Staring at These Four Walls Again

I remember back in 2008 when the housing market crumbled around our ears, and more and more, we were spending time at home. People couldn’t get loans to move. There was no upgrading to someplace better. Money was tight, and we were stuck to stare at these four walls. Now, twelve years later, we are sequestered in our homes, staring at “these four walls” again. The circumstances then and now are very different, but there are some things that are the same: The fear, worry, not knowing and wondering what will happen. Ultimately, “this too shall pass”. We are all in this together.

Interestingly, beginning in 2008 and for the next number of years, we saw the real estate and building trades suffer incredibly, our favorite shelter magazines disappeared from print, and yet, interior design seemed to weather the storm.

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Here is my theory: as designers it is our job and joy to make your spaces work for you. They need to function and beyond that, they should make you feel good. Beginning in 2008, as we were forced to “love the one you’re with” so to speak, unable to relocate, we became more aware of our home environments and our desire to make them our sanctuary grew. If we have to stay here, let’s make it good!

How does it feel to be staring at your own “four walls”?

By now, you have had some extended time in your home: What do you notice? Do you love it? Does it love you back? Are you comfortable, comforted, soothed, delighted, and grateful? If yes, I am so glad!


Perhaps all of this togetherness with your home has brought up an opposite sort of internal response. Are you uncomfortable, cramped, stressed, annoyed, claustrophobic, and underwhelmed? If yes, there is hope!


I was reading about Melissa McCarthy in People magazine while waiting for my son’s wisdom teeth to be removed last Friday. The interview talked about how her home is a sanctuary from the world. Her family leaves their cell phones at the door, has dance-offs in the kitchen, chases the dogs, and it seems that there is always someone whizzing by on a wheeled scooter. Utter chaos. Pure joy. This is happiness to her! Some of you may be reading and thinking, “Yeah, that sounds like sheer hell to me,…” I feel you, and her. Now that my youngest child is a senior in high school, I happily look forward to that peaceful and serene empty nest. However, when my brood of four was little (four kids in five years, y’all), I had friends call them “the Wolf Pack.” Spirited chaos was my jam! Melissa McCarthy makes a point to have her home be a place of shelter, safety, and silly happiness from a world that can be wearying or even brutal at times. 

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If you close your eyes and imagine your home as your personal sanctuary, what does it look, sound, smell, and feel like? How is it lit? Softly or brightly? How does it smell? Like sautéed garlic and onions? Freshly baked cookies or brewed coffee? A fragrant bouquet of Stargazer lilies or maybe French lavender? How about the sound? Quiet? Rain on the metal roof? The crackle of the fireplace? An epic sound system playing Steely Dan or Taylor Swift (oh, wait, that’s my house!). What does it look like? Is there art everywhere or fresh, bare walls? House plants? Housepets? French country? Scandi Modern? Eclectic? Shabby, but oh-so-chic? What does it feel like? Is it velvet sofas and fur blankets? Nubby tweed upholstery? Down cushions or buttery soft leather recliners? Wood, metal, or both? Floor pillows? Firm or squishy seating? Patterns or plain? Color or none? All of this goes into how your house feels and therefore, how YOU feel in it. 


How you feel in your space goes way beyond looks. All of your senses engage to make up that visceral response and inform how you FEEL in your environment. Sight/aesthetics, sound/acoustics, touch, scent, and temperature – Each plays an important role in how we experience our homes. Each of these sensory experiences can trigger positives and negatives based on preference, life experience, or memories. For me, my grandparent’s chairs evoke nostalgia, love, and comfort. For you, maybe it is the scent of French Roast coffee brewing that washes you with optimism, knowing that drinking that cup of coffee is a treasured daily ritual that allows you to connect with your partner in conversation or your internal self in meditative thought. 


