Monday, September 28, 2015

What is inSite Contemplative Design? Why this name?

inSite - as in on location and revelation.  I begin by reading the people, place and purpose of a site with all my senses open.  Listening deeply for what works and what doesn't.   In dialogue, together we gain insights that lead to creative solutions.

Contemplative -Rather than offering cookie cutter solutions, stainless steel, granite countertops, etc. I give thoughtful consideration to all the details of each project, looking for meaningful and harmonious options for the client.

Design -  having observed and considered, I draw on 30+ years of artistic and aesthetic training to select colors, art, furnishings, etc. to complete the space and suit the client.

The logo has significance related to the name, as well.  The yellow disk represents the Great Eastern Sun, which in Shambhala Buddhism represents the constantly fresh and awakened nature of our mind, always shining, radiant and unobscured.  "in" is lower case, as it represents being present within reality, not separate from the site, but humbly opening to the phenomenal world so that I can be available for the input it provides. It also starts with the small "i" as in it's not about me, the designer/ego, but creating a space that suits you the client, afterall you will live or work in the space, not me, when all is said and done.

"Sit" lies within the word "Site" indicating my meditation practice is at the heart of my ability to do this work, always working with my mind and the ability to be present with open space of meditative mind.  The E is written as a Chinese letter E which also means 3.  This refers to the 3 courts principle (inner, outer and secret) or heaven, earth and human, the 3 kayas (dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya) all being in harmony in the final arrangement of household and life as a whole.  Any creative process works with these principles in the act of creation.
If you want to learn more about my work or these principles contact me for a consultation at contact (at) or look for one of my classes in the coming year.  To find out when they will happen sign up for my e-newsletter.

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.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Art Chess - Object arranging on the coast of Maine

Working with found objects on the coast of Maine
My husband, Guy, and I collaborate in designing temporary arrangements.

One person starts the arrangement by placing the first object, which defines the space.

The second person adds a new object in relation to the first creating a tension that defines the form of the arrangement.

Finally, the first person adds a third object that is the energy that arises as a natural consequence. 

We work with the open attitude of wonder and curiosity about the immediate area of the rocky shore, selecting large boulders as the setting/canvas for each creation and selecting our objects from the immediate vicinity. While each arrangement is a spontaneous creation made in minutes, there is a feeling of "just so" that arises with each placement. 

Since we take turns with each placement we are always starting from a fresh "Square One", that reminds us to return to "don't know mind" and look with fresh eyes, a key practice in contemplative design. 

This practice is adapted from the object arranging exercises I teach in the Shambhala Art training program, a 5 part class that mixes meditation and the creative process, first developed by my root teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  In his writings, he refers to the roles of each object as Heaven, Earth and Human for the first, second and third strokes/objects placed.  In truth, all creations whether they have one, two, three or more elements, include these principles in the form of a vision(heaven), a form(earth) and energy(human) that arises from the joining of Heaven & Earth. 

If you are interested in learning more about this process here are two resources for classes and more information.
Shambhala Art International Rebekah Younger's website

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Color your world

Today was the kind of drab gray day that is typical of this time of year in Maine.  Snow melting on the ground, foggy air and leafless trees, damp and chill.  The sun when it does shine stays low in the sky, so the light is weak even at mid-day.  In this neutral colored world, I am reminded of how much I am fed by color.  I know I am not alone in this need for rich saturated hues, whether they be the warmth of yellow, the passion of red, the cool depths of blue or the vibrancy of green.  Did you ever notice how color affects your mood? On a gray day we may feel drab and gray ourselves.  Sun and blue skies may uplift our mood.  When I moved from California to Maine, I knew that the quality of light would shift dramatically in the long winters, so I painted the walls of my home warm sunny colors to offset the winter whites and grays.  I am truly amazed that so many Maine homes have white walls when there is so much white here much of the year.

Color is reflected light and those light frequencies do resonate in us.  We can actually be fed energetically by color.  Likewise we can feel overwhelmed or jolted awake by color that is too intense or clashes with its surroundings.  While we each may have our favorite color, there are properties to colors that are near universal. We see it reflected culturally in our use of language.  We speak of seeing red when we are angry, having the blues when we are down or feeling golden when we feel enriched.

