We live in an era of personalization and self-expression. From the selfies we take to our carefully curated social media profiles, the color of our mobile phones to the brands we wear, modern life offers us multiple opportunities to make statements about who we are and what we stand for, and we lap it up.
As a culture, we are also increasingly concerned with exploring our internal world, going “inside” and finding ourselves. The abundance of meditation apps and the popularity of personal empowerment, mindfulness, yoga, and meditation workshops are testament to this. In 2019, the global coaching industry was valued at $15 billion and expected to grow to $20 billion by 2022. Sports like running and cycling and leisure pursuits like painting and dancing - all of which enable us to “go within” are growing in popularity.
Unlike previous generations, we place ourselves at the center of our lives. Our pursuits, interests, and hobbies are largely geared towards uncovering the self and we love nothing better than to express our internality on the outside - whether that be through our clothing choices, playlists, and yes even our mobile phone covers.
While some people see these external expressions of our internality as shallow, I beg to differ. My work designing homes that people will love has shown me, in a very tangible way, that the objects and things we surround ourselves with are much more than shallow externalities - they affect our mood and influence our emotions.
Fans of spiritual literature will have heard the concept of “making our outsides match our insides” that is increasingly gripping this generation. It manifests in many ways and causes people to make choices that former generations would call “crazy.” Like leaving a life-sucking career to become a landscape gardener, exchanging a city apartment for a country barn, or even dying one’s hair blue.
Whether we call it authenticity, honesty or simply being true to ourselves - people today are increasingly asking, “what makes me tick?” and trying to honor that in their lifestyle, leisure, career, and retail choices. Far from being shallow, there is deep wisdom in this. As a culture, we are beginning to recognize how powerful our internal drives and preferences are. That doing, feeling, thinking, and living in ways that don’t resonate with our internality is deeply unnatural and uncomfortable.
If you live in your activewear, you've felt this when you had to dress in stiff leather shoes and tailored jacket for a formal event.
If you bought the black mobile phone and felt an overpowering sense of regret each time you touched it, you know what I mean.
If you once put a vase of fresh flowers on your kitchen table and smiled each time you walked past, you know what I mean too.
The things we put in our environment are more than just external displays of personality and choice, they have an energy and resonance all of their own.
If we can recognize how important such choices are in so many areas of our lives, how tragic it is that so many people fail to recognize the critical importance of the home environment to our sense of wellbeing.
From decades of designing homes for hundreds of clients, I can tell you that the objects, materials, colors, textures, and even the walls we surround ourselves with have a deep impact on how we feel, on our sense of wellbeing.
I have seen, heard, and felt the misery of people who live in an environment that doesn't resonate with them enough times to realize what a widespread problem this is. You’d be shocked at how many times I’ve heard the same story. The one about the home being nice, functional, and suited to purpose “so why do I feel so dead inside”. Enough times to fuel my quest to find an answer.
That answer is my design DNA philosophy which I now want to share with you.
Step with me for a moment, into the life of my dear client, Shelley.
I met Shelley last year, a few months into the pandemic. The minute she walked into the room I felt her energy and ambition. Shelley is a whirlwind, a career woman of note, and a dynamic and driven personality. Married to the warm and lovely Adam, they share two adorable daughters, aged 3 and 7.
Until recently, Shelley’s work as an HR manager in a fast-paced high-tech company kept her in the office for long hours. While home offered a welcome respite from the hectic pace of career-building, she never actually spent a lot of time there.
Then came the pandemic. All of a sudden everything was topsy turvy.
Office life became a distant memory, subsumed by groundhog day within the confines of her apartment. All-day long, just the four of them squeezed within those walls (or so it felt) and this created a deep sense of unease within Shelley.
Don’t get me wrong, Shelley loves her family, and the extra hours at home also brought moments of joy and fulfillment. The unease was coming from somewhere else. “It’s as if I don't belong in my house anymore,” she told me.
While I sympathized deeply with her distress, I wasn’t at all surprised. As I mentioned, I’ve heard stories like Shelley’s, and variants of it, on and off for many years.
Being the efficient and capable person she is, Shelley had designed her apartment carefully and deliberately with all her family's needs in mind. Nothing was out of place and nothing was superfluous. They had a study to work in, a room for each child, a kitchen that could accommodate four people, and a large, comfortable dining area. They also had an abundance of cherished objects, trinkets, and mementos from various family trips (the hand-painted boomerang from their Australian honeymoon, the crystal vase they picked up in Prague) to add character and liveliness to their space.
Yes, the apartment was exactly suited to their needs and tastes, but living within its walls was becoming increasingly unbearable for Shelley.
I invited Shelley to take my design DNA test and the results were as I had intuited from our first brief meeting.
While Shelly was the dynamo in the family, Adam was the nurturer. His steadfast warmth, unconditional acceptance, and kindness were the things that drew her towards him in the first place. And, on a deeper level, they were the ideal counter to her driven, yet less nurturing, personality,
Without her realizing it, the things she sought in her life partner were the very things she needed in her surroundings.
The results of the design DNA confirmed my suspicions. Her design DNA expressed the following needs:
Confidence made sense to Shelley and unwittingly, she had already infused her home decor with many displays of confidence. What was sorely missing, however (and making her miserable as a result) was warmth and growth - in particular, warmth.
Shelley entrusted me with the critical task of turning her functional city apartment into a warm and embracing home. I say critical, because her wellbeing, and that of her entire, family rested upon my success in this mission.
Some people are afraid to embark on a design process with a professional like me because they feel they will need to change everything and it will cost a lot of money. The reality is that once you understand the client’s Design DNA, it’s not so hard to add a sprinkling of the right elements and totally change the “feel” of the house, even without spending lots of money.
Let me take you through the magic ingredients I used to add warmth and growth to Shelly and Adam’s home:
Wood - We paved all the bedrooms with old-fashioned and bleached oak flooring. Unlike stone or concrete, wood is a naturally warm material that creates an enveloping and nurturing atmosphere.
Padding - For the living room, we chose sofas with padded handles and backs. the kind you just want to curl up in and feel hugged and protected. It's not difficult to imagine how this added warmth to the space.
Pillows - Soft, squishy pillows offer a welcome warm embrace. By choosing a gentle olive green fabric reminiscent of plant life, we hinted at growth.
Transparent curtains - We dressed the windows with transparent, flowing fabric curtains to soften the sunlight as it streamed into the room. This lent an almost ethereal quality.
Nature Prints - Carrying on the growth theme, I chose a slightly fuzzy leaf print wallpaper for one wall, lending a sense of growth, softness, and stability.
Take our fun, free test and discover the three leading Design Personalities that comprise your Design DNA. Get pointers and tips to help you create a living space in your own image.