Diminished daylight hours, naked trees and your coziest covers converge to signal one thing: Hibernation season is in full swing.
And, as a result, many of us are taking a harder look at our home’s interiors and asking whether what we see reflects who we are and how we really want to live.
With increasingly stressful lives filled with a growing influx of emails, text messages and content crammed into a 24-hour day that refuses to concurrently expand, our homes need to be refuges that rejuvenate, relax and revitalize us the minute we pass enter. After all, they’re likely where we spend the most important moments of our lives with the most important people in our lives.
But, for many, home is just another source of stress. Coming home to an obstacle course of shoes in the entranceway, coats strewn on the banister and a mountain of mail on the countertop fails to hit the reset button for most of us. So, instead, we trudge through, mark the days until vacation and self-soothe with dreams of a luxury getaway where changing burned-out bulbs isn’t on our to-do list and visual pollution is virtually unheard of.
The best vacation properties in the world, after all, have perfected their interiors to instantly soothe. It’s their goal to take care of you from the minute you enter the lobby to the minute you depart, with every design decision deliberately made to ensure that you’re rejuvenated, relaxed and revitalized just as your own home should be doing but likely isn’t.
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to stay at the Conservatorium, an early-20th-century bank turned music conservatory before it became one of Europe’s most renowned hotels for putting guests at ease.
While there, I paid particular attention to the design decisions that made my stay so pleasantly restorative. And I concluded that many of these choices can be easily transposed into almost any home environment. It’s hard for brows to stay furrowed and shoulders to remain tensed when you walk into an environment that is so organized and well-conceived to warmly welcome you. From the lobby to the rooms, I took away the deliberate design choices that ultimately became my most valuable souvenir from the trip. Here’s what I learned:
● First impressions count: Top hoteliers know that the lobby is one of the most important parts of a luxury property because it sets the tone for your stay. Not dissimilar to what you see when you first go through your own home’s door, being greeted warmly and calmly by a space void of chaos and disorganization takes your temperature down and initiates the process of relaxing the mind.
Despite having to contend with hundreds of guests with myriad requests, entering the Conservatorium was a nearly spa-like experience. Mail, electronic equipment and other unsightly distractions were stored out of sight, keeping visual chaos under control.
No matter how small your space, consider creating some kind of “foyer” replete with storage for mail, keys and the dog leash, even if it’s just an attractive box with a hinged lid. Removing these everyday necessities from your immediate sight, but putting them somewhere easily accessible, will provide you with a more pleasant introduction to your home by reducing the visual clutter.
● Implement symmetry: Symmetry is a powerful force in our world and inherently comforting because it often works as a visual organizing device. Additionally, for the vast majority of us, the first faces with which we bond (usually our parents’) are largely dominated by symmetrical features so we naturally begin to associate symmetry with comfort.
Through visual balance, symmetry helps to create organization and order, and top properties, like the Conservatorium, know this. By employing design choices such as matching table lamps atop identical nightstands and double sinks mirrored about the centerline of a vanity top, structure and a message of order is built in, creating a soothing environment to facilitate relaxation.
● Reset your space: Whether we realize it or not, everything in our environment sends us messages and we have control of those messages. When you come home to shoes randomly sitting on the floor, those shoes send you the message that someone (perhaps you) should have put those tripping hazards back where they belong.
Instead, they are an immediate reminder that a list of things to address continues to grow exponentially. Though top properties have dedicated staff to keep your environment pleasantly organized, most of us are the staff in our own homes. With so much to tackle in any given day, it can seem arduous to maintain visual order in our spaces. Even making the bed in the morning can be an effort.
But if we take the time to reset each room after we’ve finished using it, we are rewarded with a soothing space the next time we see it. The otherwise monumental task of keeping an entire home orderly and pleasant-looking suddenly becomes attainable.
And turning maintenance into a habit means that resetting can become second nature. Who wouldn’t find it more enjoyable to enter a tidy kitchen, replete with a clean and empty sink, rather than one overflowing with dirty dishes?
● Employ white bed linens and bath towels: Almost without fail, the properties that often relax us the most employ white bed and bath linens. Hotels such as the Conservatorium know that when we enter our room and see spotless white sheets and towels, the message we receive is of cleanliness and attention, because even the smallest smudge will be noticeable.
Our guard goes down knowing that our space has been properly attended to. The same trick can be used in our own homes. Though it may be tempting to utilize colored sheets and towels that more easily hide dirt or express our aesthetic preferences, reserve color use for more decorative items such as shams, throw pillows, duvet covers and bathroom accessories.
The next time you come home, close your eyes as soon as you’re through the front door. Imagine what the perfect, soothing interior environment looks like and then open your eyes to take in your space.
If what you’re seeing isn’t as good as or better than what you are imagining, it may be time to start working toward it.
After all, most of us spend the most important moments of our lives, with the most important people in our lives, at home. Shouldn’t it be the ultimate relaxation destination?
Staying at a luxury hotel is something to which almost all of us look forward. The times between those stays, however, should be just be as wonderful.
Next time you’re at your favorite property, take note of those special elements that put a smile on your face. They may just point the direction toward a place you can’t wait to come home to.
Vern Yip is a TLC/HGTV interior designer and host and author of the book “Vern Yip’s Design Wise: Your Smart Guide to a Beautiful Home.” Originally from McLean, Va., Yip is based in Atlanta and New York. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (all @VernYipDesigns). He writes occasionally for The Washington Post.