Notice what colors you have in your world.  What does it say about who you are?  Do the colors energize you, relax you or do you feel jarred or drained by them?  Understanding how you react to color is vital to creating environments that are harmonious and effective for life and work.  In one client's office two walls were a khaki color, that felt oppressive and drab.  Just shifting the shade to a clearer shade of celadon green lifted his mood while keeping a sense of calm in the space. Another client's home office and meditation room had a large round red rug that filled the room.  The magnetizing energy was overwhelming for the small 10'x10' room, overpowering any sense of peacefulness that might have been created by the altar and furnishings.  Putting a neutral rug in the space, especially a light colored one would brighten the room and create a sense of spaciousness and calm.
I am reminded of a great quote from master colorist, Georgia O'Keeffe in speaking about her paintings, "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for."  Ultimately that's where color affects us too.  In the place that is beyond words.  Our direct experience as a sensate being.  Paying attention to how you color your world will help you in developing spaces that work for you on all levels.

If you would like help in coloring your world, I am available for consults, both on site and remotely.  Contact me at: contact at

For more information on the psychology of color these are some useful links.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hospital Design Part 3 - What works at Midcoast Hospital

Finally, I am back to writing in this blog after over a month of completing other web based projects.  Namely completing my book of photography and art, entitled, "Flash of Perception", which can be purchased online at and totally rebuilding my website.  Both were very time consuming but rewarding projects. So finally I get back to follow up on my discussion of the aesthetic design of hospital spaces to enhance the wellbeing of patients and workers alike.

 I took pictures a couple weeks ago of MidCoast Hospital, in Brunswick, ME.  The design of the hospital is based on the philosophy that nature, light and art all play an important part in the healing environment.  I'd spoken earlier about my experiences with Maine Medical in Portland, which is an older and very active urban hospital, that is currently going through some remodelling, but is basically still geared towards expediency and the traditional de-humanizing design for patient rooms.

So let's take a look at MidCoast and see what seems to work.  First note the tall tower at the entry to the hospital.  This is an open stairwell to the upper floor and fills the entry with light.

Indeed the entire first floor has large windows facing the drive so  the halls are filled with the natural light.

The woods, rocks and streams that surround the building are brought indoors as well with two large stone and water sculptures by Andreas Van Huene in the outpatient services waiting areas.

Rather than the cold sterility of metal and formica, the desks and entries to the departments are designed with woodwork reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs.

Artwork plays a major role throughout the hospital from the Zorach sculpture at the main entrance
to these colorful murals in the corridor to the new emergency room wing.

This stairwell just outside the emergency room is sunny and bright  (looks almost like a grand staircase in some mansion) actually leads to the patient's rooms in the surgical ward and the family waiting areas.

The emergency room itself is cheerful with light colored wood and glass dividers between seating areas, tons of windows and a children's play area at one end.

Upstairs between the maternity ward and the surgical recovery wards is an oval room for meditation that provides a peaceful spot for reflection for those in need of it.  The entry to the space has poetry for contemplation etched on glass panels and back lit,  along with a place for visitors to write their prayers and comments.

The interior of the Meditation Room has a stone fountain and stained glass with a lovely recessed skylight bringing in the natural light and world once again for contemplation.

The upstairs waiting room was sunny and bright too with comfortable seating and views of the woods and garden.

The patient rooms were all singles with large windows and artwork on the walls, not just the stats and posters like Maine Med.

The hallways are carpeted to keep the noise down too.

