In these unprecedented times, the concept of “home” has never been more important. Not only are we spending nearly 100 percent of our time indoors, but we’re also grappling with heightened anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. Fortunately, we have some control over how our homes make us feel. With a bit of rearranging and perhaps a coat of leftover paint, we have the ability to decorate our apartments or homes in such a way that can change the general atmosphere and possibly even our moods.
That’s according to Amber Dunford, the lead stylist at home goods retailer Overstock, who also happens to hold a master’s degree in psychology. Dunford is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to “design psychology,” or arranging your home for optimal mental health. Her tips (as well as some scientific research) can help make your living space an oasis of tranquility and productivity.
Whether you’ve been planning a design refresh for months or simply looking for a welcome distraction from the current health crisis, now is the time to embrace art therapy more than ever. Even a few tweaks or minor changes could make a big difference. Below, find Dunford's tips for curating a relaxing space — from lighting and color theory to storage and layout.
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Home Decorating Idea: Aim For "Natural" Lighting
For added tranquility and calm, Dunford recommends mimicking the light you’d find in nature. “Humans prefer to be under dappled lighting, which is the same light you might experience when the sun shines through a tree canopy,” she tells TZR. “Incorporating elements that can replicate this in your home, such as basket weave light pendants or lamps, can create the same dappled glow you’d ﬁnd in nature.”
To that end, natural light also plays an important role in sleep quality and mental health. “Natural light helps us regulate and lift our moods, so window treatments that adjust or allow light to enter are important,” she adds. If your space lacks natural light, she suggests placing mirrors on the walls across from your windows to “reflect the light and make your space feel brighter and larger.”
Home Decorating Idea: Go Green
Fortunately, science supports society’s collective fascination with houseplants. “Greenery offers important psychological benefits,” notes Dunford. “Plants can reduce agitation and stress while increasing concentration.” What’s more, the mental health benefits of nature are well documented. As the American Psychological Association reports, simply gazing at a green landscape can improve disposition and well-being. Bring the outdoors in with a few house plants, or even invest in a large bird of paradise or fiddle leaf fig tree.
Texture also goes a long way when it comes to cultivating warmth and security. “Humans are tactile creatures that respond well to soft fabrics and textiles,” she explains. She recommends layering a variety of fabrics in your space, like leather, linen, and sheepskin, to soften architecture and dampen sound. “Incorporating extra throw blankets, pillows, rugs, and curtains will make your space feel cozy and inviting,” she adds.
Finally, don’t forget your ambiance essentials — soothing candles, fresh flowers, and incense can go a long way when it comes to relaxation.
Home Decorating Idea: Opt For Cool Colors
As any interior designer can attest, color is incredibly powerful. “Cool colors found in nature, like blues and greens, are more likely to foster comfort than harsh reds or bright pinks,” notes Dunford. “Blue conjures scenes of placid water or blue skies, and can promote feelings of calm and relaxation. Green is found in nature and almost all plant life.”
While heading to the local paint store or home supply retailer isn’t an option at the moment, you can always order earthy decor, textiles, or paint samples online. Better yet, make use of existing blue-green decor or leftover paint and focus your efforts on a single space. Your master bedroom, for example, is the perfect candidate for calming colors.
Home Decorating Idea: Organization
There’s a reason you feel more calm and relaxed after deep-cleaning your home or apartment. “Clutter makes us feel tense and requires more of our mental attention,” explains Dunford. “Minimizing clutter with storage cabinets, baskets, and shelving will substantially improve your emotional state.”
Vow to declutter your home for 15 minutes each day, or take on a more involved project, like rearranging your living room or purging your closet for future Salvation Army donations. If deep-cleaning your entire home feels daunting, Dunford recommends focusing on the entryway. “Creating a spot to take off your shoes and drop keys, bills, or mail is not only practical, it helps us stay organized and therefore more relaxed,” she notes. “A storage bench, console table, or decorative bowl are visually-pleasing and functional additions to a foyer.”
Home Decorating Idea: Layout
Calming design is all about space. Rearrange your furniture in a way that maximizes square footage, and make sure each piece serves a defined purpose (this is especially important in small homes or apartments). You should be able to move freely and easily throughout each room — limit clutter and leave ample space around doors, hallways, and closets to ensure optimal flow. If possible, limit technology in certain rooms.
Space permitting, designate a specific area just for relaxation. While your bedroom is an obvious candidate, a tech-free meditation corner, yoga room, or art studio are great options. Alternatively, consider turning your master bathroom into a spa for an afternoon. Round up your favorite hair and skincare products, take a deep breath, and take a relaxing soak.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support.