Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

The past year has given us all plenty of time to reflect and recalibrate, and now more than ever, we are placing a greater emphasis on our own well-being.  Wellness may start from within, yet the spaces around us play a vital supporting role.  Being forced to stay indoors for much of the past year, when our interior spaces are all we’ve had to keep us safe, has shown us that our homes have a profound influence on our daily joy and wellness.  When our homes feel calm, uplifting, and stimulating, it makes it easier to feel this way as we move through the routines of everyday life.  The subtleties of interior design can have huge impacts on our mental health, often in ways we don’t fully understand.  Having a space that supports us emotionally enables us to continue to lead a successful life in challenging times.

So what is it about a space that makes us feel comfortable?  According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of our most fundamental needs is for shelter.  However, beyond that we also seek solace, beauty, and a sense of belonging.  And many of our responses to the design of spaces are unconscious – hard-wired into us as human beings.  For example, when children are asked to draw a home, they commonly draw houses with steeply pitched roofs, symbolising shelter and security, even when they themselves live in flats.  We all need our homes to feel like a place of refuge from the rest of the world, as though we are, at some level, still warding off ancestral fears of attacks by a predator.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Within our homes, we also intuitively respond to different types of interior space.  Here we need a combination of small, intimate rooms and as well as more open-plan areas.  In biophilic design these concepts are known as prospect and refuge.  Small rooms provide us with refuge, giving us a sense of safety, retreat and withdrawal.  We all need zones where we can do the things that are important to us.  On the other hand, open-plan spaces give us a sense of freedom and connection.  And having a view to a garden space, however small, helps us to feel connected with the outside world, and to create a sense of possibility beyond the space we’re actually in.

Biophilic design brings our innate biological connection with nature into our spaces.  I’m sure that most people are well aware of the benefits of houseplants and plenty of daylight, but there are less obvious aspects of biophilia that can help us to feel more connected to nature. Using organic materials, colours, shapes and patterns helps us to feel more grounded in our environment.  After all, memories of home are often associated with the things in it, which you can touch and smell, rather than the building itself. 

Which brings me onto another important consideration to ensure our homes bring us happiness, and that is to make them personal to us.  We need to stir our senses and bring more awareness to what feels good and brings us joy.  Collections are a way to reflect your own taste and personality more intimately than anything else, whether it be art, shells found on far-flung beaches, or antique crockery.  These items add sensorial richness to a space and help to elicit the deep, emotional responses that give rise to the feeling of joy.  If our surroundings lack energy, abundance and harmony, then no matter how beautiful our homes might be, they will not make us feel truly alive. 

Colour is another important factor in how our interior spaces make us feel.  There is nowhere that colour doesn’t exist.  We are constantly influenced by it, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we go to bed at night.  Although we see colour with our eyes, each different wavelength of coloured light stimulates a distinct part of our physical being, evoking a specific physiological response, which in turn produces a psychological reaction.

But there is more to colour than merely hue (the attribute of colour which enables us to classify it as red, blue, etc).  Our colour personalities echo the patterns and natural order of the seasons, and so it is important to choose colours that match your own tonal family – spring, summer, autumn or winter.  Surrounding yourself with colours at odds with your own natural pattern is, in the long run, stressful.

And finally, there is lighting, which not only interacts with the colours we choose, but also influences our circadian rhythms and the way we feel.  As well as bright light for carrying out tasks, we need darkness and cosiness to help us relax at the end of the day.  Clever combinations of lighting which include ceiling lights, table and task lamps, as well as flickering candles, allow us to mimic the changes in natural light as the sun moves through the sky over the course of the day.  This enables our bodies to harmonise with our environment.

While the impact of our interiors on our wellbeing may ultimately be a deeply personal thing, it is worth considering how these fundamental principles of interior design have the capacity to affect how you feel, rather than paying too much attention to what you think you like.  How we design our homes is as fundamental to our happiness and well-being as nutrition, sleep and exercise.

Contact us to book your free 30-minute consultation call with Nicola Holden Designs.



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Paint is one of the most transformative changes you can make to your home.  However, choosing paint for your home that is safe for your family and indoor air quality can seem like a mystifying quest.  And, if you choose the safest kind of paint, will it stand the test of time?

Like all products that are marketed as “environmentally friendly”, it’s important to understand exactly what it is you’re getting and whether or not the product is as “green” as it claims to be.  Choosing which paint to decorate your home with is no exception!

Although lead was phased out as an additive in ordinary paint meant for the general public in the 1960s, lead is not the only paint additive that is bad for your health.  Most paints today contain chemicals — known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — that can negatively affect your health.  When you enjoy that “new paint” smell, ironically you are inhaling dangerous VOCs. 

VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate into the air at room temperature.  They can include fungicides, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, and benzene.  Although the majority of VOCs leave the paint as the wall dries, not all of them do. In fact, paint can release VOCs into the air for years following the initial painting, a process known as off-gassing, putting your family at risk.

The end result is that the average indoor air quality of our homes becomes more contaminated than outdoor air, leading to a general decline in health and well-being.  Indoor air pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental threats to public health. 

Harmful VOCs are not always acutely toxic, but they have compounding long-term health effects. 

They have been proven to contribute to conditions including cancer, breathing difficulties, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and blurred vision. In addition, the VOC-rich air in your home over subsequent years can put you or a family member at a higher risk of developing asthma, sinusitis or allergies.  Pretty nasty stuff! 

Thankfully, due to stricter government regulation and more awareness on the part of the consumer, nearly all household paints are water-based meaning that they have lower VOCs.  This means that they off-gas much less than traditional paints.  The EU limit on VOCs in emulsion paint is 30g/L.  However, there are many paints available on the market today that contain lower, or no VOCs.  And from a health perspective, the fewer chemicals, the less off-gassing, the better!

Like many healthier alternatives, no- and low-VOC paint usually costs more than regular paint, but is definitely worth the added expense.  This additional cost is due to the increased content of natural pigments in the paint, which are more expensive to extract from the earth than petrochemicals.  But it is this increased pigment content that gives walls a real depth of colour, absorbing light so that the colour appears to glow from behind.  In addition, higher-quality paint will go on smoother, take longer to dry (meaning brush strokes are less visible), and last longer, demanding fewer retouches down the line. 

An inexpensive brand of paint might make sense in the short term, but we have to ask what is being sacrificed to produce this cheaper paint, and is it worth the so-called saving when our health and our planet is at stake?

Here are some of the paint companies whose products I specify for my client projects, based on their eco-friendly credentials.

(VOC figures extracted from the companies paint charts / websites)

One more tip – don’t overbuy! Paint can be difficult to dispose of properly and this ensures that you won’t end up with too much extra paint to get rid of.

I hope I have helped to clear up any confusion?  Happy painting!

“Colour is what gives jewels their worth”
Christian Dior

It is difficult to escape the current calls to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.  David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg have seen to that!  And this topic has been amplified through the Covid pandemic.  As the world shut down, so nature came back to life.  Birdsong became sweeter and softer as the birds no longer had to sing above the city’s background noise. And satellite images showed a dramatic decrease in air pollution around the world.

But how can we become more sustainable in our interiors choices?  This is a huge topic to delve into, and I can only scratch the surface in this blog post, because becoming truly sustainable involves looking into a materials’ intended application, aesthetic qualities, environmental and health impacts, availability, ease of instalment and maintenance and initial and life cycle costs.  And more often than not, this information is not readily available. 

Early industries relied on a seemingly endless supply of natural resources.  For all its good, the industrial revolution has also resulted in billions of tonnes of toxic material being expelled into the air, water, and soil, requiring thousands of complex regulations to keep people from being poisoned too quickly, as well as eroding the diversity of species and cultural practices. 

Many of the raw materials used in modern manufactured products are actually harmful to humans, and the off-gassing from these products (appliances, carpets, wallpaper adhesives, paints, building materials, etc) results in the average indoor air quality being more contaminated than outdoor air, leading to a general decline in health.  Indoor air pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental threats to public health!

Today our understanding of the natural environment has changed dramatically, but modern industries still operate according to early models, with a cradle-to-grave mind-set.  Resources are extracted, shaped into products, sold, and eventually disposed of in a ‘grave’ of some kind, usually landfill or incinerator.

Now more than ever I am finding that my clients want to be part of the design journey.  They want the pieces within their homes to reflect their own belief system, to have integrity and narrative and, most importantly, to be sustainable.  And as a result, our homes are becoming safer places for us to live in too!

The mentality of discarding products as soon as they go out of style and replacing them with those that are currently trendy is no longer justifiable.  Instead of discarding ‘’old-fashioned’’ objects while they are still functional, we can (and should) come up with creative ways to give them a new life.

Here are a few suggestions about how you can sustainably give your home a fresh look:

REUSE AND RECYCLE

Go through what you already have in your home and ask yourself if it can be repaired or renewed before you specify something new.  Can a sofa be reupholstered rather than buying a brand new one?  Can furniture be painted, or sanded and refinished?  Shop your house, moving things between rooms.  And if there is furniture that is still useful but that is no longer needed, donate it to a second-hand store.

