Stress relief begins at home Decor should make room for emotional comfort

January 15, 1995|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Universal Press Syndicate

Home is often regarded as a refuge and retreat, but many homes are ill-prepared to function as an antidote to fast-lane life. It may be well-appointed and tastefully decorated, even fashionable, but if it doesn't calm you or lift your spirits at the end of a hard day, it's not living up to its potential.

That's too bad, because considering the endless shelves of self-help books at bookstores, it seems we need all the stress-relief we can get these days.

Like charity, peace of mind begins at home. No, you don't have to approximate a padded cell in a psychiatric unit to make a home into a haven. You can choose any decorating style you like, but when putting a room together, keep in mind the kind of emotional atmosphere you'd like it to have. Think of the way you feel in a library, an intimate cafe, a secluded cottage or in a chapel. A home can give you those same reassuring feelings.

A comforting -- not just comfortable -- room often includes these elements:

* A view: Scenic beauty commands big bucks at resort hotels and vacation accommodations because a great view is important to a getaway experience. There is something about majestic mountains, wooded landscapes, an endless sea or a tranquil lake that is moving and soothing.

Great vistas are harder to come by in a typical home, but that doesn't diminish the value of creating a view worth contemplating. Don't let your landscaping languish along the lot lines. Bring it up close to the house, just outside a window. Create a rock garden or flower garden, frame it with trees and ornamental shrubs. Put in a prefabricated pond with a fountain and add a bird feeder, bird house and bird bath to the scene. Install some low-voltage landscape lighting so you can enjoy the view on winter evenings when it's dark before you get home.

* Sink-into seating: Furnish for casual, laid-back, feet-up comfort. Choose over-scale, overstuffed sofas and chairs with high backs. Other good choices are a recliner, a rocker or a traditional wing-back chair. Buy a big ottoman, too. Stay away from hard-profile, tightly upholstered pieces that look rigid and formal. Skirted, losely upholstered and slipcovered sofas and chairs help convey a relaxed atmosphere. For even more softness, choose quilted slipcovers. Avoid unforgiving throw pillows, too. Choose pillows with flanged or ruffled edges that are slightly squishy. Toss a patchwork quilt or cotton throw over the back of a sofa.

* Eye-comforting colors, patterns and textures: Avoid bright, high-contrast colors. Choose soft, muted shades for painted walls. If you're set on white, choose a linen, ivory, eggshell or vanilla. Glazing, sponging or mottling walls with a second or third tint can give those surfaces extra depth and richness. Tint the ceiling paint a pale peach, pink, blue or yellow.

Look for subtly faded fabrics for upholstery, pillows and window treatments. An off-white or beige-y monochromatic color scheme automatically soothing and probably the easiest to pull off. But if you go with a one-color strategy, select fabrics with lots of soft, touchable textures -- chenilles, damasks, velvets, tapestries, weaves and soft cottons -- and tone-on-tone patterns in various neutral hues. If you want more variety in color, at least choose colors of the same muted intensities: forest green, cranberry red and navy blue, for example, or Colonial colors.

* Window dressings: For framing a view and softening the profile of windows, mini-blinds just don't cut it. Even in an open position, to-the-floor draperies give a window a well-padded look.

For extra fullness, multiply the width of the window by 2 1/2 to three times (rather than the standard two times) to get the right amount of fabric. Choose a good, medium-weight fabric with lots of body, and have the draperies lined to give them the weight needed to make them hang straight and smooth and to yield fuller folds. For an even richer look, top with a box-pleated valance or a generous swag and add tie-backs.

* Comfort under foot: Choose deep-pile, wall-to-wall carpeting and a padding that is substantial without being squishy. Like window treatments and upholstered furniture, carpeting improves a room's acoustics, cutting down on echoes and minimizing noise that can interfere with your quest for quiet contemplation. A softly colored area rug with a muted pattern, or even a warm-looking, textured sisal rug are also good choices in rooms with wood floors.

* Cozy lighting: There's no substitute for a good reading light, of course, but to give a room a sense of composure and quiet intimacy, soft, soothing ambient lighting is critical. On table lamps, avoid shades that are too white. Choose opaque shades that create pools of light throughout a room or slightly yellowish, parchment-like shades instead. Picture-frame lights are good for creating a hushed, library-like atmosphere. Canister lamps can be placed on the floor behind a plant to create romantic shadows on walls and ceilings.

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