Minimalism. Maximalism. Mid-century modern. Eclectic. Vintage. For too long, home design was often defined by these common terms. But, as humans increasingly seek ways to tap into their innermost authentic selves in their diets, self-care rituals, and even fitness routines, there are more holistic, spiritual approaches being taken on living spaces as well.
Maybe it's a result of the shattering year that was 2020 that caused so many to seek solace and peace in their surroundings. Or maybe the concept of compartmentalizing home design into such simple terms is just antiquated at this point. Whatever, the reason, experts say individuals are looking beyond complementary color schemes and practical furniture and figuring out how to make a soul connection with their homes. "More and more, we're thinking beyond just function," says Wei Dong, Professor of Design Studies, with an emphasis in Asian design at University of Wisconsin—Madison, to TZR. "We're really starting to introduce the whole concept of well-being. Before well-being happened in a therapist's office, but now it's become a very important element in design, in your home, office, and learning environment."
What exactly does spiritual interior design even mean? Well, in technical terms, the word spiritual is defined as "of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit," according to Merriam-Webster. When applied to the home, this idea can help create a space that connects to or impacts your spirit and natural energy.
Ahead, design experts offer tips on how to connect with your home on a deeper level.
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Spiritual Home Design Tip: Find Balance
To be clear, this soul-home connection is not exactly new. There are many ancient philosophies that incorporate home design principles as part of a much larger wellness puzzle. Take, for instance, the Chinese way of life known as Feng Shui, that "focuses on creating balance and harmony between individuals, environment, objects, and materials." says Dong. "In Western terminology it is similar to person-environment studies, or how the environment and human interaction can produce positive outcomes."
One of the key fundamental principles of Feng Shui involves incorporating the five elements — metal, wood, water, fire and earth — into the home in a balanced way. "For example, if I design an interior with too much of a fire feel — it does not have to be a fireplace, it could be a bold red color or too many angles — that may make people who come in feel more fired up," says Dong. "So, to balance fire we need water. In that environment, you may introduce some blue colors, physical water, or some more organically-shaped things, and create a calmer feel to the interior."
Another traditional Eastern philosophy that prioritizes finding balance is Ayurveda. Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, Ayurvedic expert, holistic medical physician, and Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University in New York explains that, "Ayurveda is a chosen way of life that integrates profound understanding of the physical and ethereal world, with a philosophy of their influences on the human body into a practical set of prescriptives tailored for each and every individual," she explains.
According to the Ayurvedic Institute, there are three principle energies of the body — "Vata is the energy of movement; pitta is the energy of digestion or metabolism and kapha, the energy of lubrication and structure," says the site. "All people have the qualities of vata, pitta and kapha, but one is usually primary, one secondary and the third is usually least prominent." In the traditional Indian philosophy, it is believed that diseases and health issues are often a result of an excess or deficiency of one of these qualities, so finding balance is key (similar to Feng Shui).
"Part of my work is helping people with imbalances in health to integrate new medicines or routines into their day by actively instituting tools and rituals according to Ayurvedic recommendations," explains Dr. Bhattacharya. "For example, an atmosphere of calm is important for the vata-dominant person, who is either vata by constitution, or has a vata imbalance. People who have lives full of chaos and fast-paced work, urgent deadlines and plenty of travel can reground and center if their homes are calm." She adds that the ideal items for grounding vata include a meditation cushion, a stock pot for Sunday soup endeavors, and a bronze oil bowl for pre-bath sesame oil massage.
Spiritual Home Design Tip: Consider Feelings
When it comes to taking a more spiritual approach to home design, "The key question [to ask yourself] is 'What kind of feeling do I want to feel in my environment?'" says Rachel Sela, architect and founder of the Home Being method which helps clients create a living space that promotes mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. For her approach, which was 30 years of research in the making, Sela created a format that consists of 12 design personalities, "which stem from a person’s feeling of home" and include attributes like security, joy, softness, and elegance.
"Your home is your castle, and everybody's explanation of what that castle means to them is different," explains Sela, who says she has prospective clients take a "guided imaginary" to best determine their feeling of home. This consists of selecting three images (from a collection of 24), that most resonate with them. And while these images seem simple enough — think a bright blue sky with cotton candy-like clouds, a colorful street corridor in an exotic locale, a wooden walkway in the midst of lush tropical forest, and a cozy couch with a book on it — they can be very telling indeed, says Sela.
For instance, images containing the color blue signify a client's need and desire for space and boundless freedom. Based on this information, Home Being suggests way to channel this desire in the home via open floor plans, fixtures and shelves that give a "floating feel," and wide, rectangular-shaped furniture like long bookcases and coffee tables. While imagery with soft colors and elements signify a person with warmth and empathy who wants to attract warmth and empathy in their lives. In the home, this personality manifests in plump cushions (think boucle couches), and rounded furniture and edges.
"Even before the coronavirus, people were seeking connection with themselves and ways to improve themselves in different ways," says Sela. "This is one way they can encourage themselves to have the same energy vibrating through them in their home."
Spiritual Home Design Tip: Bring In Natural Elements
One of the easiest ways to add a more holistic and spiritual touch to your home is by incorporating natural elements. The ancient Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi is centered around connecting with nature and one's authentic self and environment — imperfections and all.
"It's about recognizing, accepting, embracing the imperfection of life and opts for simple authenticity as a conscious choice," explains Shanty Wijaya, owner of boutique real estate renovation and design company ALLPRACE Properties, which specializes in wabi-sabi-based design. "This style appeals to me because it truly supports a healthy, meaningful lifestyle. It teaches us to find beauty in imperfection, form deep connection to the earth/nature, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life."
To achieve the above, Wijaya says she follows the seven key principles of the Japanese practice, including but not limited to kanso (simplicity), fukinsei (asymmetry or irregularity), shibumi (beauty in the understated), and shizen (naturalness without pretense). "For example, we've repurposed beautiful rough-hewn reclaimed solid French oak wood that was refinished with dark stain for a kitchen countertop," says Wijaya. "It has imperfections that speak of the wood's age. The wood will continue to change over time as it interacts with its environment and will age beautifully."
In this same vein, removing or limiting toxicity in the home can help you better connect with your natural elements says interior designer and evolutionary astrologer Georgia Marcantoni. "This includes our bedding and mattresses," she explains. "We sleep 30% of our lives, making sure the mattress material we are breathing in is natural and not off-gassing."
Wijaya adds that you can also add some greenery to your home by way of "potted, hanging plants and standing plants inside the house" or "use of a natural, muted, earthy color palette."
Spiritual Home Design Tip: Embrace Natural Light
"A lot of people overlook lighting a lot," says Marcantoni. "Once the sun sets, you really don't want to have overhead lighting on any more. Bring in some mood lighting, just so you can dim lights. Candlelight is even better. Just allow yourself to live in the rhythm of this light of the earth a little bit more."
The design expert explains that the holistic approach she takes to design is ultimately there to support the nervous system to be calmed and supported," says Marcantoni. "[...] Whether it's through our selection of palette, objects that help you tell your story, removing environmental toxicity, adding in nature and natural patterns, or switching the placement of your furniture, they're all there to remove the burden on your nervous system that keeps you from feeling good." According to Marcantoni, computer lights and overhead lighting can put strain on the body and mind, and natural light can be a "sweet and inexpensive way to change your environment." □