At a time when the world doesn't seem well, with a daily onslaught of grim headlines affecting our health, relationships and productivity, it's worth remembering that our physical environments can put us in a more positive place.
The modern study of this phenomenon is known as Environmental Psychology, but of course it's a field as old as human civilization itself. From Chinese Feng Shui to Indian Vastu, Japanese Wabi Sabi, and Danish Hygge, all cultures have recognized the very real effect of design, architecture and art on our well-being. (Read our blog post on the difference between some of these here)
After taking part in a recent Cornell University panel discussion on this subject - and attending last week's Luxe Wellness Design Summit - I wanted to dedicate this newsletter to a few tips and insights that I've picked up along the way, including one very whacky case study that you'll find at the bottom of this email.
1 - Color
The most magical way to transform any room is to paint it. The idea that white makes a space look bigger isn't always a reason to paint a room white. Rooms that don't get much natural light actually look better with a darker, more saturated hue on the walls because the shadows enhance the color vs. making a lighter wall read like it's always in shadow, which can feel dingy. I recommend purchasing large paper paint samples (most paint companies do this) and sticking them on a wall and leaving them there for 48 hours so you can see how the colors change as the light changes in the space and then make your decision. Take a look at our FAVORITE paint colors here. If paint isn't an option, consider large-scale art or tapestries, which brings us to ...
2 - Art
The first rule of buying art is that there are no rules. Decide first what level of complexity, color, and attention you want a piece to have. Visit museums and galleries to get a sense of what type of art you like. We love Nino Meir's galleries and artists. There are plenty of online resources that are wonderful as well, with a variety of price points, such as saatchiart.com and publicdomainreview.org. Be mindful when framing any piece - this is an easy and very effective way to elevate a simple or small piece.
3 - Layering + Contrasts
Visually complex rooms engage our senses in multiple ways, and have even been shown to even boost cognitive performance. The effect can be achieved through deep layers of accessories, textured surfaces such as wall coverings, and furniture and art (including frames) made from unexpected materials. Contrasting rooms, known in the design world as a dichotomy of spaces, achieves the same thing - i.e., light and dark, large and small, spaces with outdoor views and those that are cozy and enclosed.
4 - The Green Effect, or Biophilia
Humans thrive when their environments connect them to nature - whether that's being exposed to natural light, seeing and touching natural materials such as wood, or just breathing of fresh air (more on this below). Adding plants, flowers, trees, succulents to your home or work space will calm you, make you more productive, and improve your overall well-being. Having views of nature has even been shown to increase healing time in hospitals (source). Check out this article to learn more about which plants are the easiest to start with - or just visit your local nursery. If real plants aren't practical, faux plants can also be very effective.
5 - Air + Scent
One of the easiest ways to take advantage of biophilia in any space is to ventilate it. Open your windows first thing in the morning or when you're home all day. You'll be amazed what a difference it makes. Also think about scented candles. Scents not only stimulate your senses, but also your memory. Find one that reminds you of some place special.
Take a moment to think about the flow of a space. How do you walk around pieces of furniture? What are the views from seated areas? What already works? And what could be improved? Play around! Rearrange your furniture and see how it feels. It's always amazes me how changing even a floor lamp's position in a room can completely transform the feel of a space.
Interesting case study - literally the opposite of everything we believe
I'll leave you with a very, very quirky case study that came up during our Cornell panel: Bioscleave House in East Hampton, New York, a house that promised eternal life, designed by the avant-garde architect/artist duo Arakawa and Gins. (Shusaku Arakawa, from Nagoya, Japan, and Madeline Grins, from New York City.)
Brace yourselves ... here are some photos:
Arakawa and Gins were convinced that if a house stimulated your body and your mind, it would EXTEND YOUR MORTALITY. Light switches are at various heights (!), and positioned askew (!!), so you can do a bit of stretching each time you put one on or off. The "hilly" living room, achieved using poured concrete mounds, ensures that you pay attention when walking to the kitchen. And then there are the colors. Fifty-two of them, to be precise. It's certainly not for everyone (!) - but it did make me stop and think. If the visceral reaction that most people have to these spaces says anything, it's that yes, absolutely, every detail counts ... and maybe creating some unexpectedness in a space is a good thing?
Thank you for reading. Please reach out if you have any questions, or want to discuss any of this further. We provide 2 hour consultations to help address any and all of these topics. Reach out here to learn more or schedule.
Until next time,
PS: ARTICLES + BOOKS ON THE TOPIC OF WELLNESS + DESIGN
By Marie Doezema
by Emily Anthes
by Witold Rybczynski
by Alain Botton
AND for those who really want to experience the most unusual ---