Updated: Dec 30, 2019
The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn about interior design and health.
It’s interesting, these things we deem as twists of fate. For many, 2008 was a turning point due to the market crash. Personally, 2008 marks the year I became completely disenchanted with my first career choice as a civil engineer. I yearned to do something more - more personal… more meaningful… more fun. A shift to interior design seemed to fit perfectly with my interests, skillset and experience so I set out to do just that.
As I made that career shift, I traveled a bit, I went to Montreal, Paris and London, and had a fantastic three-week adventure tour through New Zealand. It was this trip that marks a turning point for me – that interesting twist of fate.
I came back from New Zealand refreshed and energized, excited about my new career path and ready to tackle the world. However, this also marks the time my mom got sick. She went to the doctor because she had a cough she couldn’t shake – I came home and she was in the hospital – an x-ray of her lungs showing an odd phenomena – the doctors described the image as “ground glass”.
It seems she inhaled mold or some other toxin that caused her lungs to slowly close in on themselves. She was diagnosed with “interstitial lung disease”, it wasn’t asthma, cancer or COPD, or any other lung disease that was in the books, this diagnosis meant nothing. We never found out the source of the contaminant or when or where or how it came to inhabit her lungs. She lost the capacity to breathe fully on her own and was on oxygen for the last 10- years of her life. She died at age 68. Too young.
Mom’s decline in physical health led to a slew of research about what we surround ourselves with and how exactly a building is built. What makes a healthy indoor environment? How do air, water and natural light impact the built environment – our homes, the places we work? How do materials off-gas and how does ventilation (or lack thereof) effect air quality and how does this all effect our health?
And yet there’s more to creating a healthy home than the physical things we surround ourselves with. While my Mom’s physical health was declining, her mental and emotional health also needed tending to. It was my Mom’s unwavering spunky attitude and her mottos “surround yourself with the people and things that you love” and “fill your life with feasts; feast of family, friends, and music. Feasts of smells and of taste. Feasts of love, of gratitude, and of beauty. Feasts of rest and relaxation.” – that impacted the design decisions we made for her.
For my Mom’s place, adjustments were made to make sure she could continue to “fill her life with feasts”. During the early years, furniture, accessory items and other materials brought into her home were fully vetted for potential contaminants. If anything could even remotely be considered an allergen or toxin – it was removed. Safety and cleanliness took the forefront of the decision-making process. Eventually, two-story living became one-story living, and then their home was retrofit with handicap ramps. Near the end, space and accommodations were made for the hospital bed. Those were the physical changes we made to her home.
To keep her mind sharp and her energy levels high, Mom’s favorite colors were incorporated into her rooms, she loved to garden so we surrounded her with plants and flowers and made sure her favorite chair was placed by the window so she could look out to enjoy her garden when she no longer was able to easily get outside. Her favorite items were placed within reaching distance of her chair – so that when mobility was an issue, she could still “do what she needed to do” with some level of independence.
It was a decade long adjustment to “fill her life with feasts” given the circumstance of her rapidly aging body but still sharp mind and love of life.
Research shows that Americans spend 90% of our time indoors. The National Center for Healthy Homes lists 7 principles for a healthy home. A healthy home is dry, clean, safe, pest-free, contaminant-free, well-ventilated and well-maintained. It is these standards that initially guide my designs but there’s more.
I believe that it is absolutely essential that we strive to create and maintain a healthy home – I also believe good designs are energy efficient, flexible, adaptable, ergonomic, beautiful and comfortable. And perhaps most important, that the home reflects the lifestyle of those that inhabit it. “Surround yourself with the things and people that you love. Fill your life with feasts.“