• Melissa Sanabria

SCIENCE-BACKED: GOOD DESIGN MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY

Most of us have an intuition when a home just feels right. Maybe you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, yet you have an emotional connection to a house, a room, a garden. It might be because it’s inviting, calm, or energizing. Whatever it is, you know that it makes you feel good and it’s a place you want to spend your time.


That’s the experience of good design.


A recent article in House & Garden outlines how a well-designed home can actually improve your mental health and well being. The article explains that your home should feel like a refuge AND it should also help you feel connected to your family and friends as well as the world outside. I love that the focus is on feeling, not thinking.


I also love that it is not necessarily the largest, most extravagant houses that make the happiest homes. In fact, research suggests that “the happiest homes [are] those that facilitate the greatest social interaction”, according to psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn. Smaller spaces are not only energy efficient and easier to maintain, but they are more satisfying because they bring families together. Good news for those of us with 15ft wide living rooms in DC ;)


With that in mind, it is more about the design of the space than its size. From the flow of the layout to the colors and textures we decorate it with, there is a clear correlation between well-designed homes and happiness. Many of us (myself included) want to create a home that makes us happy and proud; one that is easy to maintain yet always ready for company. But it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the options, all of our stuff, and our never ending to-do lists. Keeping a well organized home, while juggling an ever-changing family schedule and demanding career is daunting.


Below we share a few ways to make simple changes that can have a big impact on your space and, ultimately, your well being.


1. Declutter

Clutter can actually increase stress levels, whereas, organized spaces that reflect our personal style have the power to bring joy and calm.


While it is unrealistic to expect Pinterest-worthy, pristine order at all times, getting rid of unnecessary items is an important step in the right direction. Clutter can greatly distract from our daily routines and has even been linked to the stress hormone, cortisol, and a whole host of other health issues.


I like to approach decluttering in chunks so that it’s not overwhelming and you can see progress quickly in the corners of your house. It’s okay to chip away at it. For example, start with something manageable and easy like your kid’s books or baby items that you no longer need. Bea and I recently went through her baby books and she was happy to pick out the books she wanted to donate and ones that she still wants to read.


Now for the tricky part, how do you decide what stays and what goes? Items that do not serve an everyday purpose may still hold sentimental value or bring joy, so we understand it’s tough to say goodbye; for example, your child’s beloved art projects that have piled up on the fridge. It is about deciding which things carry positive meaning, and which things have become a burden in your home. As famous organizing consultant Marie Kondo says, if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it.


2. Get Organized

This is the fun, but also time consuming, part. Once you’ve decluttered, you can get started organizing. A clean, organized space can lead to improved focus, more restful sleep, and even better relationships, so it is definitely worth the effort. Remember that starting the process is the hardest part! Thinking about organizing the whole house at once can be incredibly overwhelming, so take it one room at a time. While sorting through items and giving them a home, you are likely to come across things you no longer need and missed during the decluttering phase. It is not too late to get rid of these items; decluttering and organizing go hand in hand. I love using a label maker, like this one, to help stay organized.


3. Add Some Greenery

Ryan Moody of trusted DC based landscape architecture firm, Moody Graham, explains that, "being connected to living things makes you happier and healthier", and we couldn't agree more. Adding even the smallest of plants can liven up a room significantly. Not only are they pretty to look at, but research from NASA has shown that houseplants can reduce 87% of air toxins, and improve focus and productivity by up to 15%.


Different plants are suited for different environments, so make sure you know how much light and care you are able to give before starting your collection. Hilton Carter is a Baltimore based designer and author who is an expert at cultivating healthy house plants. He even wrote a book in which he shares his wealth of knowledge on the topic. He advises us “to be self-aware and honest about what kind of plant parent you're likely to be and how much time you have or are willing to spend weekly caring for your plants”. I have had great luck with snake plants for clients with limited natural light and little time for maintenance.


Reminders of the natural environment, like houseplants and sunlight, have an evident power to improve our health and wellbeing, but it can go even further than that. Biologist E.O. Wilson coined the term biophilia in the 1980s to describe the human need to connect with nature. Incorporating organic materials into the design of a space can help satisfy this need. For example, opting for wooden finishes rather than laminate can give a grounded feeling to a space. Intentional design of lighting to mimic the natural patterns of sunlight can also make us feel more in tune with the natural world and greatly impact the way we feel throughout the day.


4. Switch Up Your Color Palette

We know that color has a big impact on our mood, so how do we go about choosing the right ones? Color affects different people in different ways, so it is important to involve your loved ones in the process. Talk about what colors you are attracted to and how you hope to feel in each space - calm, relaxed, energized, inspired? While a deep red can increase the energy in a room, an airy gray can tone things down and leave you feeling calm. It can be tempting to stick with an all neutral color palette, but bold choices really pay off when done right.


And you don’t have to paint the whole house or even the whole room to benefit from the impact of color. You can swap out your pillow covers or art work or simply add a new throw or a new rug. For new pillows and accessories we love, try One Affirmation, The Vintage Rug Shop, and Greige.


We love how Seattle based interior designer, Heidi Caillier, uses rich color palettes to bring spaces to life. She seamlessly blends muted, moody shades to create beautifully unique spaces filled with charm and character.


San Francisco interior design firm, Banner Day, operates with the belief that your space should bring you immense joy. Their fresh, energizing color palettes certainly help accomplish that goal. We can’t get enough!


Portland based designer, Jessica Helgerson, adds pops of bright color into neutral backgrounds, showing how you can take advantage of color without painting an entire wall. It can be something as simple as dining stools, or even smaller styling accessories.


We hope these examples give you some ideas about how to add color in your own homes. Which palette is your favorite? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.


Wishing you a great weekend!

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