Q: With the past year and a half of working from home, my house feels more like an office space — a chaotic one. How can I make my home relaxing again?
A: Since the pandemic began, many homes have changed from places of sanctuary into high-functioning, hyphenated environments that serve as spaces for work, school, exercise and every other kind of activity imaginable. But you can merge work and home spaces, creating a place where you can rest, entertain and work productively.
Designers employ a few simple techniques to bring elements of a home together to meet their clients’ unique preferences. Here are seven small ones that can have a big impact.
Create a “welcome home” sight line in your entry. What is the first thing you see when you walk in the door? Does it bring you delight and reflect you or your family’s happy memories? Your front entryway is a critical but often ignored threshold to your personal shelter. Yes, it must be functional and provide storage for bags, coats, shoes and other outdoor accessories. But organizing and eliminating clutter in your drop zone is key to creating a home environment that calms your senses — rather than bombarding them. After you’ve organized and decluttered, consider hanging a piece of art to greet you as you enter and put you in a positive headspace.
Surround yourself with only your favorite colors. Find one or two colors that you really love and use them throughout your space. Blues and greens appeal to most people. You can modulate the amount of neutral tones in a room to adjust it to your own color tolerance. Use your favorite art pieces to support your preferred color scheme.
Eliminate contrast between finishes. Your eyes are drawn to contrast and if there is something in your space that is larger and darker than everything else, it can easily become the center of attention. Eliminate visual discord by removing large, contrasting elements. Many of my clients really wrestle with family furniture passed down to them — China cabinets are a repeat offender. These kinds of oversized pieces don’t really work with the contemporary, lighter-wood and on-trend midcentury modern, beach house or modern farmhouse look they’ve established throughout their homes. The contrast between the piece and the rest of the interior — in terms of both scale and finish — becomes a visual eyesore best left out.
Keep it symmetrical. Keeping main living areas balanced with symmetrical seating arrangements creates an instant sense of order and balance, which are essential to creating calming environments. If your chairs are sized differently, you can use the same textile to visually unite them. Cohesion is key.
Provide adequate lighting. Having sufficient lighting for activities like grooming or cooking is important, but a lot of tasks, like computer work, don’t require that much light. Dimmable lamps and layered lighting (floor lamps, table lamps, accent lights, etc.) offer options ranging from soft to bright light depending on whether you are reading, watching TV, dining or working on a computer. Use as much light as you need, but don’t overwhelm the senses with it.
Add a spoonful of texture. Texture is a soothing design element that is often overlooked but can have a huge impact on your home. An area rug softens hard surfaces for your feet while dampening abrasive sounds. A sofa or chair with a soft fur pillow can envelop you with softness and a faux-fur throw can quickly bolster a chair’s comfort quotient. With these elements on hand, taking a break from work will be a pleasure.
Set up storage spaces. Eliminating visual clutter can immediately make a space feel brighter, more open, and a lot less stressful. Study after study has demonstrated that clutter raises cortisol, which comes with a whole host of adverse health effects. To address it, install a storage cabinet or built-in cabinet system consistent with your overall style and decor where items can be placed out of sight when not in use. This is especially important when work papers and files start piling up in your main living area.
My mission statement is “Love where you live.” Implementing one or all of these techniques can make that mission a reality in your own home.
Kirsten Conner is the founder and interior designer of Kirsten Conner, and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling, or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s more than 2,600 members, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.