I studied the established rules of interior design in a college classroom on the west coast of Canada in Nanaimo, British Columbia. I learned how the fittings, finishes, furnishings and architectural features of structural spaces should incorporate the seven elements of design to include: space, line, color, texture and pattern.
I questioned numerous aspects of the traditional interior design world; mainly the substantial waste generated by the construction process and subsequent subjectivity of it all. I was drawn to green design principles but unable to find many options at that time. Out of principle (and lack of money) I collected materials exclusively from thrift stores nearby in order to piece together presentation projects for every class. I can still remember the look of distain on my professor’s face upon realizing that my fabric sample boards choices were actually recycled old bed sheets.
Upon graduation and after the birth of my son, I put my design degree on hold to pursue a vastly different career path with my husband and as co-owner of a reforestation company. Our tree planting operation was responsible for the intentional restocking of forests that had been depleted through deforestation (logging) in remote wilderness areas of Northern Alberta, Canada. The logged cut blocks were accessible only be helicopter; thus making this industry a challenging and unique one. The job was twofold: getting the fragile seedlings into the blocks and also transporting our employees safely to plant them into the ground by hand.
We worked during the summer months in grueling living conditions then reaped the rewards of a nomadic existence for the remaining months. We lived in small mountain towns all over British Columbia as well as Mexico, where we spent a winter living in a trailer with our infant son.
A decade and divorce later; I relocated to Lake Placid NY with my newfound love and a renewed opportunity to re enter the interior design world again. It was an exciting and inspirational time; notably because eco/green design had gone mainstream.
Then came a call from a satellite phone in the middle of the Arctic Ice brought me to my knees and changed everything. My son’s near death experience while working for a high end Arctic expedition company and subsequent severe mental health diagnosis made me question everything I have ever learned in my professional and personal life.
Yet out of the darkness comes acknowledgement that tragedy has purpose alongside profound growth and newfound opportunity. I began to reconsider my own humility and home during our devastating ordeal in a room of the 6th floor of a locked psychiatric ward by his side for 23 days.
A manicured lawn, perfect paint colors, large square footage and fine linens did not matter to me anymore. An open window to see the forest, smell the flowers and feel the sun directly on my skin was all that I wanted and all that he needed.
It occurred to me that the physical space in which we found ourselves was directly attributing to our mental wellbeing and fragile steps of his recovery.
Upon leaving the surreal, sterile locked ward with it’s lack of windows; I began to consider the psychology of design and how the interior spaces in which we found ourselves directly affected our mental and psychical well being.
I learned through first hand experience that humans have an inherent, evolutionary inclination to affiliate with their natural environment. And that this connection is critical for soothing and supporting our senses which can result in reducing stress, igniting curiosity, increasing productivity and creativity alongside lowering stress hormone and physical fatigue levels.
There is measurable ability to improve mental health when you blend biophilic design elements into built environments. Direct sunlight, true interconnectivity to nature, fresh air, imperfect details and natural surfaces can create harmony between human and home. The buildings we design and therefore live in; set up or limit opportunities for humans that inhabit them to live their best life.
I now incorporate Biophilic Design ideologies into every home that I design.
The role of designing for wellness is an important and measurable task that I embrace wholeheartedly for the wellness of not only my own family, but also all humans that I have the pleasure of working with.