This sofa was recovered for my client

BUY SECOND-HAND

If you need to source additional items, start by looking at second-hand stores or flea markets. Visit your local auction houses and seek out hidden treasures.  Vintage pieces add a historic presence to a space that new objects cannot, giving a home warmth and complexity.  They are imbued with nostalgia and memory.  Look at websites that sell used items, where you can easily search for exactly what you are looking for without having to go to many stores.

Vintage chairs from second-hand site Vinterior

BUY CONSCIOUSLY

If you need to buy new items, make it conscious.  Ask the supplier what materials have been used?  Have they been extracted in an environmentally responsible way?  Where is the item produced and how?  What manufacturing methods are used?  How long will the item last, and is the item repairable?

Choose materials and products with the lowest environmental impact.  Products made using renewable resources are those that belong to the natural environment and are replaced by the natural processes that occur in that environment as part of an ecosystem.  Biodegradable products can be decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, thereby avoiding pollution.  Try to avoid using materials that come from non-renewable resources, where there is a risk of depleting these natural resources.  And be sure to check the certifications!

Sustainable lighting by Tom Raffield

BUY RECYCLED

There has been a recent surge in the availability of products that are made from recycled waste or that can be renewed/recycled at the end of their life cycle.  When waste becomes the raw material for new products, a circular loop of manufacturing is formed, effectively minimising or even eliminating waste all together.

Claire Gaudion creates rugs made from 100% Recycled (PET) plastic

Let’s hope that 2021 will mark a more permanent move away from the quick fix of instant interiors fashion to a sense of longevity and considered consumerism.  A move towards the handcrafted and personal; of investing in pieces that will grow with you and become a part of our home’s life story over time.

I am constantly updating my library of sustainable products. Contact me if you’d like to discuss creating a more sustainable home for your family.

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.”
Albert Einstein

So, 2021 is here!  After a lovely Christmas with my family in Ireland (following a period in quarantine in a portacabin on my sister’s farm, and a negative Covid test), it was back to London and the New Year with a bump. 

So here we are, in yet another lockdown.  How are you all doing?  I definitely have my moments!  Towards the end of last year  The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen published a report on Wellbeing in the age of COVID-19.   In producing this report, The Happiness Research Institute concluded that “It does not take big data and a team of happiness researchers to understand that the pandemic has undermined our wellbeing.”

Their report ended with a list of key activities to focus on to increase your wellbeing throughout the remainder of this pandemic.  I thought I’d share these with you, as well as ways to create a home environment that supports these activities.

SPEND MORE TIME OUTSIDE

Spending even just 15 minutes per day outside was associated with the largest positive impact on life satisfaction.  And for regular readers of my blog, this should be no surprise given how often I stress the importance of having a connection to nature on our mental and emotional health.  A previous blog post that I wrote outlined how to introduce this connection to nature, otherwise known as biophilic design, into your home.  You can read that post here.

ENGAGE IN ARTS AND CRAFTS OR DIY PROJECTS

The happiness report suggests that “Knitting, painting, baking, gardening, and renovating are all useful activities to try out during lockdown”.  I have certainly engaged in a lot of different DIY projects in my own home throughout lockdown, and it is very satisfying to look back and see what I have accomplished.  But not all of us are designed to do DIY (which I’m very grateful for, otherwise I might be out of a job!). 

I inlaid these Turkish tiles I bought 8 years ago into the top of a chest of drawers.

I’ve been thinking about this though, and remembered a quote by David Hume, who said that “Anticipation of pleasure is, in itself, a very considerable pleasure”.  Research has found that we enjoy an experience more when we wait for it, probably because we create detailed mental simulations filled with rich sensations and exciting possibilities.  Ingrid Fetell Lee says that “Anticipation lets us bring our future joy into the present, and the longer we plan ahead, the more time we have to enjoy it.”  So why not use this time during lockdown to start planning a future renovation of your home.  Renovations are always much less stressful if everything is decided up front, and I’m here to help you every step of the way!

MEDITATE

Meditation practices, such as mindfulness, teach us to be present in the moment and meet challenges with openness, acceptance, and curiosity.  I have to admit that this is one thing I am not very good at!  Possibly because I don’t have anything purple in my house – the colour which is psychologically associated with contemplation and the search for higher truth.  But if meditation is your thing, then carving out a quiet space where you can practice this, and incorporating some purple, be it lilac, violet, aubergine lavender, mauve, or whatever shade takes your fancy, will help you to get in the zone.

STAY FIT

This recommendation definitely goes without saying.  We all know that keeping fit is good for our health and wellbeing!  So, if you’re trying to carve out a space in your home for exercise, then red is a good colour to use in this space.  Red lies at the opposite end of the visible colour spectrum to purple, and having the longest wavelength, it is the colour that makes us pay attention.  Red affects us physically, raising our heart rate.  It is the colour associated with energy, excitement, physical strength and stamina, so is the perfect colour to get your fitness training off on the right foot!