9 2A number of years ago, we bought a big, old beautiful brick Tudor house. I was so excited about what it would become, but in the beginning, I would walk from room to room and feel like I had been aesthetically assaulted. The bones were gorgeous; the 1980’s blue-flowered wallpaper complete with border, not so much. I realized very quickly that I needed ONE room that was “done” – A place I could retreat to and be refreshed when the chaos of the project felt overwhelming. That was my bedroom. At the time, my four kids were little, and I needed (desperately!) to be able to have that space to be refreshed, unwind, and recharge. I went ahead and painted right over that wallpaper (using an oil-based primer, so that the paper didn’t bubble from the water content of the paint. I was too impatient to steam remove it!), brought in the bookcases and filled them artfully with books arranged by color and framed photos, set up the two armchairs my grandparents had bought with green stamps, and then splurged on some Bohemian style bedding that Anthropologie had on clearance. Phew! Heaven. Throughout the weeks and months after, as I worked my way through that house and lovingly updated and decorated, I would retreat to those red chairs in my bedroom with coffee, lunch, or a visiting friend and be filled with what I needed to go back to the project/housework/living life with small children. That room became my sanctuary. I smile at the photo of that room now because it was not showy or impressive in any way, but it was my sanctuary. 


Do you have this kind of place? Is there a window seat where you can sip your tea (or your “Quarantini”), or cuddle your dog and look out on your yard or neighborhood? Is it in your kitchen, stirring, or whisking and mixing? Your bedroom, surrounded by comfy pillows, feet propped up? We all need that space.


If you are finding yourself now, like I once did, walking from room to room thinking (and feeling): “UGH!” Start by taking a moment to be still (I realize that this is easier said than done). Ask yourself “what makes my heart happy?” ( see my list below) and let this be your guide. Choose one small space, even a chair by the window in a patch of sunlight and start creating your sanctuary. Engage all of your senses in this creative effort: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.


7 2Sometimes, it is really the smallest thing that can change everything. Clearing away some clutter (If you need help here, Marie Kondo is a genius. Get her book on Audible). Making the bed. Lighting a scented candle. Sitting down to enjoy your cup of tea. Opening the window shades to let in the light. Even rearranging the furniture that you’ve lived with for eons can give you a “Christmas morning” vibe where it all feels new again. 


Also very, very important to feeling happy in your space is trying to find peace within your self. This is the hardest thing of all. Our environments are made up of external AND internal factors. Obviously I am not an actual therapist but I am most definitely an armchair/interior therapist……and I’ve gone to therapy and read lots of books, so that counts, right? Consider what you put into your mind. Endlessly scrolling does not typically bolster your sense of well being even in the best of times. What makes you feel good? For me a little bit of SNL or some Taylor Swift (the Man) or Black Eyed Peas (Shut Up!) on a bad day always turns my boat around. Inspirational or diversionary fiction works too. Remember in the olden days before iphones when people used to read books? Me neither. lol. Staying connected with my people even as we keep our distance is helping me tremendously! Speaking of the olden days, remember when we used to talk on phones, with our actual voices? Do it. It makes you feel good. Even better, facetime!! It’s fun to see everyone in their pajamas in the middle of the afternoon.


As I was gathering pictures around the theme of what a sanctuary looks like for me, I see some definite themes,… The dog, a fire in the fireplace, candles, music, delicious food, the beauty of the outdoors, my sweetheart, and cocktails. The beauty of my sanctuary is, at its core, emotional. It is how I FEEL. It’s the connection and experience first. 


I would love to connect with you! You can find me, pictures of my sanctuary, my sweetheart, my work and my life in general on instagram and facebook. Send me pictures of your sanctuary or a recipe for a great quarantine cocktail. My favorite is a Sidecar


#pnwdesigner #quarantine #weareallinthistogether #thistooshallpass #gooddesigncreatesinternalpeace #interiortherapist #takecourage #bekind #washyourhands #flattenthecurve #socialdistancing

Kristen Alvarado



Shannon Morgan

Terri 2


Terri Kaminski

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