If how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, then if we spend our days anxious, we’ll spend our lives anxious, too. And yet, stress is a defining feature of contemporary life—this past year, 55% of Americans reported experiencing “a lot of stress” on a daily basis. Good design might not be able to intervene in a cultural existential crisis, but it can help build spaces that calm and restore us. Here, we talk with interior designers about how they create serene homes that counter the chaos of our lives.

The value of natural light can’t be overstated. A quality source of light makes a space glow and lends a sense of serenity difficult to achieve in its absence. David Mann, founder of MR Architecture + Decor, says, “I find that well-modulated, diffused northern light is a great starting point for laying out a relaxing room.” In terms of artificial light, dimmers can “provide a soft light in the evening,” says Matthew Caughy, a designer based in New York.

Nature is known to have a calming effect on mood—and although we spend much of our lives indoors, exterior environments still affect our experience of being, and feeling, at home. For the project pictured above, Dawn Carlson of MAS Design found that the design didn’t require much to imbue it with a sense of space. Rather, she had to step back, and avoid cluttering the home with unnecessary objects that felt designed, rather than natural to their setting: “we think it was successful because it simply paid homage to the environment surrounding it,” Carlson says. “Nothing should compete with one’s connection to nature in a home like this.”

One of the tenets of good design is to create a space that functions well for your client. However, as a functional design increases the ease of everyday living, it also promotes a sense of calm. As designer Regan Baker puts it, “Ideally you want to feel as though your home is working with you and supporting you as you move through life, and not fighting you at every turn.” Baker provides an example: “I think we’ve all had that experience of going to grab one pot lid and accidentally setting off a cookware avalanche—if that happens regularly it can start to ebb away at your sense of serenity.” She encourages clients to examine how they use space and in particular, what are their “pain points,” those preventable, repeated moments in which stress accumulates, leading us to a feeling of fragility. “If something is a part of your life on the daily, making it more functional is going to have a pretty big cumulative impact on your level of calm,” she says. For her, that might mean a stroller closet near the entryway or a set of mugs stored above the coffee maker.

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