Americans, in particular, experience high levels of trauma and disease due to their lifestyles in this post-modern age, as many studies verify. Have you also noticed that many people are more uptight than they used to be? Do you ever wonder why? It seems ironic—middle- to upper-middle-class Americans today earn more money, do less physical work, have fewer children, and yet they seem less able to cope with everyday life without becoming overly stressed.
It's not that stress is, by itself, a bad thing. A certain amount of stress is necessary to make us perform and is often the motivational factor in achievement. The difference seems to be in the way we view life in this 21st century.
Many of us seem to think that because so much information is available to us and because so many devices and techniques can make us more efficient we, as finite human beings, also must do more, know more, perform at higher levels, and be leaner, smarter and work harder. And do this all the time.
Granted, the pressure from competition is real. The result is we feel we are living "99 lives," as consumer trends expert Faith Popcorn puts it. We're trying to cram too much into one lifetime, or trying to be everything to everybody. The result? Burnout.
GETTING AWAY FROM STRESS
So what is the best way to view stress? It is by looking it in the face; recognizing that it has its role, but unabated it can be a destructive force. Everyone needs a break from work demands, pressures and stress, however real or pseudo they may be.
Let's look at how we can help our customers (and ourselves) cope with the stressed-out lives of the 21st century by creating interiors that are inner sanctums, where we can find a pleasant escape from the negative side of stress.
First, the customer and the design professional need to agree on which room or area will be the de-stress zone. Everyone deserves a place where he or she can go to feel safe from the pressures, obligations and uncertainties of modern life. This space can be a corner of a room, a personal space or a shared space. It can be a bedroom or a library. It can be a living room or a den. It even can be a family space.
Next, make a list—however brief—of what the customer views as the ideal get-away spot. This idea will have different meanings to different people, and the design possibilities are nearly limitless. A few interior styles that can have a healing, sanctuary effect discussed below include these:
•The cozy, intimate space
•The personalized space
•The garden room
•The fantasy get-away space
THE COZY, INTIMATE SPACE
A cozy space is one that is not large, nor is it necessarily friendly or open. Rather, it gives the client the feeling of entering a reclusive cave where none but the Mama or Papa bear is allowed to dwell.
This space is one of recluse, of getting away and shutting out the world. It may focus on light to medium values (de-stressing, lighthearted) or darker values (intimate, cave-like), and it has a sense of ultimate privacy. Privacy will be important at the window especially if light control will be important to the overall success of the interior.
As coziness is a factor, if making the occupant feel comforted even when alone, then fabric is a key element. Fabrics should not be heavily patterned, bright or aggressive. Rather, focus on textures and neutrals that will not make a design statement.
The effect of this room is that one will feel like staying in bed or curling up on the chaise or sofa to read or contemplate life. It is an island of safety and security for as long as it is occupied. Now, this doesn't mean boring. Vary the textures, add interesting shapes and differing materials. Insert contrast in value and tactile elements.
THE PERSONALIZED SPACE
This is a space that is beautiful to the person who occupies it. Each element (pattern, form, texture), each furnishing and each accessory component is deeply pleasing to its owner. It is truly personalized interior design.
Here is where much of our professional efforts go, to helping customers identify what they like the most then translating their choices into well designed, handsome interiors. These rooms are often coordinated with a unifying design in the wall coverings and draperies, in the upholstery or bedding. The result is a inner sanctum that no one else but the occupant could appreciate quite as much.
THE GARDEN ROOM
Gardening has for many years been America's No. 1 hobby. And the effects of gardening have long found their way indoors in a sunny space that has many names: the garden room, the sunroom, the solarium, the Arizona room, the Florida room, or, as they say in Hawaii, the lanai.
This is a room filled with light, where hard, thermal mass floors absorb heat during the day and release it slowly at night. It is a space with large expanses of glass open to a view—even if just to one's own yard if not the ocean or a golf course. It is a space for casual living, for relaxed conversation, leisure reading, or simply for vegetating—a healing necessity in today's frantic world.
Select light neutrals with punches of color where the customer desires. Make sure all surfaces are easy on upkeep and do not show dust. Keep window treatments to a minimum—something that can close at night for privacy and control heat and glare during the day. In locations where the sun's heat can build up inside, add a ceiling fan to move air. It's always an appropriate option in your customer's small piece of paradise.
THE FANTASY GET-AWAY SPACE
This last category is the most flexible because a fantasy get-away can be anything your clients want it to be. It is, first of all, thematic. Second, it fills a need in the home owners to visit and experience a time, a place or a part of the world that is removed from their own reality. It carries the occupant away to a quaint bed-and-breakfast environment, for example. It is a room that, upon entering, seems to be in a different world. It can be ethereal or magical. It can be charming or disarming. It can be romantic or ruggedly masculine. But it is always a feeling of being swept into the setting of a good book, utterly and blissfully lost.
Creating this room takes an environmentally holistic approach. It cannot be accomplished with a window treatment and a length of wall covering. It must be planned carefully and joyfully down to the last detail in order to be thematic.
Now, the themes will vary. For a man who wishes to be elsewhere to de-stress, it could focus on fishing, sailing, mountain climbing or organized team sports. Sports are a great masculine de-stresser. A man can stay in his cave as long as somebody has the ball. For many women, an ethereal romantic theme is often best—gentle, lovely and sweetly beckoning is especially appealing to women whose real life is full of harsh realities, hard work, or is lacking in romance.
So it is evident that this approach will take some evaluation and client/professional consultation. It also is one of the more enjoyable interior design project destinations. To be swept up into a fantasy world, even for a few minutes or hours, if often effective in washing away worries and stress.
ONE LAST THING
As each of these interiors are completed for the customer or client, make it clear that when he or she occupies this room, they must leave their cares and concerns behind. If we are to survive the pressures of the information age, we must remember that we are temporal, finite humans who, unlike the electronics we use at work, need time away from data processing and problem solving.
We need to relax, to rest, to recoup. We need to have a place where the world cannot reach us. It is a place where we can let the telephone ring elsewhere and leave the e-mail or voice messaging in a seemingly far distant place waiting patiently in limbo until we decide to return. And when we return, we are refreshed and renewed, having spent time in our personal inner sanctuary where we have rested and healed.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.