Image: bestgymequipment.co.uk

The other recommendations from the Happiness Research Institute are to lend a helping hand to friends and family, and to keep in touch with those close to you.  If you would like to read the full report you can access it here.

Creating a home that makes these positive choices easy, natural and enjoyable is not frivolous.  It is fundamental to our health and happiness, and therefore to our wellbeing!  Get in touch if you need help creating your own personal sanctuary.

What a year 2020 has been, and it certainly doesn’t seem as if it’s ending quietly – in the UK at least.  For now I have spent the last week in quarantine in a portacabin in a muddy field on my sister’s farm in Ireland.  I am doing this so that I can spend Christmas with my family here, who I haven’t seen in more than a year.  And I have to say that having views over green fields and grazing sheep has been such a wonderful breath of fresh air after London.

One of the things I have really missed this year are the art and craft shows.  These shows are my happy place – giving me inspiration as I marvel at the creativity on display.  I have found myself seeking out artists on Instagram, many of whom post videos of them creating their work, which I find totally mesmerising!  So I thought I’d share with you my ‘advent calendar of artists’ (click on the images to go to their Instagram feeds)…

1 – Natasha Kumar – a UK based British-Indian artist who explores her heritage in her work.  I adore India, and I love the way that Natasha captures its vibrancy and spirituality through her art. I have one of Natasha’s pieces in my bedroom and it has such a calm vibe to it.

2 – Johnson Mugabe – I came across Johnson’s work on a visit to Zimbabwe a couple of years ago, and I was instantly captivated.  His work is mostly paper and fabric collage. His work is available through Nhaka Designs in the UK, and I have a couple of his pieces in my collection.

3 – Jazzy Westinghouse – it was Jazzy’s colourful horses that first captured my attention, but it’s by no means all she does.  She has a way with birds and ceramic pots too!

4 – Jack Penny – there is something about Jack’s quirky paintings, mostly of waiters or swimmers, that I look forward to seeing on my feed.

5 – Carla Kranendonk – Dutch-born Carla’s works are informed by her travels to West Africa and combine vivid brushwork with hand-embroidered paper collage, as well as photographic elements. I love the way she layering her patterns. She is represented by Rebecca Hossack Gallery in the UK.

6 – Holly Frean – if you’re a dog-lover then Holly is the artist for you.  I love the humour in her paintings. 

7 – Molly Lemon – a UK-based printmaker specialising in wood engraving.  Molly’s videos on her feed make it all look so easy! One of Molly’s pieces ended up in my collection this year.

8 – Diane Hill – Diane’s feed is filled with her creating her Chinoiserie watercolour and silk pieces.

9 – Natascha Maksimovic – she creates beautiful marble prints using the Japanese Art of Suminagashi ‘floating ink’ – celebrating and keeping an ancient craft alive.

10 – Ange Mullen-Bryan – Ange paints beautiful acrylic on aluminium landscapes.

11 – James Lai – this Sydney-based artist definitely has a unique perspective on his landscapes.

12 – Nadia Attura – Nadia’s work is a mix of photography and paint.  Most of her work is gently coloured, but this cactus print just hits you between the eyes with its vivacity! This piece has found its way into my Christmas stocking!

13 – Eileen van der Merwe – this South African artist has a way with a palette knife, creating works full of texture.

14 – Kate Mayes – Australian-based Kate is not shy when it comes to colour, and her pieces are definitely eye-catching in interior spaces.

15 – Claire Brewster – Claire’s work is a mix between intricate hand-cut pieces of flowers or birds, to ethereal paintings of women. One of her roses ended up in my collection this year.

16 – Sonal Nathwani – this image is of Sonal’s sketchbook. Oh, if only I could paint like that!!

17 – Jenny K of Living Pattern – this USA-based artist produces beautiful black-and-white and colour images of leaves mostly. I bought a couple of her small prints earlier this year, and she wasn’t shipping to the UK then, but she does appear to be now.

18 – Samantha Dennison – there is just something about this Australian still life painter that I find mesmerising. I love the simplicity, yet her attention to detail is amazing.

19 – Elizabeth Barnett – another Australian-based still life painter, but her work couldn’t be more different – full of bright colour and humour.

20 – Emma Studd – Emma creates original one-off screen prints of art. Using the screen as a drawing tool she explores the relationship between colour, shape and pattern. Another recent addition to my collection.

21 – Adam Robinson – my engineering background has instilled in me a fascination in the way items are laid out, which is what I love about Adam’s work – with stamps but more especially with vintage French seed packets.

22 – Natasha Mann – I was completely bowled over by Natasha’s work which is inspired by Moroccan patterns. She paints on wood using natural pigments and egg tempera.

