When we lived in our old house, its condition and upkeep were constant sources of stress. What we didn’t realize was how much the design and layout of the rooms also contributed to our stress. This only became apparent after we moved into our new, rebuilt home. The difference was so strong I began to ask why, and started to google. Much to my surprise, I learned that there is an entire field of research dedicated to studying the impact of building design on well-being– the cross section of medicine and architecture. While this research is typically directed to designing health facilities that promote faster patient recovery, the principles are equally applicable to residential spaces: reduce and facilitate coping with stress to permit proper rest and refreshment.

Roger Ulrich is a leader in this field and his paper Effects of Interior Design on Wellness: Theory and Recent Scientific Research helped me understand why the design and layout of the new house lowers our stress levels so much. The new home includes features that fit within his guideposts for designers seeking to create environments that promote wellness including stress management. Here are four features in our home that both reduce stress and help us cope with it:

  1. Areas for escape
  2. Separate space for overnight guests
  3. Addition of positive distractions
  4. Removal of negative distractions

Areas for escape

As much as I love people, there are times when I just need to be alone. This is challenging in a home where the living space is primarily open-concept, which is very popular these days. While our new home has open-concept areas that we enjoy, it also has a couple of away rooms which allow us to separate ourselves visually and aurally from the main living space in the house. This allows us to get away from stressors as well as providing a quiet space to process them. It became all the more essential once our children were born!

Separate space for overnight guests

Neither my husband nor I grew up in Toronto so we often have overnight guests— and some can stay as long as 10 days. In our old house all the bedrooms were on a single floor and there was only one full bathroom. The lack of privacy was stressful and there was no opportunity to escape. We made sure the new house included a separate space on a different floor for overnight guests. Visits are now much more relaxing and enjoyable for everyone.

Addition of positive distractions

Nature is a positive distraction for us. Like many Toronto homes, our old house had relatively small windows making the interior quite dark. We hardly noticed the passing days and changing seasons from inside the house.  In contrast, the new home has many big windows and the connection with nature is very tangible and calming. The views of the clouds and treetops visible through skylights and windows that extend to the ceiling were an unexpected bonus that make me feel peaceful every time I look at them.

Removal of negative distractions

For us, work distractions are negative distractions.  They include visual reminders of work, and spaces in the home that we associate with work tasks.  The home computers and mobile phones that allow us to do more work from home are examples of objects that create these visual reminders.  They make it harder for our minds to achieve the restful state required to effectively refresh. To combat this effect in our new home we have eliminated some of these issues by including a separate, dedicated space for work and the storage of work-related items. We even have a drawer where phones and electronic devices are stored and charged when not in use.

The frenetic pace that comes with modern life is recognizably stressful. Creating a home that removes stressors and promotes relaxation so you can fully refresh is a key component of maintaining a healthy, happy and productive life. If you are interested in learning more about creating a home that supports this kind of lifestyle, please contact me.