“Am not happy with my home and I don’t know why. Can you help?”

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Martha had a nice looking home in a great neighborhood but wasn’t quite happy with the interior of her house. Even though she was living there for the last four years, she could still not feel ‘at home’ in it. The house was quite large,  bright and airy but still looked like a great looking ‘staged’ home, neutral and devoid of character and personality. As if it’s purpose was still to appeal to as many people as possible but not designed for anyone in particular.

Martha found it hard to find a cosy spot in her house to unwind, relax and feel it was ‘hers’. She complained that she felt more like a servant to her house, cleaning all these rooms and surfaces but using very little, other than her kitchen and bedroom suite. She felt there was so much wasted ‘public’ space and so little useful and personal one. In other words her house was made for entertaining more than for actual home living and enjoyment.

Sure, there was a living room, a dining area and so on, but she couldn’t find herself sitting in there for more than a few minutes before feeling compelled to move back to her bedroom or kitchen. She couldn’t relax, felt constantly restless and on edge, running around the house with a sense of purposelessness, discontent and frustration.

At first she thought it was the colors that she didn’t like, so she had the house repainted. After that did not have any positive effect, she tried to move the furniture around but that didn’t work for too long either. After the initial excitement and the novelty wore out, she was back to square one. Then she decided to buy some new pieces of furniture but the whole thing began to look a bit off and disconnected and made things even worse. Tired, frustrated and somehow depressed, Martha decided to seek some help.

This is a typical example of a home-owner mismatch in terms of wants and needs. Like in an unbalanced relationship, the house was the dominant partner and Martha the submissive one who had to adjust to the house. In an ideal situation the house has a given structure and character which is compatible with the personality, preferences and wants and needs of the occupant and satisfies those. Even when not ideal, there is still the possibility to make changes and alterations to bridge the gap and have the house answer the occupant’s needs in a more satisfying way. Here that wasn’t the case.

In this case it wasn’t that Martha had herself decided how to arrange the layout and put the furniture in her space but the space had dictated the options and possibilities Martha thought she had. Sometimes the structure of the house is such that there is very little wiggle room for improvement unless major changes and structural alterations are made but most of the times one can find suitable and satisfying solutions without.

There was more going on however than the restrictions imposed by the house itself and that is usually true in the great majority of the cases where people do not feel happy in their home. For someone to get to realize they are unhappy with things as they are, they must have reached the point where the tables have tilted heavily to the side of dissatisfaction. Where needs are not being met to a degree that cannot be ignored any longer.

There was more than that in the equation though. Martha was at a stage in her life where she was in a limbo, not quite knowing what she wanted to do next. She felt stuck by life circumstances and believed there was nothing she could do to move forward at that moment and had resigned herself to waiting for things to magically get better.

The house didn’t help Martha and she did not help the house either. Their relationship was in a deadlock. Unhappy, dissatisfied, anxious and depressed, Martha felt hostage to a house that didn’t satisfy her needs for comfort, effective function, aesthetic preferences, a sense of relaxation and well being, restoration of energy, inspiration and joy. The house did not support her needs because Martha did not know what those were to begin with.

Very often we think we know what we want and what we need, but after careful observation and exploration, analysis and elaboration we find out that what we really want and need may be quite different than what we originally thought. The reasons for this may be various.

 It can be that what we think we want is simply outdated, that we base our thoughts on beliefs that do not have heart and meaning for us anymore but we still hold on to them because this is who we were and what we believed in for years on end. It can be that we are simply not aware of what lies at the core of our real wants and needs and only when we unpeel the onion we finally realize what those are.

The problem with thinking that we know what we want but actually not knowing is that if we base all of our decisions on the wrong foundation, this more often that not ends up in dissatisfaction or rude awakenings. 

A simplistic example may be a person that wants to paint their walls green lets say because they think this is what they want. When it is done they are horrified by the result, feel frustrated and disappointed. Had they asked themselves why they thought they wanted their walls painted green, they might had found out that they associated green with nature. Had they gone even further with their asking why, they might have discovered that what they were really after was the sense of peace and relaxation they experienced in nature. 

How is this relevant and why does it matter? Because the feeling of peace and relaxation or any feeling for that matter, can be achieved in a multitude of different ways and design options abound. When we know what our underlying and real needs are, we are much better equipped to create a design solution that will work best to satisfy those and feel happy and content. When we know the feeling and sensation we are after, we can design for it. When we base our design decisions on what we think the mind wants, we may stray away from the actual need and end up with a result that may be a ‘successful design’ but one that does not satisfy the needs of the end user.

This is how Martha ended up with a home that looked ‘great’ for an observer or guest but in which she felt unhappy. The designer had designed something based on their assumptions of what a person with the X, Y, Z characteristics would want or expect to live in. Based on her presumed social status, neighborhood of the house, Martha’s external appearance and the little Martha was able to communicate to them, all of which were totally off base in relation to her real wants and needs.

Speaking of which, lets come back to Martha’s stage of life and state of being. She had chosen to retire early due to a health adventure she had gone through four years ago. She had divorced her husband after he cheated on her while she was undergoing chemotherapy. Her two children had moved out of the country because of their jobs. She decided to move to a new house in a different neighborhood but she didn’t yet know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She wasn’t even actually quite sure how long she had. She was in shock, deeply wounded, felt betrayed, abandoned, depressed and angry.

Even though the above are more than enough to make anyone unhappy, the fact that Martha’s home did not support her needs at that point in her life and with the mindset she had at the time, made things even worse. A home that does not nurture us, support us, inspire us, has room for improvement. A home that doesn’t answer our needs, does not allow us to function optimally, make us feel depressed, restless and dissatisfied, needs changes.

Our relationship with our space is interactive, we both influence and are influenced by our environment. The more attention we pay to it and care for it, the more it will care for us. Yes, those dark grey walls can affect our mood and yes, no matter what color we paint those walls if we do not address the causes of our low mood it will make little or only a temporary difference.

More importantly if we don’t know where we are at or what we want, it is hard to translate our inner needs into design specifics. It can be hit or miss, random or disastrous. Finding out we were off mark may cost from very little to a whole new house. 

Sometimes we feel that our external environment is much easier to control than our inner one, this is why very often we end up undertaking a change or renovation of our interiors in order to feel better. Some people are eternal ‘movers’, moving from one house to the next without ever finding their ‘ideal’ home, peace and satisfaction.

If you recognize yourself within these lines, even remotely, feel free to contact me. Not being happy with your home is an indicator that you need change. The change could be in your life, in your current living space or a combination of both. Lets talk about it and together we can discover what changes will make you feel more content and happy.