23 – Isabel of Copperlight Studio – London-based Isabel uses a combination of embroidery and beadwork in her pieces, and I love art that is different, and uses different techniques.

24 – Roanna Wells – I love Roanna’s use of colour in her watercolour brushmark patterns.

And because I really struggled to whittle the list of artists down to just 24, there is one extra!

25 – Karina Petersen – Danish artist Karina uses ink and water to create her unique pieces. I love watching how the inks run into each other in her videos on Instagram.

Hmmm, it seems that quite a few pieces have slipped into my collection this year – I blame it on the Artists Support Pledge, set up in March to help out artists who were no longer able to sell their work at art exhibitions.

My husband, glancing through these images, said that there’s a clear theme of colour here.  Art is always such an easy way of introducing colour into your spaces.  And once you have that shot of colour, you can then pick out the colours to use elsewhere in your space to pull it all together into a cohesive whole. 

So there is my advent calendar of art for you to enjoy over Christmas.  May I wish you all a safe Christmas above everything else.  And I’ll be back next year with more interiors advice.

In the northern hemisphere, Christmas should be the time for twinkling lights and tinsel, the smell of mulled wine and mince pies, and social gatherings with friends and family. For some, the idea of Christmas can be overwhelming, particularly in these uncertain Covid times, but there are things that we can do to boost our well-being through this period, and into the New Year.  Here are my top tips:

Concentrate on the main rooms

Concentrate on decorating the main rooms of the house, leaving some respite in the bedrooms where the Christmas madness can be escaped! Focus on the entrance hall, living room and dining room. And don’t forget a natural wreath on your front door to welcome any guests and awaken the Christmas spirit in your neighbours.

Go green

Using greenery is a wonderful way to add to the festive feeling in a sustainable way.  Deck your halls, mantelpieces and sideboards / consoles with branches of conifers, holly, ferns and ivy to create a wonderfully festive environment. This will ensure a connection with nature during these short days.  The greenery can then either be composted at the end of the festive season, or put on the fire to release a beautiful scent.

Add candles

Candles fill the house with a soft flickering glow, and help to chase out the darkness.  The dynamic light that candles produce has been proven to boost our well-being.  Place candles amongst the mantelpiece foliage; and on the Christmas table; and in any dark corners.

Fragrance Matters

Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses and is able to influence brain activity, so use reed diffusers, incense burners or essential oils to create delicious smells wafting through the house.  Try these fragrances for different benefits:

  • Lemon promotes concentration and has calming and clarifying properties that are helpful when you’re feeling angry, anxious or run down. 
  • Rosemary is the perfect pick-me-up. In addition to improving memory retention, rosemary has stimulating properties that fight physical exhaustion, headaches and mental fatigue.
  • The stimulating properties in cinnamon can help fight mental fatigue and improve concentration and focus.

Decorating a Christmas tree

There is nothing that says Christmas more than a decorated tree.  A real fir tree has that added Christmas smell, but even an arrangement of decorated sticks will create that Christmas feeling.  Whatever your tree, ensure you choose one that is in proportion to the size of the space and that it feels a part of it and not an incongruous add-on that is difficult to navigate around.

When decorating a tree, always start with the lights, and remember that you always need more lights than you think.  String the lights from the top down, alternating between pushing them in to the interior of the tree and back out to the branches.  Next, I like to add in tinsel as this fills in the tree, and catches the lights, giving added sparkle.

Then come the decorations.  This is my favourite part of Christmas as all of my decorations have been collected during my travels, and so are imbued with nostalgia and memories.  Having a collection of good quality decorations has the added benefit of being sustainable as these can be used time and again, and ensures that your tree tells a story.  Start with your largest decorations, and then fill in any gaps with the smallest, keeping the clear and frosted ornaments close to the lights to maximize your tree’s glow and glimmer.

Finally, cover the base of the tree and the stand in fur or a throw in colours to match your Christmas theme.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Christmas!

One of my most regular requests for help from clients is to design their bathrooms.  Refurbishing your bathroom is one of the biggest home investments you are likely to make, as well as one of the most disruptive.  And, once it’s in, that’s it.  The space can’t just be swapped around, and so it’s important to get it right first time to avoid making expensive mistakes!

The bathroom is where we start and end every day.  From getting us going on a workday morning to being a place of calm, to relax and unwind each evening, bathrooms need to serve two very different purposes, so it’s worth ensuring that this room influences our behaviour in the right way.

It tends to be one of the smallest rooms in the house as well, so you need to cram a lot of functions into a tiny space. However, it is still a room in your house and so needs to look like it belongs to the rest of it.  It is just as important to ensure you incorporate your personality in this space!

