The defining assignment of my 7th grade French class was to create Ma Maison de Reve ("my dream house") through an elaborate process that involved my classmates and I hoarding our mothers' copies of House Beautiful and Town & Country, toting them to school, scouring their glossy pages during class, and selecting the bedrooms, kitchens, patios, etc. that we hoped to inhabit someday. Wielding scissors, glue sticks, and French-English dictionaries, we each embarked upon the design and description (in French) of a home to suit our individual tastes. Like our personalities, our homes were drastically different. Some were traditional while others were modern. Some belonged in America, some in France, and others in more exotic locations. Come to think of it, it's possible that my home was less of a home and more of a hotel in Greece, likely clipped from the pages of Conde Nast Traveler. The beauty of the project was simple: There were few rules. Your home needed to have at least one kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, but beyond that, anything else was fair game. Tree houses, game rooms, menageries, Olympic size pools, baseball diamonds--if you could draw it, photocopy it, or clip it, it was as good as yours.
Today, my options are more limited. The leasing office for my apartment building in Boston vetoed the baseball diamond I proposed for the roof deck, and my pet otter, cockatoo, and tree monkey have already outgrown the bathroom menagerie. Alas, my design prowess is relegated to a world of more modest resources than it was in 7th grade, namely, reality.
To this end, I've compiled a few feasible home design guidelines for simply and inexpensively creating your own "maison de reve." Scissors, glue sticks, and French-English dictionaries not required.
Friends Are More Important Than Furniture:
When I consider the most comfortable and calming homes I have ever visited, they all have one thing in common: They are filled with good people. They can be sprawling second homes just as easily as teeny studio apartments, but the same rule holds true.
While it's nice to outfit your personal space according to your sense of style, with design elements such as furniture, light fixtures, artwork, etc., incorporating people you love into your home will always give it a sparkle beyond spotless granite counter tops and a coziness to exceed that of a cashmere throw blanket. There are a couple ways to do this. First, you can invite people into your home, to add their warmth and energy to your space (this is the idea behind housewarming parties, of course). However, if you're not the entertaining type or your home is too small to host friends, you can accent its design with personal touches, like my friend Alexa does (known on this blog as NYC Gal). Like most New Yorkers, Alexa makes due with limited living space. Entertaining friends would be cramped, so she's found another way of integrating her loved ones into her home, by filling her apartment with artful photos of friends and family. These are not the conventional refrigerator door family photos, these are chronological, geographical, autobiographical collages and collections that instantly capture who she is and what's important to her. She continually updates these pictures, keeping the energy in her home fresh and friendly.
Less Clutter = More Happiness
For me, few things are more liberating than the act of clearing out clutter, whether the clutter is physical, such as piles of mail on the kitchen counter, or psychological, a la the incessant, scrolling to-do list in our brains. Regardless of how clutter encroaches upon your life, you need to take proactive steps to remove it. Rather than saving a messy house for large, sweeping organizational overhauls, tidy up every day. Begin to scrutinize what comes into your home by ditching junk mail before it hits the kitchen counter or quietly sending unwanted gifts to Goodwill (I know it sounds heartless, but honestly, burying that tchotchke from Aunt Mary under your bed isn't doing either of you a bit of good). If you can identify the key areas in your home that generate clutter- which, in turn, generate, stress and stuck energy- you can address them and begin feeling more relaxed immediately.
You May Multi-Task; Your Bedroom May Not
Some areas of your home (i.e. your bedroom) should be clutter-free zones, no matter what. This rule is paramount to creating bliss within your personal space. Bedrooms are for sleeping and sex, and little else. Got that? Repeat after me: Sleeping and Sex. Bedrooms are not for trolling the Internet on your computer, sending text messages via Blackberry while propped up on your pillows, watching aimless hours of late-night TV (I recommend removing the TV from your boudoir completely or, at the very least, concealing it), stowing piles of laundry, or housing purposeless clutter. People often pine for a place where life's minutia cannot find them, but the truth is, that should be your bedroom. Stop waiting to be whisked off to a remote tropical isle without cell phone reception. Banish tech toys, information overload, and household headaches from your bedroom and you will have a relaxing retreat at home, each night, which will pay dividends in your daily life. If you have limited living space, devise a way to organize the room so that anything not relating to sleeping or sex is not in the vicinity of your bed. Buy a chic room divider or use furniture to create natural barriers. Remember, for the health and happiness of your body and mind, your bedroom should not be permitted to multi-task.
Invite the Outdoors In
Though we are highly evolved animals with lots of shiny gadgets that enable us to stay home and order take-out rather than hunting and gathering for our meals and communicate without actually convening in the same physical space, we are nonetheless animals. We thrive in nature. We are meant to breath fresh air, absorb vitamin D from the sun's rays, and explore our natural surroundings. For this reason, it's important to incorporate elements from the natural world into our homes. Whether it's a plant, fish, or stunning environmental photograph, natural elements bring a space alive, literally. Start small- a cactus perhaps, if you're wary of your horticultural skills- and go from there. Natural, recycled, and "green" fabrics and materials are en vogue now, so take advantage by incorporating them into your home. It will transform not only your space but your mindset as well.
Create With Color
When cultivating your personal space, nothing makes a bigger impact than color. If your home feels drab or energetically stale, it can usually be remedied with a few doses of one of your favorite hues. Refer to elements in the natural world as a guideline. For example, if you want a room to feel a certain way, opt for colors associated with a corresponding natural element. For a soothing effect, opt for colors that evoke water. If you want a room to feel warm and upbeat, use accents that suggest fire elements, such as reds, oranges, golds, and yellows. If you're timid about using too much color at once, try small, thoughtful accents instead, including throw pillows and area rugs. Like any home decoration or reorganization, you'll find that a little goes a long way when creating your own "maison de reve." Plus, how often would you really use that baseball diamond anyway?
May you always find the om in your home,