Published in HEALTH MATTERS November 2018
Ways to create a welcoming sanctuary at home
By Lisa Crawford Watson
WHEREVER WE CHOOSE TO live, we need the place to do more than house us; it must become our home. It should be our sanctuary in the morning and our retreat at night, always inviting, always welcoming, our refuge from the rest of the world. It is up to us to determine how we can best live in our home and what we can do to create the environment that suits us.
When we can’t figure it out, when our home feels cluttered, chaotic, inefficient, in disrepair—anything but comfortable—it can translate to feeling frazzled, frustrated and adrift.
“How we live in our home, how we breathe there, comes from living in a quality environment that satisfies our five senses,” says John Lewis, CEO of Lewis Builders in Carmel.
The design/build company, dedicated to creating unique custom designs that are tailored to fit their clients’ lifestyles, follows the motto, “Change your space; change your life.”
Is the interior of the home visually calming, with clean lines, soft colors, and open spaces? Is daylight natural and nightlight dimmed? Does the air smell fresh and not stale or laden with the pungent smell of paint, treated wood or mold? Do windows open to the sounds of waves or birdsong, are walls insulated to cancel noise, is there a sound system in the house to let music set the mood? Does a water feature introduce the soothing sounds of trickling or flowing water?
What is the quality of the surfaces in the home? Are you stepping on solid, wide-plank oak floors or laminates? Are the floors heated for barefoot warmth in the winter? Do countertops have the soft, smooth, silky touch of matte finishes, are faucets and fixtures easy on the hand?
Have you filled your fridge with organic food from the farmers market, collected the fishermen’s morning catch, brewed fresh coffee and baked some-thing cinnamon-y? By all means, also attend to your sense of taste.
“In addition to satisfying the five senses,” says Lewis, “there’s a sixth element, something intangible that’s based on the environment, a kind of energy and ambient air that just makes it feel good to be there.”
Kierstyn Berlin, who has worked with Lewis Builders, is considered an in-tuitive designer, who understands the needs of people and their places by interpreting their interactions. With a background in architecture and the psychology of design, she established Berlin Holistic Design to help clients create a bridge between where they are and how they want to live.
“The home should be a restorative place that enables people to feel good in their space. An intuitive design,” she says, “is based on the psychological, energetic and functional needs of each person. The design is holistic because every element of it relates to one’s quality of life in the home.”
Berlin realizes a sense of restoration can come from creating a spa-like setting in the home, with a soak-ing tub, soothing lights, ambient air and Enya. But she goes beyond that to help design a home that fosters well-being no matter how busy its inhabitants are.
“I begin by assessing the needs of my clients and the setup of their spaces, where they are in the home, and how people use them,” she says. “I determine where and how they will work better. A place to start is in designing storage. Clutter and disorganization, things that aren’t easily accessible or are all over the place, don’t foster productivity or well-being.”
Depending on whether a space is for child’s play, creative expression, critical thinking, or sleep, Berlin considers the effects of the color palette as a stimulus, as well as furnishings and room arrangement or design.
Next on her list is lighting, which affects eye health, mood, concentration, creative thought and sleep.
“Lighting affects us biologically,” she says. “Getting a good lighting designer is so, so important. A lot of people don’t consider light fixtures, so they have a builder put in a lot of bright cans in the ceiling, which shine down like a spotlight. Lighting also can be controlled by dimmer switches, window coverings, and a layering of different lights for different tasks.”
Berlin rarely installs a downward light over anything but a countertop and, if so, she has the light wash across a wall, not down onto a living space.
She also considers the presence of water and fire and how they affect a space.
“The soft sounds of water, when you walk into a space, are so restorative,” she says. “I introduce a water feature, juxtaposed with the warmth and energy of a fire feature. Water is important for restoration; when we bathe, we cleanse the energy of body, the aura, not just the skin.”
One can create a restorative setting, using water and warmth, she says, both indoors out. People can relax on a chaise or sunbathe near water or the garden. And, anyone who can take advantage of ocean views, should. Which leads to Berlin’s next element, nature, and the importance of bringing it into the home environment.
“Being in or near nature puts us in a universal affective state,” she says, “which creates a sense of wonder, where we feel safe and secure, cozy and warm, creative and optimistic. Architectural elements and materials can mimic the textures and tones of nature, particularly if we bring in certain colors or repetitive patterns to stimulate us and create nurturing vibrations.”
Finally, Berlin looks at the use of space and everything in it. She believes in creating a balance between positive and negative space, and discourages clients from crowding it with clutter or banishing everything to the rim of the room.
“Bring furnishings into the room,” she says, “where you can interact with them. I try to keep all corners open, put nothing against the walls, and avoid storage under anything. Air circulation drives the health of the home.
“In addition, touch every object in your home. Get a sense of how you feel about certain things. If nothing comes up, get rid of it. Everything in your home should have a positive, energetic impact. If not, you don’t need it.”
Lisa Crawford Watson lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula. She specializes in writing about art and architecture, health and lifestyle, and food and wine.