  1. Introduce colour and pattern

Just because a bathroom needs certain areas to be waterproof doesn’t mean it has to be bland.  Adding colour and pattern is one of the easiest ways to add personality to this space, and there are thousands of tile options to choose from!  Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you need to restrict your choice of tiles to a maximum of three.  Be creative with your tiling, layering in colour and pattern.  Listen to your heart as well as your head when it comes to choosing your tiles, and have fun!

Other ways to introduce colour and pattern is with a statement basin.  The London Basin Company have some fantastic options!  And West One Bathrooms sell a waterproof wallpaper which is suitable for use inside your shower cubicle. 

Brightly patterned basin
Image: London Basin Company
  1. Incorporate wooden elements

Being a natural material, wooden furniture is a great way to introduce biophilia to your bathroom.  The most obvious place to do this is with a basin vanity unit.  Wall hung vanity units do help to create the illusion of space if your bathroom is particularly small.  However, if your space is large enough, then you don’t need to restrict yourself to bathroom-specific furniture.  In my bathroom, I have installed a Chinese-style cabinet, but vintage pieces also work brilliantly, as they are imbued with nostalgia and memory, and add narrative.  Just ask your bathroom fitter to cut out a hole in the top for the plumbing.

Bathroom showing wooden Chinese-style cabinet
  1. Use curved shapes and soft materials to soften hard edges

Bathrooms have a tendency to be hard spaces, so choose shapes that are as round and soft as you can, and add in further softness through window dressings, fabric covered lampshades, rugs and lots of towels.

Curved bath and basin add softness
  1. Add art, accessories and plants

Not all your bathroom walls need to be tiled, so where possible leave some of them untiled to allow you to hang art.  Get your picture framer to foil back your art to protect it from steam.  To help your bathroom feel like just another room in your home, incorporate plants and accessories too. 

Art and plants help to create a homely atmosphere
  1. Layer in lighting

Fitting your lighting at different levels adds intrigue and ambience to any space, and the bathroom is no exception.  At the very least try you should have ceiling lights and wall lights either side of a mirror.  These lights should be on different circuits, and on a dimmer switch, so you can create a more relaxed atmosphere when you choose.  You can also incorporate lighting in niches, on shelves, under cabinets.  And, if the layout of your space allows, it can also be possible to incorporate a statement chandelier.  Just do be sure to check that your lighting plans comply with buildings regulations.

Bathroom mirror lights
Niche lighting
  1. Plan in plenty of storage

Try to think outside the box when planning in bathroom storage.  Can you incorporate a small cabinet within the wall cavity behind the mirror?  And think vertically too.  In the tiny bathroom below I had a bespoke wall-to-wall cabinet made to sit on the wall above the towel heater, which meant the client had more than enough storage space without taking up any floor space.

A bespoke cupboard above the radiator
  1. Don’t forget the practicalities

It’s easy to overlook the practicalities in your bathroom – after all there are so many other decisions to be made.  But you will always need somewhere to hang the loo roll, so think about this when you plan the position of your toilet.  You’ll want your towel to be close to hand when you’re stepping out of the shower or bath, and you’ll need a towel near the basin for hand washing. 

By following these tips, you should be able to create a bathroom that feels like a comfortable extension of your home.  A space in which you’ll want to start and end each day!

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The latest report from the Happiness Research Institute was released earlier this year.  Titled “Wellbeing Adjusted Life Years”, this report investigates how can we produce the greatest happiness return for humankind?  Interesting reading, especially in light of COVID-19.

In many countries around the world, including developed countries, average wellbeing levels have stagnated or even declined despite continued economic growth.  No matter where in the world we look, health is one of the most important determinants of wellbeing.  In both high and low income countries, physical and especially mental illness often pose a greater threat to quality of life than unemployment or poverty.  Depression is shown to be the most burdensome disease in Europe!

Couple this with the fact that humans today, and especially with the ongoing effects of COVID-19, are spending up to 90% of our lives indoors. 

So, how can we design our homes to ensure that they nurture our mental health, and not exacerbate mental health problems?  There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that how we design our spaces has a direct impact on us psychologically and physically, and therefore on our overall health, happiness and well-being.

Here are four main things that you can change in your home to improve your state of wellbeing, and live your best life possible.

  1. Eliminate Clutter

Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has climbed bestseller lists all over the world as people have embraced the awareness that clutter has a negative effect on our state of mind.  In fact, I have heard it said that being surrounded by clutter is as stressful to us as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!  So, it goes without saying that the first thing we should do, when it comes to making improvements to our homes, is to de-clutter. 

