This Months Real Estate Insider Newsletter

Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners — money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.

ISSUE #1231
How to Create a Serene Home

A home should be a refuge — a calm and inviting place to work, play and unwind. This has become especially true during the pandemic, when many of us are spending more time indoors. But all too often it falls short of that ideal. The clutter piles up, the sofa gets stained, the lighting seems cold, the paint colors aren’t quite what we expected and the accessories don’t work together to form a cohesive whole. By following a few simple steps, however, it’s possible to calm the chaos, take control and make any house or apartment a more welcoming home..

For the complete story, click here…

Also This Month…
Feel-Good Lighting Ideas

How a room is illuminated can have a significant impact on your mood.



Welcoming Wall Finishes

Choose subtle colors and textures over electric hues and eye-catching patterns.


Quick Links
How to Create a Serene Home

Feel-Good Lighting Ideas
Welcoming Wall Finishes


How to Create a Serene Home

A home should be a refuge — a calm and inviting place to work, play and unwind. This has become especially true during the pandemic, when many of us are spending more time indoors. But all too often it falls short of that ideal. The clutter piles up, the sofa gets stained, the lighting seems cold, the paint colors aren’t quite what we expected and the accessories don’t work together to form a cohesive whole. By following a few simple steps, however, it’s possible to calm the chaos, take control and make any house or apartment a more welcoming home.

Take Back Control
A home that’s a mess will never seem serene.

Set Goals
You may need to bring in some new items to make your home more controlled, but before that step begins, it’s important to deal with what you already have. Prior to starting a purge, set goals for what you want to achieve.

People have varying ambitions for their homes, and differences in taste. You might desire a Zen-inspired retreat, a gallery-like interior that showcases an art collection, or a pillowy palace full of soft surfaces. Each of these goals will require different types of objects, in different quantities. (If you have a partner or roommates, you will also need to work out these goals with them before you proceed. If you strongly disagree, think compromise.)

“The first step of organizing has nothing to do with stuff,” said Laura Cattano, a professional organizer. “It’s about clarifying who you are and how you want to live.”

Consider whether you prefer spaces that feel invigorating or calming, she said, as well as the specific activities you want your home to support, such as cooking, exercising, writing, entertaining, reading or playing board games.

“Look back at spaces that made you feel unhappy, and ones that made you feel happy,” said Clodagh, an interior designer who focuses on designing serene spaces, and try to understand why they did. If, for instance, your parents’ collection of antique Chippendale furniture made you squirm, but a minimalist Japanese hotel made you feel immediately relaxed, those things should inform your design decisions.

“You have to filter out stale ideas that your mother or aunt gave you about how you should live, or what you should have in your space,” Clodagh said. “Does it have to do with you or not?”

Edit With Ease
Editing belongings and removing clutter from a home is easier said than done. Indeed, it can seem so overwhelming that some people simply put it off forever.

“People get stuck,” Ms. Cattano said. But the trick to moving forward, she said, is to relieve yourself of the pressure of making a decision to keep, recycle or throw away every single object in your home. Instead, start by eliminating the things you already know you don’t need or want.

“Always do the easiest things first,” she said, noting that most people have piles of old clothing, luggage, magazines, toys, worn bedding and tchotchkes just waiting to be eliminated. “With the editing process, you want to get as much out as quickly as possible to help change the energy of the space.”

Put objects you’re unsure about aside for the time being, and don’t let them derail the cleanout. As you see the space improving, Ms. Cattano said, you’ll probably have a better understanding about what to do with the trickier things.

Balance Open and Closed Storage
The objective of getting organized isn’t to hide everything you own, but it does involve finding the right balance between open and closed storage. Utilitarian products can be stored neatly out of sight in closets, drawers and boxes, which will help more decorative and personal items such as vases, candleholders, pictures and coffee table books come to the fore on open shelves and surfaces.

“With less in the room, whatever you leave behind rises to the surface,” said Vicente Wolf, an interior designer. “It makes your objects look more important, rather than just looking like a lot of stuff.”

If you collect ceramic bowls, vintage toys, African masks, seashells or anything else, group those objects together for maximum impact. “Rather than having them all over the house, put them all in one place,” he said. “Create settings that your eye can rest on.”

