a dining space with comfortable seating, soft lighting, and soothing music to promote mindful eating experiences and encourage conversation and connection.
  • Easy-to-clean material: Sanitation in the dining area positively impacts mental and physical well-being.

An ADU interior photo with a light-color plywood finish.

Neutral tones reduce sensory overload, allowing the occupants to be more mindful while having their meal.

Body (Tactile, Thermo-sensation):

The tactile qualities of surfaces and textures become amplified in ADUs because of their intimacy scale.

  • Textured surfaces: Incorporate various tactile elements like wood, stone, or fabrics to engage touch and promote sensory awareness.
  • Cozy textiles: Use soft materials such as rugs and cushions to create comfort and encourage relaxation.
  • Temperature control: Ensure balanced heating and cooling for comfort and relaxation.
  • Thermal and moisture insulation: Include insulation materials in all locations from foundation, wall, to ceiling.
  • Thermal contrasts: Incorporate high and low heat conductivity elements to stimulate thermosensation and promote mindfulness.

A living room surrounded by tactile materials.

Composition of a textured concrete ceiling and various textile materials. 

Consciousness (Thoughts, Meanings, instincts):

Humans often rely on multiple senses to make up conclusions or subconscious decisions in their minds. ADU designs should also incorporate the following examples to benefit the conscious experience.

  • Safety: Humans are instinctively aware of spaces that feel secure and protected. A sense of safety is created by openings that provide a visual advantage to the surroundings, but that cannot be seen from the outside.
  • Exploration: Designs that promote exploration within its spatial properties to ground consciousness. Such as the daylight variation throughout the day or the differentiated view from the four seasons.
  • Social Interaction: Humans are social beings and tend to engage more where they can interact with others, whether it’s for conversation, collaboration, or companionship.
  • Connection to Nature: There is an innate connection to the natural world, and people often seek out spaces that incorporate elements of nature, such as plants, water features, and natural light.
  • A Private Corner: Private and quiet spaces allow individuals to concentrate on certain subjects while being free from distraction, such as meditation and praying. Operable curtains or blinds are some flexible options for a compact space.

Interior space with natural material and a Biophilic painting composed with mosses.

Walls or painting can be composed of natural plants. 
Credit: Oppenheim Architecture. Photo: Lazy Hamani

In essence, small spaces like ADUs become not just places of residence but holistic environments that engage the senses, fostering a heightened state of mindfulness. Through intentional design choices, architects and designers can transform these compact dwellings into cherished sanctuaries, celebrating the richness of the sensory experience in every nook and cranny.

Mindful ADU Design Checklist

Below is a checklist for you to use when designing a mindful ADU:

1. Sense of sight:
Clean design
Openings for natural light
Artificial lighting hierarchy
Personalized spaces
Cohesive color palette
2. Sense of hearing: (For detailed acoustic checklist, check out our acoustic design post.)
Acoustic panels, diffusers, insulators
Absorptive materials
Ambient soundscapes
Flexible acoustics panels
3. Sense of smelling:
Natural materials
Ventilation design
Aromatherapy: Place for scent devices
4. Sense of tasting:
Adequate dining and cooking space
Tea station
Subsidiary storages
Easy-to-clean material
5. Sense of touching:
☐  Hierarchy in material that provides rich tactical experience
Select materials of suitable thermal conductivity for a warm touch
Soft materials such as rugs and cushions
Temperature control
☐  Thermal contrasting material
6.  Sense of thoughts:
☐  Safety visual connections
☐  Exploration space
☐  Social space
☐  Biophilic design
☐  Privacy corner

This ADU design is tailored to individual needs and visual preferences fosters a sense of belonging. 
Credit: Bunch ADU.


[1] Hertzberger, Herman, Lessons for Students in Architecture, 170.


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