One way to help achieve this is to have adequate storage for the possessions that we chose to hold on to.  Storage is the one thing that my clients consistently ask for as it is often distinctly lacking in homes, both new and old.  Storage ranges from having a stylish box on your coffee table to hide those ugly TV remotes, to a large bank of built-in cupboards, and everything in between!

A place for everything and everything in its place
  1. Introduce Elements of Nature

Since the beginning of human evolution, we have been connected to the natural world, observing the changing seasons, learning what foods grow when, and when we can celebrate earth’s bounty, or when we need to build up reserves for the leaner seasons.

The term Biophilia refers to our innate biological connection with nature.  It helps explain why flickering flames and cascading waterfalls captivate us; why forest bathing is such a powerful antidote to the pressures of the modern world; and why having a pet has restorative, healing effects.

The use of biophilic design in our spaces has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and speed up healing.

Even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.

Floral prints, textured surfaces, and fresh flowers bring nature into this bedroom
  1. Use Colour

Colour is an incredibly powerful tool to use in our homes.  As Karen Haller, author of The Little Book of Colour says, colour “… communicates feeling, creates a mood, affects our energy, our appetites, our sleep, and has a profound effect on our emotional wellbeing and on the behaviours of everyone we live with.” 

Colour has the power to positively support us emotionally, yet so often we chose to decorate with so called ‘neutral’ colours on behalf of the future buyer of our home, or because of what our friends and family will think if we don’t.  This results in us living in places we don’t really like, in the hope that others will.

However, it’s important to note that when choosing our colours, we need to be mindful to choose the right colour for how we want the space to feel, as well as picking the right shade for our own personalities. 

Pops of colour are incorporated in the art and the rug
  1. Add Personality

This is the final item that really turns a house into a home.  Stamping our own mark on our space restores our equilibrium in this world, reminds us of our journey through life, and inspires us.

Bringing personality into our homes involves layering in pattern and texture, and displaying art, decorative items and collections.  It is about choosing furnishings that play with scale or proportion, and adding in items with quirky, offbeat designs.  It’s the little things that make you smile.

Your home should always tell your unique story.

Layers of texture, books and a cherished childhood toy add personality

With these four tips, you can transform your space into one that nurtures you psychologically and physically, contributing to your overall health, happiness and well-being.

”Life deprived of beauty is not worthy of being called human.”
Louis Barragánhe

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In my last blog post I talked about the importance of Biophilic Design – adding that connection to nature to our interior spaces.  But so often, when I see examples of biophilic spaces, it is a sea of natural wood and indoor plants.  What is missing for me is those elements of joy.

Biophilic design with natural wood and indoor plants
Image: Hirouyki Oki

When I think of the photographs of nature that I have taken, they are more likely to be photographs of spectacular sunsets, bright splashes of colourful flowers, or eye-catching creatures.  It is the COLOURS of nature that make my heart sing! 

Bright oranges scenes from nature - hornbill bird, berries, sunset, mushrooms and a butterfly.

And so it should be with our homes too.  Incorporating certain tangible things into our homes can create that intangible feeling of joy.  Here are some of the ways that you can start crafting more joy in your home:

INTRODUCE COLOUR

All over the world, bright vivid colours are associated with joyful occasions – from the Carnival in Brazil, to India’s Holi festival.  In Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful, she says “Bright colour operates like a stimulant, a shot of caffeine for the eyes.  It stirs us out of complacency.”  Lively colours radiate optimism and sunshine and help us to marshal the energy we need.

I’m not suggesting that we all need to paint every wall of our homes in a bright colour, but we do need those bursts of colour in our indoor spaces, like flowers in a garden.

A pink chair

LAYER TEXTURE AND PATTERN

Along with colour, the layering of texture and pattern provides a sensorial richness, and a sense of abundance that is not only pleasurable, but vital to healthy neural development.  An environment that is too minimalistic acts as an anaesthetic, numbing our senses and emotions. 

I don’t know about you, but when I visit places such as Morocco, India, Barcelona, Turkey and Thailand, as a tourist taking in the architecture around me, it is the buildings that are the most gaudily decorated that grab my attention and make me want to pick up my camera and capture that feeling to bring home with me.

Layers of pattern and texture in a bedroom

ARRANGE ITEMS SYMMETRICALLY

Symmetry brings a sense of order and feeling of ease to a space.  It is the tangible manifestation of harmony through balance, rhythm and repetition.  Repeating colours, shapes or textures in different parts of a room helps us to view the room as a whole and brings structure to the complexity.  If your environment makes you feel stable, balanced and grounded you’re more likely to reflect these behaviours too.

