Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mindfulness in Design: Bringing body, form and function together



As interior decorators, designers and architects, we work to create spaces that balance form and function with the comfort of the inhabitants. In these practices one of our greatest assets is not our mind, but our body. It is our sense perceptions that provide the phenomenological information of the qualities of light, temperature, color, smell and feel of the setting and materials. The mind can then interpret that information and design solutions, drawing on our training and experience.  So a practice that develops mind/body synchronization in the present moment could only be of benefit to these professions.  Mindfulness practice offers tools for synchronizing mind and body through the simple act of resting the mind on the sensations of the breath.

I have found that integrating a mindfulness practice into the design process accesses subtle layers of information through open awareness, which can then lead to an embodied response to the space.  Sitting in contemplation with open questions like; how do I feel in the space? what attracts my attention? what feels uncomfortable? can provide feedback vital to the design process. By cultivating a connection to the present moment through sitting practice, sense perceptions are heightened and more space is available for the less obvious reactions to arise. This then provides more information on which to base any design.  

Mindfulness to our inner dialogue without judgment makes active listening to a client without bias possible.  This opens the possibility of dialogue with all the forces at work; natural, aesthetic and interpersonal.  Out of this awareness, options offered and decisions made embrace things as they are rather than imposing a conceptual response based on previous experience.  The result organically grows from the fertile intersection of people, place and materials, so that the final design is a natural outgrowth uniquely suited to the client’s needs, fresh and alive.

In my own practice, each design begins with synchronizing my mind and body, to be fully present with heightened awareness; open to the specifics of site, client and function. My role is as sensor, facilitator and conduit for the design to be born through skillful engagement with all the interdependent elements of the space.  This is not about my personal creative expression, but an opportunity for the client’s vision to be exposed and realized.

The initial meeting is spent actively listening to the client’s perceived use of the space, interests and what needs are currently unmet.  I then take my own reading of the specific site and greater environs, noting details of placement, color, light, smell, sound, furnishings and functionality.  Through the felt sense of my experience I identify what needs adjustment in light of the client’s input. 

From this thorough assessment, I prepare an initial design proposal, with priorities set based on budget and time frame.   Throughout the process, feedback and engagement is encouraged, as I work together with the client to transform the space.

Dialogue and collaboration are key as we work together to create a place where one can settle the body, rest the mind and uplift the soul.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bringing Design Back to Earth - Elements in Design

In the design of harmonious environments, not only the function and the people occupying the space need to be considered, but also the impact of the elements.  How are the properties of water, earth, fire, air/wind and space present?  So often we forget that we as sensory beings are integral parts of the larger mandala of the phenomenal world around us.  All these forces of nature are not only present in our surroundings, but they are also active within us.
When I am working with a new client I attend to these energetic forces and how they manifest in all aspects of the environment.  When one aspect is out of harmony, being overly dominant or too weak, the experience of the space is unsettling and discordant.

Normally when we think of elements of design it is in the context of line, shape and color.  But I want to talk about elements as those forces found in nature that are also integral in the design of interior space. This particular post will be on the role of earth in a balanced interior design.

Coral Mushroom and Leaves - c. 2012
 When I speak of earth, I am not talking about the planet or even the ground beneath us, but the archetypal energy that shapes and defines form, with mass, structure and richness.  In working with interior space, one looks at the floor plan and furniture as the structures to support and channel the flow of energy through a room. Properly placed forms in a room can provide focus and grounding while offering a sense of enrichment to the occupants.  Bad placement or too much mass can be claustrophobic or block the proper flow of energy.  Any good design starts with having "good bones" to be built on.

Before - entry from the front hallway
 A recent client approached me because they were challenged by the layout of their living room.  It was a sunken space with 3 entrances; one on either side of the fireplace leading to a front hallway and dining room and one sliding double door to a porch patio.  The room has a cathedral ceiling and windows on two sides.  Indeed there was only one solid wall in the room.

Before - Looking towards entry towards front hallway

The owner loves plants and had populated, some might say overpopulated, the space with hanging plants of all shapes and sizes.  Wall space above the windows was used for artwork.  The passageways into the room were partially blocked by a large chest and a curio cabinet.

Before - Chest blocking passage to dining area
  All this left the occupants with an oppressive feeling, so they often chose to turn their backs on the room and gaze out the windows instead.  I felt the room was a tropical canyon dwarfed by greenery, with most of the points of interest well above eye level. To exacerbate the situation the carpeting was a textured cream colored carpet, so one felt suspended on a cloud, yet hovering in a canyon. The artwork was Southwestern desert, the plants tropical and the outdoor view Northern New England. The laws of nature were totally topsy-turvy.  No wonder they felt uncomfortable in the space.

After - Entry from front hallway
To remedy the situation, I started with clearing the entries of the larger pieces of furniture, brought the artwork down to eye level and removed most of the hanging plants, having the client severely prune what remained.  The cream carpet was replaced with cinnamon colored maple flooring, to
coordinate with most of the furniture, and a modern graphic area rug was added in front of the fireplace.

After - Looking towards dining area entry
 The room still has finishing touches to be done, but the energy of the space is much more appealing for the owners and provides a better setting for socializing with others, all because of shifting the bones of the room.

After - Even the dog feels more comfortable
 Working with nature, rather than defying it I was able to give the client a living room that feels both more grounded and spacious at the same time.  While the client originally painted their walls a terracotta red to theoretically evoke earth; by actually bringing the mass and points of interest in the room closer to the ground and providing a darker floor for it all, the earth energy can now actually be felt in the space.