Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What can you do to chase away the winter blues?

A good friend on the west coast humbly displayed a photo recently of his peach tree in almost full bloom. I found myself proclaiming, “Awesome” out loud, followed quickly by a mumbled, lower toned, “awesome” as I remembered the prognostication of a certain rodent that will remain nameless. Yes, groundhogs are rodents, no surprise!

So, while everyone in the northeast patiently awaits an invitation to view said peach tree up close and personal, what can we do to chase away the winter blues?

 I thought it might be fun to approach the question as it pertains to interior design.

As you probably know, good design has a way filtering in to your mind….color, scent, sound, light, and physical space all play a part in your daily life. So, it stands to reason that if you can make some adjustments based on say, seasonal changes, you could vastly improve your outlook during that season.

 So let’s start with some obvious changes….

Let there be LIGHT!

v  Pull back the curtains and throw up the shades. While insulated drapes are a great idea to keep in the heat, anytime you offer up more light into a space, you will improve your outlook. If you have a chance to move your workspace closer to a window and you have a view of nature, you can get a double dose of happy (more about that later!).

v  While I am a big proponent of the move to LED, seasonally I still like the idea of replacing some of my bulbs with full-spectrum lights. These bulbs carry all wavelengths that are useful to both plants and animals and most closely resemble sunlight. Try Verilux or GE Reveal for a boost of sunlight indoors. For those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, Verilux also makes some great personal devices to help reduce the effects of winter’s light, or lack thereof.

Color me happy!

v  Orange is invigorating and refreshing.  Yellow is energetic and sparks conversation (although not a great choice for studying. Leave that to your blues and greens). Green is the most prominent color in nature and in a world temporarily covered in the absence of color, it is a natural choice to mimic the great outdoors. And don’t forget your browns. A great grounding neutral that also mimics nature and brings about a feeling of security.

v  If painting a room is not in the offing, you can always try just a focal wall. Sometimes this is a good practice run for the more timid of color. Even painting large inexpensive canvases allow a temporary boost of color when its needed most and work well if you are renting and don’t have control over the color of your walls.

Here is a photo of a room we did up in Maine. While this is a seaside cottage, fully half the year is blanketed in white fluffy stuff. Dining in this room provides you with more than your daily requirement for vitamin c!

v  Don’t downplay the importance of accessories in brightening up a space.  Splashes of color and beach inspired visuals are sure ways to keep the blues at bay. Even better are personal artifacts that remind you of warmer days ahead.

Here are some ideas from a presentation board I am presenting for a doctor’s reception room. We want to keep the space light, colorful, and warm all year long. Everything can be drawn from nature, so even though there is no natural light in the space, our choice of blues, oranges, and creams will help reinforce the comfort and pleasure of the seaside.

Get out!
“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old tress, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”  ~ Robert Lewis Stevenson.

 I know I promised to make this about interior design, but since so much of my design work is about bringing the outdoors in, I thought we should spend a moment talking about how important it really is to be out in it. Really important.

Nothing we can duplicate will have the same effect on the mind and body as being outside, even if it is cold. While the colors of nature are reduced in the winter months, those that do exist are sharper and more prominent. Take note of the cobalt hue of the sky, the ebony and chocolate of the tree trunks and branches, and the mature greens of the pines that stand as watchful guard over the tender sleeping flora down below.

 According to Your Brain on Nature, in 1982 the Forest Agency of the Japanese government launched an ambitious program to reintroduce a stressed and overloaded Japanese work force to the great outdoors. Almost 64% of Japan is blanketed with forests, so it seemed to make sense that getting reacquainted with the landscape would be a good idea, being that it was quite literally all around them.

Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing, in these cedar forests has had marked and lasting health benefits. Just 40 minutes a week walking in the woods reduced blood pressure, relaxed the cerebral cortex and allowed for more productive work and, more importantly, play.

All right, so after you have done your 40 minutes of Forest Bathing each week, how about if we bring some of that mental and physical utopia indoors.

v  Many indoors plants can provide real health benefits as well as being esthetically pleasing. Aloe Vera absorbs toxins like formaldehyde as well as spider plants that also absorb VOC’s from paint, CO2, and even xylene, which is a solvent used in the printing industry. Gerber daisy’s are a winner on their looks alone, but add that they help remove toxins like trichloroethylene which is found in those dry cleaning bags and you may want to finish reading this after you have run out and bought a dozen.

v  Take it a step further and add a living wall. They can be as simple or complex as you have the care to give and the rewards are immeasurable.

v  Wood, wood, and more wood. There are so many studies out there now that are touting the virtues of natural wood in the indoor environment. Natural wood lowers blood pressure, creates a connection to nature and even relaxes the prefrontal cortex, allowing your body to take a much-needed mental break. Have you ever walked into a house that has wood beams or wood ceiling (ok, not the faux paneling faux pas) or seen a photo in Houzz and thought, “Ahhhhh”? That’s your brain on wood!  Try a wood table or island to sit at for meals or as your desk.  It is a great way to connect to the outdoors and also add the benefit of texture to your sensory experience.


Sound Off

Winter can come with the welcome peace of quiet, but even the greatest lover of silence can use a boost of sound to elevate their mood. 

v  According to Mindful Design Consulting sounds of nature, such as birds, help create a feeling of reassurance. And you know that if you live in a snowy region, any bird that is willing to brave the cold and serenade you, for even a moment, can be as uplifting as seeing green below the white.

v  There are great sound machines and apps that come encouragingly close to the real thing. Ocean waves have the same rhythm as a sleeping human body’s breathing. Apps like Sleep Pillow allow the layering of  sounds so you can have your beach and spa music all in one.

v  For a real splurge, I have been suggesting wireless sound systems similar to Sonos for amazing room-to-room sound experience. They are simple to set up, use, and expand and it can allow for an endless array of sounds, podcasts, and music (perhaps a little Vivaldi’s Summer?).

Depending on where you live in the country, March 20th might actually be cause for celebration. A cherry blossom tree in bloom, impatiens still requesting a bit of shelter from an abiding tree, or a peach tree past it’s blooming prime and beginning to offer up a spherical sweetness bound to please come early summer. For the northeast it’s the MSRP of the first day of spring. It’s a starting point, a bargain, a negotiating tool.

Here’s hoping that while we patiently wait, as New Englanders do, you now have a few new tools to help while away the winter hours. And my back up plan is a recipe for a killer peach mojito.

Naturally yours,


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