Bedside tables arranged symmetrically either side of the bed

INCORPORATE CURVED FORMS

Circles and spheres are subconsciously associated with safety and positivity as there are no sharp angles to risk injury.  Round shapes are found everywhere in nature too – think bubbles and berries, and instinctively open us up to our playful impulses.  Think pom-poms sewn along the edge of a cushion, round side tables, or the Ball chair.

A round dining table creates a much more social dining experience, allowing guests to come together in a single conversation, and interact in a much more personal way.  And a spiral staircase brings a powerful kind of dynamism into a space.

A circular dining table creates a more intimate dining experience.

CREATE NEGATIVE SPACE

Negative space is the space around and between objects.  Having more space allows for a greater freedom of movement.  It also reduces the visual weight of a space, so objects with perforations will appear lighter than solid ones.  Think slender legs on furniture and translucent materials.

DRAW THE EYE UP

Drawing the eye up by highlighting the vertical dimensions of a room will create a space that feels uplifting, like painted ceilings in churches and mosques.  Think of your ceiling as the fifth wall and pay as much attention to its decoration as you would your walls.  If you have the ceiling height, incorporate decorative light fittings.

The height of a room can also be accentuated by using tall plants / sculptures, built-in bookshelves, full-length curtains, and wallpaper with a vertical pattern.

Full length curtains make a room appear taller

ADD SOME MAGIC AND SENSE OF CELEBRATION

A mobile that sways gently on a breeze, prismatic glass that creates rainbow reflections, mirrors that create the illusion of a larger space, and mirror balls and surfaces that shimmer and sparkle all add a sense of magic to a space.

Shapes that burst out from the centre, like fireworks, have long been a part of celebrations around the world.  Think tassels and juju hats, a starburst mirror, or a chandelier that captures the bursting quality of light in static form.

Flowers are also a great of capturing so many of the elements listed above.  Flowers come in different colours, and their shapes vary too – from cups to cones, stars to clusters.  Floral forms are found on fabrics and wallpapers, and are also an important element of biophilic design, so tick both of these boxes!

A bright floral arrangement adds a sense of celebration to a space

Ingrid Fetell Lee sums it up so beautifully – “The problem is that without joy, we may be surviving, but we are not thriving.  If we rarely laugh or play, if we never have glimpses of magic … or bursts of celebration, then no matter how well fed and comfortable we are, we are not truly alive.”

And there has never been a more important time than now, with the uncertainty that lockdown and COVID-19 have brought, to ensure that our homes can inject joy into our lives!

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Since the beginning of human evolution, we have been connected to the natural world, observing the changing seasons, learning what foods grow when, and when we can celebrate earth’s bounty, or when we need to build up reserves for the leaner seasons.

The term Biophilia refers to our innate biological connection with nature.  It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why forest bathing is such a powerful antidote to the pressures of the modern world; and why animal companionship has restorative, healing effects.

The start of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s and into the early 1800s saw people moving to working in factories rather than outside, in the fields.  Industrialists, engineers and designers worked to make products as efficiently as possible and to get the greatest volume of goods to the largest number of people.  The result was huge economic growth and the growth of commerce, drawing people into office jobs, and into human created, artificial environments.

These days, we humans are increasingly spending up to 90% of our lives indoors – often highly controlled spaces, with even lighting, a constant temperature, and straight lines everywhere.  Add to this our growing addiction to our screens, and we are now very disconnected from the nature that used to be part of our everyday lives.  Stress, anxiety and depression are very real, modern day afflictions.

However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that how we design our indoor spaces has a direct impact on us psychologically and physically, and therefore on our overall health, happiness and well-being.  The use of biophilic design in our spaces has been proven to reduce stress hormone production, improve feelings of happiness and stimulate creativity, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.  Even as little as 5 to 20 minutes of immersion in nature can lead to positive emotions, mental restoration and other health benefits.

1. Reduces your stress
A professor at Chiba University in Japan, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, has found that forest walks yield a 12.4 per cent decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, compared with urban walks.

2. Improves your mood
Academics at Derby University have conducted a meta study of existing research which concludes that connecting to nature can be linked to happiness and mental well-being. Spending time in nature releases hormones that relate to the pursuit of joy.

3. Frees up your creativity
In one study by David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, participants saw a 50% improvement in creative problem solving after three days immersed in nature with all access to modern technology removed.

4. Reduces high blood pressure
A recent meta study in Japan reviewed 20 trials, involving 732 participants, which demonstrated that blood pressure levels in a forest environment were significantly lower than those in a non-forest environment.

Providing people with healthy places in which to live and work is vital if we want to maximise our well-being and improve our lifestyle.  Of course, it’s important to try and increase the amount of time that we do actually spend outdoors, but by incorporating biophilic design into our homes, we can increase our exposure to nature without actually leaving the house.  Do get in touch if your home could do with some biophilic help?

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