Out back there is a Healing Garden for staff, patients and visitors to enjoy with seating, a small fountain and views into the woods.  All of these features add to a general sense of wellbeing that can only enhance the healing properties of the hospital.  Here is a hospital that thinks about healing the whole person not just the body.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hospital Design Part Two: Art, Light, Nature and Healing

In a previous post I wrote about my early morning arrival at the Emergency Room of Maine Medical Center due to severe angina. The doctors determined that a heart catheterization was needed first thing that morning to see if I had a blockage in my heart.   As I headed out the door I chose to bring my camera with me to document my experience of the spaces as both artist and patient.  My interest in the design of space and how we are affected by it  was my motivation.  My business, inSite Contemplative Design, works with individuals, businesses and institutions to create uplifted environments through mindful design.
I have had several trips to the hospital over the last six years.  I was all too familiar with the de-humanizing starkness of the ER and patient rooms of Maine Medical Center.  Yet I wanted to examine why this was so and ponder if I had the opportunity to contribute to their design what would I do differently.From the stark white ER I was moved up to the 9th Floor to the cardiac unit to be prepped for the procedure.  The floor was still in the midst of remodeling, that may explain the lack of artwork on the walls.  However there were plenty of signs with useful diagrams of the heart already up on the bright peach walls.  I guess giving out information is more important.

Note the difference between the bare walls and adding a bit of art and nature to the elevator lobby where patients are wheeled down to procedures. [ I photoshop'ed one of my flower photos into the image.]

But it was the patient rooms that seemed the most bleak.  My friend's sunflower from her garden was the one bright spot.

 To think someone actually designed the pattern and colors for the "johnny" (aka hospital gown I had to wear).  Where did this name come from I wondered?

The view from the bed was pretty depressing, with  the signs taped to the walls with no particular care.  Just the facts of date and time to mark the hours you are there and the names of the staff serving you.  We're talking strictly utilitarian concerns here.

And the ever present glare of the television offering  mind numbing distraction, but no healing energy, while I wait and wait for the weekend to pass. 

The doctors had found a blockage in my left main artery. Another stent would be inserted to open it up.  But not until Monday...

 With the long hours of sitting ahead of me ( and not the kind I was used to on my meditation cushion due to all the interruptions of nurses taking vital signs, drawing blood, etc.) I began to look for the beauty I could discern in the setting.  I found it in the spaces between things.

In the light at different times of day coming through the one window in the room.  I had to sit on the end of my bed to actually look out the window. The poor soul placed in the bed close to the door couldn't see out of it at all!  Here we were on the top floor of a building on top of the highest hill in Portland.  A place where one might feel they were on Mt. Olympus.  A place to reflect and maybe gain a bit of perspective on one's place in life and the world.  And we couldn't even see out once we were forced to stay in bed, as most of us were, for the hours before and after the procedure.

The quality of light and the hues of the morning sunrise brought life back into the barren space and reminded me of the larger world beyond the technology surrounding me.  For all the "life-saving" equipment around me there was so little that was "life affirming".

  Out of curiosity I took a look at the hospital's plans for their renovations to see what more they were planning to do.  I hoped it would mean more art, nature and light.  Interesting that the maternity wing was a complete contrast to the cardiac unit.  These rooms looked almost like a hotel or someone's home.  I found out later from a friend who is a doctor that the reason hospitals spend the big money on the maternity and delivery rooms is because they know that most family's first experience of a hospital is the maternity ward.  Women will shop around for the best choice and then remain loyal to the hospital that delivers their children.  But why would the experience of one's environment be any less important in the healing treatment of the aging adult in the cardiac unit?
While I was totally satisfied with the staff at Maine Med I always leave the facility feeling drained by the setting (and the poor food.) The staff are some of the best in the country, particularly for cardiac care so I continue to endure these hardships, but I will be sending this article to the hospital and my cardiologist with suggestions for how they could improve their program.

The following week as a follow up to the heart cath and stent insertion I took some bloodwork to MidCoast Hospital, a newer facility closer to home.   I immediately noticed the difference in hospital design philosophy. MidCoast Hospital emphasized the arts, nature and natural materials in its design.
 From their website:
Mid Coast Hospital is a community hospital like no other. Much thought went into designing a facility that was not just state-of-the-art but state-of-the-heart, with a healing environment that nurtures the whole patient—body, mind and spirit.
The building is sited to take full advantage of the woods, ledge and natural light. Works of art on display, from murals and paintings to water treatments and sculpture, serve as “peaceful eddies in the stream” of hospital life. They slow our pace, engage our spirit and support the healing process.
With regards to a Dahlov Ipcar mural in the hospital:

Would that all hospitals would find funds and will to invest in this level of healing, then we would all find better treatment.