Map Objects to Their Functions
When you put things away, remember that you’ll eventually want to use them again, and if you store things close to where you use them, it will make performing daily tasks a little easier.

Keep toiletries you use every day together on a medicine cabinet shelf that’s easy to reach rather than scattered in different vanity drawers. Put board games close to the table where you play them, magazines by the reading lamp, and pots and pans directly beside the stove. “The experience should be graceful, intuitive and easy” when you go to use things, Ms. Cattano said.

She even likes to set up coffee and tea stations for her clients, where everything required for making a hot beverage is contained in a single kitchen cabinet, so no rummaging through the pantry for teabags or sweetener is required.

Manage the Daily Onslaught
Almost every day, our homes are inundated with packages, bills, shoes, jackets, bags, keys and phones as we come and go. If you don’t have a dedicated place to put these things, they invariably end up spread around the home.

Try to create spaces to catch these items every time you walk in the door. Installing a small wall shelf or console provides a landing pad for your mail, keys and wallet. That way, “you never have to think about them,” Ms. Cattano said, “because they’re always by the door,” rather than lost between the sofa cushions.

Wall hooks or a coat tree can hold outerwear that might otherwise be thrown onto benches and chairs. Ms. Cattano also likes to designate an “in-and-out spot” for packages – a place that can hold boxes until you have time to deal with them. “Have one shelf that’s always available,” she said, “near the entry or in the coat closet.”



Feel-Good Lighting Ideas

Watch the Color Temperature
For warm, soothing light with a golden glow, look for fixtures and bulbs that offer a color temperature of 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin. Any higher, and the light will begin to look bluish white — good for an office or warehouse, but rarely desirable at home.

In the age of LEDs, however, not all light sources advertised as 2,700 Kelvin are equal. Some may appear more yellow than others. Some may hold a constant color temperature as they are dimmed, while others will get warmer, like a traditional incandescent bulb.

Read specifications and packaging carefully, and test the different fixtures and bulbs together in the rooms where you plan to use them. “Do all the color temperatures work together, and dim together? That’s very important,” said Francis D’Haene, the founder of D’Apostrophe Design.

If one fixture gives off a golden glow while another provides bluish white light, the overall look will be unsettling. Even though they may come from different manufacturers, the goal is to have all the fixtures appear as though they’re on the same team.

If you need one lamp to appear slightly warmer, Mr. Wolf said, try installing a lampshade with a gold lining.

Layer the Light
Don’t expect a single light fixture on the ceiling to create an environment that feels welcoming. Designers typically install many different types of lighting, at three key levels — with ceiling lamps, table lamps and floor lamps — to highlight different parts of a room while offering pleasing ambient light that can be adjusted for different functions and times of day.

“Layers of light are very important, so there are different focal points,” said Grant K. Gibson, an interior designer in San Francisco. “I have overhead lighting in my house, but I tend not to use it at night, as it can feel like a classroom. I’ll turn on a floor lamp and a table lamp and add candles. That softens the room and makes the space feel calmer.”

Mr. Gibson also has picture lights above key artworks, which not only highlight some of his favorite things, but also offer a warm, nightlight-style glow.

“Think of the room as a stage,” Mr. Wolf said. “There are things you want to accentuate and other areas you want to fade away,” depending on the time of day and your activities.

Resist the impulse to indiscriminately flood a room with light, unless you’re doing the housecleaning, he said, because “everything just gets washed out, and it’s certainly not flattering.”

Take Control
Interior designers frequently recommend having every light fixture on a dimmer, so that light levels can be adjusted to perfection. While that advice may not be as critical for small and low-powered lights, such as picture lights, having the primary lights in a room on dimmers can be a big help when trying to achieve your desired mood.

In most cases, the function can be added to hardwired fixtures by replacing standard wall switches with in-wall dimmers. It can also be added to freestanding lamps with a dimmer on the cord, or a plug-in adaptor at the outlet.

For more advanced control, consider wireless smart dimmers or bulbs, such as Lutron Caséta and Philips Hue, which can be controlled from a smartphone. One of the primary advantages of a smart lighting system is that it allows you to create different scenes where numerous light fixtures in a room can be dimmed to predetermined levels with a single tap. “You have the option of putting multiple functions into one switch,” Mr. D’Haene said, which can make life a tiny bit easier.

