ROUND AND ROUND WE GO
We all know of houses or have even experienced it in some of our own homes, where it seems impossible to find a place where we can sit down and relax. Somehow the living room feels too cold, too disjointed, there is no corner to fit furniture to create a cozy space, there seem to be circulation paths all across the room.
To learn more about circulation paths regarding interior design check out Nita Hull’s website:
Or check out this definition from an architectural point of view at:
There may be too many doors and windows, few if any solid walls to rest furniture against, too strong and/or artificial lighting, too hard of a sofa, no side tables to rest a coffee cup, no coffee table to lay books and magazines on, harsh surfaces, cold materials and the list goes on.
Make no mistake the house interior may even actually look beautiful and stylish, the color coordination may be perfect yet there is no coherence, no harmonious sequence, no functionality, no special atmosphere, no sense of comfort, peace and relaxation.
Everything seems as if it was put there without much thought for those living in that house, it could be a furniture show room, a home exhibition for that matter. It feels too formal, impersonal, unfriendly, dysfunctional, cold and indifferent. It feels as if the room is to be used for special occasions only but not to be lived in and enjoyed in every day life. It feels artificial, fake, unreal, a show case instead of a real cosy abode.
The end result is that the room remains uninhabited for the most part, the users of the house finding refuge in the kitchen, the study or the bedroom instead. Sometimes it is the clutter that prevents the possibility of experiencing relaxation, too many unrelated pieces of furniture, disharmony or a dysfunctional layout.
MEET THE ENEMIES OF RELAXATION IN YOUR HOME
The number 1 enemy of a cohesive and harmonious design that could promote a feeling of relaxation is the existence of too many circulation paths cutting across the room, preventing the possibility of creating a focal and functional seating area. Most homes have at least one corner space or central area that is unaffected by circulation paths which can constitute a whole and complete functional unit on its own, but some homes have none and that can be a problem.
For example if a living room can have at least two comfortable seating pieces of furniture, be that a couch and an armchair with a third one to connect them, be that a coffee or side table and away from a direct circulation path, chances are that that seating arrangement would be able to act as a focal seating area that could be functional and lend to a feeling of relaxation.
If the circulation paths are found around the seating area instead of cutting through it, or if there are at least secondary circulation paths available even if there still is a central one cutting through the seating arrangement, the negative and disrupting effect will be lessened and more manageable.
Most people prefer to sit either in corner areas, or the deeper side of the room away from doors and openings to other rooms or in the centre of a room and away from circulation paths in order to relax. Having no other alternative but an awkward layout without supportive features, renders the feat quite difficult.
Too many criss cross circulation paths from doors to windows to other room openings, make it hard to place furniture in a way that will allow a quiet and separate functional unit in the living space, which is what most people need in order to be able to shut down or reduce the ‘volume’ of alertness and mental or emotional arousal.
Rooms with such characteristics make the inhabitants feel restless and on the move. Such rooms are good for short term activities but not for those where someone needs to be able to sit down, focus and concentrate in comfort and peace. Running around the space being unable to find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, drives a person to move to another room where they have more chances of being able to rest their mind and nervous system.
This fact gets accentuated in households of many people. Sitting in an armchair in the middle of a room with criss cross circulation paths, will make it more likely that the person who may lets say want to read a book will be interrupted by members of the household passing by, in front of, the back or side of the person sitting in that armchair. End result, the person will most likely be unable to continue reading or enjoying doing so.
If on the other hand that armchair was sitting in a corner of the room with its back against a wall and the circulation path passed at least 10 feet away and in front of the armchair, the person reading in it would be less likely to feel distracted, disturbed or annoyed by someone walking through that circulation path.
On the other hand these facts may not be of much importance if a person lives alone in the house or even with one other person in a large enough house. The likelihood of one’s activity being interrupted by the other person walking by is much less, especially the larger the space. The smaller the space the more we get back to the scenario of the household with many family members and to the lack of available ‘private’ and quiet space.
ENEMY NO 2
Relaxation enemy No 2 are hard surfaces and materials which may render seating uncomfortable. People spend less time on hard uncomfortable sofas than softer comfy ones, making the fact pretty self evident. Additionally cold and hard surfaces are less attractive than softer or warmer ones, especially in colder climates. A marble or tile floor may feel pleasant to walk on barefoot in hot climates but would feel morbidly cold in a cold climate without floor heating where a wooden floor of carpet would feel more pleasant.
There is very little if any research available for the psychological effects of design parameters in home environments, even though there are quite a few regarding health and work environments such as hospitals and offices. The ancient Chinese Art of Placement, otherwise known as Feng Shui though, uses very specific concepts to create harmonious environments conducive to well-being. Unfortunately these are stated in simple rules without much explanation - if at all - other than the general classification of specific items creating positive or negative Qi, which means energy.
