Healing Through Design

In SD Blog|June 11, 2021|By Danine Alati

During a year fraught with illness, stress, and everyone relegated to their homes on lockdown during the pandemic, home interior design projects skyrocketed, as people attempted to create a soothing, comfortable refuge separate from the chaos of the outside world.

“Our homes have become the catalyst for self-improvement to promote positive and better lifestyles,” explains Marcy Garcia , founder and creative director of The MG Design Lab in Miami. “It’s important to understand that the way we design and build has a profound effect on our well-being, our productivity, and how we feel in these spaces. By making interiors better, we have the power to create and cultivate spaces that promote wellness and support clients living healthier, more mindful, and active lives.” What’s the key to creating this type of environment? Three interior designers weigh in on how design heals.

Marcy Garcia of MG Lab | Photo courtesy of MG Lab

Declutter and Create Purposeful Spaces

“There is no doubt that good design can foster happiness and a sense of calm,” offers Studio Designer client Chris Barrett, owner of her namesake L.A. and Palm Desert-based interior design firm. “As everyone has spent more time in their homes, they have been forced to reexamine their immediate surroundings. I am a firm believer that a clutter-free home is a clutter-free mind. As people have had more time to reevaluate how their homes function, they’re getting rid of everything that isn’t essential or loved.”

Gala Magriña | Photo: Claire Esparros

New York interior designer Gala Magriña agrees that carefully curating the home space is critical . “There is something therapeutic that comes from tending to our spaces. Decluttering and giving things away, painting a focal wall a new color, or moving furniture around, all these actions bring about a sense of change, improvement, and—on subtler, energetic levels—create space for new things and opportunities to come into our lives,” Magriña explains. “Our spaces and what we choose to surround ourselves with have a huge impact on us. I like to think of tending to our spaces with intention as self-care and see it being just as important as diet and exercise in terms of our own personal happiness and well-being.”

Employ a Soothing Palette

Chris Barrett | Photo: Alexander Vertikoff

Melding serene shades into home decor with complementary textures and finishes helps to create a tranquil space that supports wellness. “Soft, tonal palettes that are high in texture mixed with light natural woods and rattans are always relaxing and also give you that hit of nature, which studies show reduces stress and blood pressure,” Magriña notes. Barrett, however, favors a neutral monochromatic color scheme that she says makes interiors feel updated and more relaxed. She recommends creating interest by layering textures—grasscloth on the walls, nubby fabric on a lounge chair, and natural woods for furniture and accents.

“Shapes also affect us on a subconscious level,” Magriña suggests. “Round and anamorphic shapes are more calming than those with sharp angles.”

Let the Light In

Marcy Garcia of MG Lab | Photo courtesy of MG Lab

Incorporating abundant light is essential in creating a healthy environment that promotes wellness. “During the day you want as much access to natural daylight and fresh air as possible,” Magriña offers, “and at night, lights should be on dimmers so you can begin turning them down as it gets closer to bedtime and help your body and mind wind down.”

Similarly, Garcia pays particular attention to appropriate light sources —whether it’s daylight or artificial illumination that mimics natural light. “I aim to create environments that foster mental and biological health,” she says. “Studies have shown that light exposure has an impact on our mood and reduces symptoms of depression in individuals. We aim to provide interiors that reduce circadian rhythm disruption with light that improves sleep quality and positively impacts mood and productivity.”

Consider Eco-Friendly Products and Materials

Gala Magriña | Photo: Claire Esparros

“As an interior designer, I have a great responsibility to choose materials that are not only better for the environment, but also for the people living in the environments we design,” Garcia admits. “By designing sustainably, I don’t only reduce the negative impact on the environment, but increase the health and comfort of people. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments.” To that end, Garcia is hyper-diligent about the products, finishes, and paints she specifies being low to zero VOCs to help create healthy interiors. “A lot of materials in the construction and furnishing industries use formaldehyde, a chemical that has been known to cause cardiovascular, respiratory, and autoimmune illnesses,” she notes.

Magriña follows the same guidelines of judiciously selecting interior finishes, materials, furnishings, and fabrics that are natural and do not off-gas and pollute the air . “In fact, the products we have in our home contribute to our indoor air being more polluted than our outdoor air in many instances,” she urges. “So it’s important to choose natural woods, stones, and linen fabrics as much as possible and include plenty of plants in your space as they are known to be great air purifiers.”

Natural and Handcrafted Elements Prevail

Chris Barrett | Photo: Alexander Vertikoff

Barrett also advocates for specifying natural as well as handcrafted interiors products whenever possible. “The pandemic has made us realize how precious our natural resources are. I predominantly use natural materials in my interiors. I love using reclaimed wood beams and reclaimed floors. I also try to use vintage or antique pieces, which add character to space,” she says, adding, “Craft is also more and more appreciated. There is nothing that says comfort more than something that is meticulously crafted. Clients want the special touches that are unique to them—a tile surround at the doorway or a special area where they can have that much-needed zen moment.”

Chris Barrett | Photo: Karyn Millet

Magriña adds that her interior design clients appreciate that her firm addresses issues of anxiety and stress via their holistic design approach in order to create designs that heal. “We focus on transforming pockets of the home into places of sanctuary, where our clients can reset and recharge,” she says. “They become destinations where our clients spend time every day and they can just be instead of do.”

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FEATURED IMAGE: Gala Magriña | Photo: Claire Esparros