Wellness Design

Designing for Improved Well-being

How a home functions should reflect the unique habits, routines and personalities of potential homebuyers

By Toni Gocke Wyre

Mental health has been a major topic of conversation in the past few years. It seems we are all talking about the importance of mental health awareness and how to improve mental health, but what does this mean for how and where we live? Can design really help develop a better sense of well-being?

I recently attended the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) national conference, GATHER, in Los Angeles. The annual conference is an exclusive look into the design industry with an array of great programming from industry leaders and keynotes. This year I had the benefit of learning from keynote speaker, author, television host and philanthropist, Simon T. Bailey. Bailey spoke about, “reigniting our spark and inner brilliance,” and encouraged us to take our “MEDS” for an improved mindset and mental health—“ MEDS” meaning meditate, exercise, diet and sleep.  

This is a topic that has been on my mind (pardon the pun) for a while. According to the ASID 2023 Trends Outlook report, “global unhappiness has reached the highest rate in world history” and “six in 10 therapists say they don’t have openings left to take new patients.” The report further reveals more in-depth info focusing on mental health and well-being and offers insight to designers to better improve spaces. The real question is, can design offer tangible improvements to our daily lives?

The short answer is yes, but how we get there takes a bit of work and introspection. Bailey’s MEDS formula resonated with me as the prescription for solving these issues. As designers, we seek to elevate the art of placemaking – creating quality spaces where people want to be. When you designate a place for an activity, a habit or a connection, you bring order to chaos. When most of our days are filled with managing chaos, chaos becomes the majority source of our stress. I’m no doctor, but in my own life experiences, I have seen how feeling a lack of control over certain aspects of our daily lives can lead to more stress, anxiety and depression.

If we worked to apply Bailey’s approach to our daily lives, we as designers would feel so much better.  But how can we apply this? And when? Part of the solution is through placemaking. What would meditation look like in your life? It doesn’t have to be combining sand in a zen garden with a Buddha statue (although that does sound lovely). It could be a quiet moment to read and think in your favorite chair by the window, or converting that closet in the guest room to a cozy space. If you commit to making a place for meditation, you are much more likely to follow through on the activity. ASID’s trends report also found that “health and wellness remain a top priority for clients…and interior design that addresses both mind and body is a growing trend.” A few examples can also be, “the choice of colors, lighting and daylight, and the use of plants and natural materials.” 

How many of us have had the literal or proverbial treadmill in the bedroom at one point or another? After about six weeks, it often becomes a glorified clothing rack (or is that just me?). In my case, I made the mistake of trying to combine two very different activities into one space without creating boundaries around each. So when I was sleeping, I felt guilty for not exercising, and when I was exercising, I wished I could take a nap. I’m not saying you can’t put a treadmill in your bedroom – sometimes that is the only option. However, how we treat space and delineate the activities within affects us both mentally and physically. Having specific areas for specific tasks may help our brains better embrace the activity at hand.

I would argue that a big part of the increase in stress and unhappiness during the pandemic was due to a lack of coming and going. Our brains need a way to better transition between activities. Many of us lost the downtime during a commute to change from home to work and vice versa. Moving from the bedroom to the kitchen table, or to the office or family room blurred the lines between work and home. Those blurred lines are still causing problems, with many of us feeling more stressed than ever. I think it’s because our brains aren’t making the transition between tasks. Design can help.

Let us take a collective step back and examine our personal habits and routines through the “MEDS” lens. Consider creating meaningful and separate spaces for meditation, exercise, diet and sleep (and yes, work too!). Think about how you move through your home – are there areas of opportunity for reinforcing good habits while deterring the less desirable habits? One small example in my own life was creating a space to sort mail. It used to pile up on a corner of the counter, becoming unsightly and overwhelming. It was my “later pile” – “I’ll get to it later.” I added a 3-tiered wall sorter just inside the door, and now I can immediately file, shred or recycle. It happens to also look nice, and that’s the beauty of design—the best spaces can be both functional and beautiful. How your home functions should reflect you and your unique habits, routines and personality.  

If you are looking for design inspiration, be sure to check out ASID’s FOCUS Awards, recognizing two outstanding examples of designing for health at home in the FOCUS Wellness category. If you’d like to know more about creating a healthy home for yourself, the WELL (International Well Building Institute) for Residential Pilot is a great resource. And finally, in the words of Simon T. Bailey, “Don’t forget to take your MEDS!”

Toni Gocke Wyre, FASID, LEED AP, WELL AP, is past chair of the American Society of Interior Designers.