WHAT FENG SHUI HAS TO SAY
In that light in Feng Shui, sharp objects or forms such as pointed or angular ones are believed to create Sha Qi which means ‘Killing energy’ and as such are to be avoided as they are considered ‘inauspicious’. Personally even though I have extensively studied Feng Shui in the past and used it eclectically in my practice, I do not believe in its metaphysical aspect. I do however believe in the common sense psychological aspect of it which even though never mentioned or explained in Feng Shui is what I humbly believe to be the real and considerable value of it.
In other words, Feng Shui concepts of auspicious or inauspicious energies and how these are created and influence the individual, can be traced back to our reptilian brain and our ancient fight or flight mechanism and instinct of survival. For example, if you sleep under a huge overhead wooden beam –something which is a big no-no in Feng Shui – it makes sense that a part of your subconscious mind will have taken a mental note of the feature and evaluated it as potentially dangerous or not. What matters is not the actual real or imaginary threat but how it may have been perceived and registered by your subconscious mind. If for example you have registered the large wooden beam as potentially threatening because of living in a highly seismogenic area for example, the quality of your sleep could be potentially affected.
This is where the snowball effect of Feng Shui concepts begins to make sense. If the quality of your sleep is indeed affected to whatever degree, it is logical to presume that your daily activities and general health and well-being could be affected in one way or another to a greater or lesser degree. Your mood and/or concentration may suffer which will have repercussions in your family and work life. The way you show up to the outside world will be less than par and the way the outside world reacts to you will be less positive than if you were to function at your very best. See where this is going?
Even though this is a very simplistic example for the purpose of illustration, if we are to consider all the different aspects of our home design and how these may or may not affect us positively or negatively and to what extent, it is easy to realize that the quality of our home environment has a direct and causative effect on our well-being. This in turn influences how we feel physically as well as mentally and emotionally and dictates how we show up to the world. How we show up to the world influences how people perceive us and dictates how they will in turn react to us and the snow ball effect gets activated. Just imagine going for a job interview having slept badly, stumbled upon a cluttered hall way and having had an argument with your wife because of your bad mood. How likely would you be to be able to show your best?
The less well we feel, the less positive energy we input into the external world. The more negative energy we input out there the more negative energy we shall get back in return, which in turn will make us feel even worse and so on and so forth. So in that sense the importance of design elements affecting us in a positive or negative manner could be indeed argued to be ‘auspicious or inauspicious’ in our life in general due to the end result they have the potential to generate.
All that the so called Feng Shui ‘cures’ do to ‘combat negative energy’ is to put the mind of the individual at rest that whatever negative energy may be produced by a negative or inauspicious feature ‘has been taken care of’ so that their subconscious as well as conscious mind can relax and not be preoccupied by it at any level. Furthermore, it helps create a positive mental attitude by instilling the belief that ‘things will be all right’ and/or ‘corrected’, thus putting the individual into a positive state of mind which will then in turn reflect into the outside world which will too react in a positive manner towards the person, thus creating a positive snow ball effect.
As with everything, the stronger the belief of the individual in the ‘power’ of Feng Shui, the better the results. The more convincing the Feng Shui Master, the stronger the effect will be. In itself that is not necessarily a bad thing or to be considered as a mumbo jumbo scam for naïve westerners. Underneath it all it is based on sound psychological concepts which rule the subconscious mind and influence self-programming as well as design concepts that promote balance and harmony in our environment which may prove to be very beneficial for the individual. Furthermore the desired balance between the Feng Shui ‘five elements’ from an interior design point of view brings our attention to the importance of maintaining a harmonious balance between colors, shapes and materials.
My personal objection comes from my scientific background which cannot accept things at face value without being studied and explained for. A knowledge that can be used by the individual themselves with positive self-programming, self-awareness and attention to how one’s environment may affect the person positively or negatively, is indeed something very powerful and valuable. As such I find that the way traditional Feng Shui is ‘served’ to the Western world instead of being of service does a disservice because it keeps the individual hostage to a Feng Shui practitioner or rigid Feng Shui rules which at face value are not always intuitively clear, without allowing for self-empowerment and further development.
It keeps the person in a static and disempowered state, one where they believe that manipulation of external design factors alone can influence their life and/or well-being one way or the other. Instead, it could be the case where the individual armed with this knowledge could actively change and influence their own state of mind and well-being by making sure their living environment is designed in such a harmonious and functional way so as to create the most positive and beneficial influence.
Having said that, really good and experienced Feng Shui Masters may be able to convey to their clients notions of balance and harmony that they may need in their lives in order to achieve a state of well-being, calm and confidence that will allow them to feel and be their best and show up to the world in their best possible self.
WHAT YOU CAN INFLUENCE AND CONTROL
We may be unable to control our wider environment, physical, social, work, political, financial and so on, but we can certainly ensure that our home environment is the most optimum there is for us and fulfills our wants and needs. Our home is our holy sanctuary as our body is the home of our soul. It pays to pay attention to and care for it, for it to care for us in return and support our well-being and goals. A house is not a home, a home is made by careful consideration of all the design elements and not only that turn that house into the ideal home for us and our family. A space in which we feel not only safe and secure, but where we can function optimally, feel good, relax and restore our energy, engage in the activities that give us pleasure and make us happy, share it with those we love and care for. Of course a home is much more than that, it is the quality of the relationships between the family members, the state of mind of the individuals and how they use their home to create and maintain a harmonious household that fulfills their needs.