Manage the Sun
Sunlight helps almost any room look its best, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Direct natural light pouring through windows can be almost blinding, while also fading artwork and textiles. And, if the windows look out to neighboring apartments or homes, uncovered windows may make your space feel uncomfortably exposed.

To control natural light levels, designers frequently install two layers of window coverings over each opening – a light layer, such as a solar shade or sheer fabric, to filter sunlight and provide a degree of privacy, and a heavier layer, often with a blackout material or lining, which can make the room truly dark.

Mr. Wolf frequently uses Roman shades. “I like them sharp-edged and clean, with a gauze fabric that cuts the harsh sun,” he said. “You can still enjoy the light without it overwhelming the room.”

Then, in rooms where absolute darkness is required, like bedrooms, he adds blackout roller shades behind the Roman shade.

This strategy can also be reversed by installing drapes with a blackout lining on a track or rod in front of the window, and adding a light-filtering shade within the window frame behind them.



Welcoming Wall Finishes

Use Light Paint Colours
Personal preference always comes into play when choosing paint colours, but for the primary spaces of a serene home, a good rule of thumb is to choose subdued colours that don’t cry out for attention.

“If you really want to make a room calm, making it fairly light and keeping all the parts and pieces of that room in the same colour family tends to be a pretty soothing visual experience,” said Eve Ashcraft, an architectural colour consultant.

Many people react well to “really quiet soft greys,” she said, while others prefer very pale blues. “Colours that feel almost shadowy,” she said.

Mr. Wolf offered similar advice. “I like paint that looks almost white when it’s sunny, and as the day progresses, the colour changes and becomes stronger,” he said. “When you look at the fan deck of colours, go to the lightest tonalities. It’s about having just a hint of a colour.”

Avoid Shiny Sheens
For walls with colour that almost appears to dissolve in space, Ms. Ashcraft recommended a flat or matte sheen (two terms that are used interchangeably for the same finish) for walls, and a slightly shinier, more durable eggshell or satin sheen on trim.

“For a client who wants a Zen retreat, instead of changing the colour between the woodwork and the walls, I’ll make those two surfaces the same colour, but I’ll change the finish just a little,” she said. “Just to give it a little tailoring while keeping it really simple.”

Paint the ceiling the same colour in a flat sheen, she suggested, or choose a shade that is ever so slightly lighter than the walls.

Go Dark in Smaller Areas
Very dark paint can be highly effective in creating a cocooning environment in secondary rooms that are used primarily at night, such as bedrooms and media rooms. “I’ve done it myself,” Mr. Gibson said about his own bedroom. “A dark, dark navy blue feels very calming.”

“A lot of people are surprised by how much they like a room like that,” Ms. Ashcraft said. “I’ve had clients worry that it will feel too small. Often, the opposite is true. You get this cocoon or nest feeling, and people want to use the room more.”

Use Wilder Colours as Hidden Surprises
Designing a serene home doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite bright, saturated colours. Just be choosy about where you use them.

Clodagh frequently uses her clients’ favourite colours as surprises inside closets, cupboards and drawers. “I have one client with a daughter who loves shocking pink,” she said. Even though her bedroom is designed to look peaceful, “when she opens her closet, guess what colour it is? Shocking pink.”

For other clients, she has made closet interiors “acid yellow,” she said, and the insides of kitchen drawers “flaming, orangey red.”

Seek Out Textural Alternatives
Paint is the most common and least expensive way to finish walls, but a number of alternatives can add desirable textures. Mr. D’Haene and Clodagh sometimes use specialty matte plasters with integral colours from companies such as Portola Paints & Glazes and Domingue Architectural Finishes to give walls an earthy, hazy appearance. “It has a little texture and a stone-like feel, which is very calming and serene,” Mr. D’Haene said.

While highly patterned wallpaper may not be ideal, Mr. Gibson said he often uses different types of grasscloth from Phillip Jeffries to add a natural, calming touch to bedrooms. “They add texture to the walls, but don’t seem jarring as you walk into the space,” he said. “And they come in all colours, including creams, pale blues, greens and soft greys.”