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.