The way the design elements of a space work together cohesively and harmoniously to create an environment that will satisfy our functional, aesthetic and emotional needs is what makes it successful or not. Many factors play an important role in this, from the basic bones of the house and how good and functional of a layout it has or not, to the quality of the materials, the inherent or not sense of aesthetics and harmony the owner/inhabitant has or not, to the possibility of finding satisfactory design solutions to rectify or improve existing problems or not, to the specific design professional’s abilities to create something that will be in tune with the owner’s wants and needs and much more.
ENEMY NO 3
But I digress here and we need to talk about enemy No 3 which is Clutter. Clutter is an important enemy of relaxation the reason being that it does not allow the mind to rest fully because it overstimulates the mind which is trying to make sense of it visually. Furthermore it constitutes a constant distraction and reminder that it has to be dealt with at some point, something which of its own is a source of stress as it is usually perceived as a chore by most people. Having storage space to put or hide away items that may be cluttering a room, render it automatically invisible and lessens the level of stress significantly – yet not totally because the mind knows the truth - by diminishing and even eradicating visual clutter.
Random objects scattered around a space, related or unrelated, constitute visual clutter and act as a distraction for the mind. If you feel like digging into science check this research article out: http://jov.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2193442 It talks about the role of the ‘crowding effect’ in the perception of clutter and how changing the density or layout of the objects that constitute the clutter, changes the actual perception of it.
“Based on the operational definition of clutter, we can identify two factors that appear to play an important role in clutter: information density and information layout. This implies that there are also two ways to deal with clutter, viz., reducing the information density and changing the layout.”
In plain English this may explain the obvious common sense notion that it is all the more important to keep small spaces clutter free, as the density of clutter is much more visible and impactful. Another implication is that if the clutter items are concentrated in one corner or area of the room they will have less of an impact than if they were scattered all around the room.
Yet apart from the well-known negative effect clutter has on our sense of peace and well-being, it seems that clutter can be more tricky than we think. Another interesting study: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0040056 shows how cluttered environments may be more conducive to errors of judgment:
“These results have practical implications for perceptual decisions in everyday life in that they predict an increase in high-confidence errors when decisions are made in cluttered environments.”
So, if you keep forgetting things, not finding your keys, picking up the wrong bills to pay or bag to do your grocery shopping, you may need to consider the possible role clutter and disorganization may play in your home. Am only half joking here, as indeed a considerable amount of clutter paired with a poor and dysfunctional layout in your space may steal away both of your well-being as well as of your productivity and efficiency and that holds true not just for the home but also for the work environment.
TO SUM IT ALL UP WITH A FEW PIECES OF ADVICE
· Examine the circulation paths of your home and try to work around them or improve the situation by eliminating some of them by closing a door that may not be needed or changing the layout of the furniture in the room. The aim is to create seating areas that can act as focal points, individual units so to speak which will not be disturbed or affected by people using the circulation paths in that space. Also in order to avoid uncomfortable sensations and/or distractions of attention of the individual who wants to sit down and relax, do not sit for example with your back at the door or next to an opened door in your back or your side.
· Ensure that the seating furniture is comfortable for you, the materials pleasant and that the arrangement is such that it can accommodate your needs. Be that being able to have a cup of coffee close by, books and magazines, ipad or notebook, a stool to rest your feet, a throw to cover yourself if you feel chilly, cushions to accommodate your back etc.
· Eliminate clutter to a maximum before engaging in any kind of work or activity that needs focus and concentration or if you just want to sit down and relax. If you do not have the time to sort it all out, ensure that you have available storage space where you can put it away, even if temporarily. Ideally, you might want to consider to keep your environment clutter free by reducing the number of items you bring in and keep into your household, and even more importantly to adopt a consistent habit of keeping your things organized. That means putting back right away things you take out of a cupboard or a drawer, have a place for everything and put everything in its place.
· Visual clutter may also be created by busy decorative themes, strong and bright colors, too much furniture, decorative objects, paintings, too much of anything. Ensure that you create a design theme that is balanced and harmonious for you, that soothes your senses without dulling them and offers you a sense of well-being. The right balance between openness and cosiness, lightness and darkness, simplicity and complexity, warmth and coolness is different for everybody. Find the right one for you.
· It may be helpful when creating the ideal environment for you and/or your family to write down and keep into consideration what your wants and needs are and what are your main goals. Establish how you want to use your space, for what activities and purpose. Be specific and include the element of time in the equation, that is at what times each of you will be more likely to want to engage in which activity and in which area of the house. Consider possible clashes or busy times or areas and try and find solutions that will accommodate everyone’s needs as best as possible. Everything is figureoutable as Marie Forleo says!
On that positive note am going to leave you for today with food for thought, wishing you all the very best! Do not hesitate to contact me for help and advice.
You can either call me at 1-778.584.2050 or email me at: email@example.com
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