Home and work spaces can be the best medicine
By Gail E. Jamentz
Photo by Chris Mortenson
Now more than ever, the spaces where we live and work have taken on an increased importance.
Our happiness, health, productivity and comfort are all greatly impacted by the physical environments in which we reside and work — particularly as we endure the pandemic.
No longer can interior design just be about aesthetics when it has the power to be purposeful and enhance one’s well-being.
This concept of advancing human health through the built environment, coined “Wellness Design,” has fueled a momentum of interest among builders, designers, real estate developers and manufacturers who recognize the benefit of creating healthy spaces and building products that help people live an optimal life and potentially prevent chronic disease.
Just imagine living and working in a beautiful space that has been thoughtfully planned to address the 10 pillars of wellness design: clean air, circadian rhythm lighting, filtered water, areas for movement, healthy nourishment, sound mitigation, natural beauty, nontoxic materials, thermal comfort and community with others. Sounds wonderful, right? It is.
And spearheading this global wellness movement in architecture is the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit company based in New York and recognized on Fast Company’s 2019 Most Innovative Business List. Their mission: to put people’s health at the center of building design.
And with most of us spending nearly 90% of our life indoors, our bodies need to occupy spaces that support out physical, cognitive and emotional well-being to function optimally, alleviate stress and enhance our happiness.
Renovating with wellness in mind
When planning an upcoming remodel, there are five areas of the home that can be addressed to elevate physical and mental health. These include the kitchen, master bathroom, master bedroom, home office and a fitness area.
Each space has the potential to be enhanced with science-backed design strategies that improve well-being as well as create a more comfortable, safe and healthy interior that is a joy to spend time in. It just takes some thoughtful planning, informed product selection and the guidance of professionals.
Kitchen as the wellness center
Your kitchen is your personal health center, as it provides the physical and mental nourishment that is essential to a quality life. As such, when planning a kitchen remodel, it is helpful to design a plan that promotes healthy cooking, enhances food preservation, and increases the functionality of the space so it is enjoyable to cook with others.
“A well-organized kitchen stocked with nutritious foods will almost guarantee you will make better food choices and enjoy food prep,” says Harvey Slater, Pasadena holistic and nutrition consultant.
“And the simple skill of planning a supportive kitchen environment, through thoughtful appliance selection among other strategies, will set you up for success in achieving your goals.”
And when it comes to appliances that promote healthy cooking, the multifunctional steam-convection oven wins hands down.
Affectionally coined the “Swiss army knife” of appliances, combination steam ovens operate in a dry-heat manner of bake, heat and warm, but also offer the ability to steam food. This is ideal for reducing oil and fat, maintaining food’s vital nutrients, and preserving food’s juices and moisture on the inside when needed. Additionally, they also offer the versatility of air frying, as well as searing and broiling, among other features.
“We have definitely noticed an uptick in customers seeking wellness products,” says Russ Diamond, CEO of plumbing and appliance showroom Snyder Diamond, which has a location in Pasadena.
“In terms of cooking, we’ve seen increased interest in steam cooking as folks seek to replace microwaves with a healthier alternative.”
Another key appliance when designing a healthy kitchen is a quality refrigerator with an enhanced food preservation system, as well as ample storage space for fruits and vegetables.
This kind of high-end refrigerator will ensure produce stays fresh longer due to its advanced air purification systems and precise temperature control. Additionally, it will reduce food waste, as fruits and vegetables will last longer and taste better even after days of storage. While many of these models are a significant investment, they are built to last more than 20 years and offer comprehensive warranties.
And lastly, installing a water system that offers healthy filtered, flat or sparkling water on demand can reduce the likelihood that family members will reach for sugary drinks. Additionally, it also decreases your household’s plastic bottle waste.
As with any kitchen remodel, the goal is to create a beautiful and functional environment that supports nutritious cooking, encourages slow and mindful eating, and promotes community with others.
Bathroom as a recovery zone
Another area central to enhancing self-care is the master bathroom. If designed properly, it can serve as a “recovery zone” and a place to help reduce cortisol levels and re-center yourself.
Design features such as steam showers, deep soaking tubs, massaging showerheads, towel warmers, soothing paint color palettes, chromotherapy lights, aromatherapy systems, improved ventilation and adding fresh plants are just a few wellness features that create a rejuvenating, refuge-like space.
“People are upgrading their environments to create a place of peace and sanctuary to help alleviate stress,” Diamond says. “And our biggest growth area in product sales has been around the bathroom. Customers are investing in saunas and steam rooms with bells and whistles spanning chromotherapy to aromatherapy.”
Diamond travels the globe seeking out the newest in health and wellness products and shares his company landed an exclusive deal with Italian brand Zerobody, which offers a dry floating experience. The sensation of floating in zero gravity for 30 minutes has been shown to be an effective way to calm the central nervous system, improve mental performance and enhance sleep, among other things.
A restful sleep sanctuary
And speaking of feeling refreshed, creating a “sleep sanctuary” in the bedroom will also pay huge dividends in improving mental and physical health. Oftentimes homeowners think, “Nobody sees our bedroom, let’s design that last,” when in fact, the bedroom design and its ability to support deep, restorative sleep is vital to good health, an improved mood and increased energy.
Simple changes like investing in blackout drapes to minimize light creep, buying a quality mattress and natural bedding, eliminating blue light and noise from electronics, incorporating a relaxing scent, painting a beautiful wall color, installing circadian-rhythm lighting, and checking the thermostat’s functionality all contribute to a good night’s rest and improved long-term health.
Getting in the zone
Nothing supports aging well better than daily movement. With that in mind, planning a dedicated home fitness space, regardless of whether you have a gym membership, will help ensure movement stays top of mind.
“Moving more helps you live longer and enjoy a better quality of life,” says Phil Dozois, Pasadena fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist.
“And while you can’t stop the changes aging brings, you can slow them way down with exercise.”
When planning your workout zone, it is helpful to assess three key elements before renovating and purchasing equipment.
First, look at your fitness goals and what type of workouts you enjoy, as this will inform the room’s space planning. For example, HITT training sessions will require more floor space than the amount of room needed for a Zoom yoga class or a spin session.
So, it is helpful to layout the workout room around chosen activities, as well as the ability to safely and comfortably get on and off equipment without bumping into furniture, a wall or any other obstruction. Assessing the types of workouts will also inform the space’s flooring selection, which can vary from carpet tiles to hardwood, porcelain tile or concrete, among others. A quality half-inch recycled rubber workout mat underneath any heavy equipment or weight racks is always a good idea.
Next, analyze storage needs and create a storage plan. This is one issue that homeowners often struggle with because they underestimate the amount of storage needed for items such as kettle bells, foam rollers, bosu or medicine balls, mats or stretching blocks which can all take up precious floor space. Shelving systems, large baskets or colorful bins area ideal for keeping things neat and organized, as well as decorative wall hooks for items like bands and towels.
After reviewing the type of workouts to be accomplished and equipment storage needs, it’s time for the fun part: planning the room’s aesthetic. Keep in mind that it is helpful to have plenty of natural light, as well as ambient light, so you can see your form and read your monitors with stats. And placing fitness equipment near windows is energizing, while providing fresh ventilation.
The goal is to create an environment you want to spend time in, which will help you stay committed to enhancing your physical well-being.
An inspiring home office
Whether working a hybrid work schedule or full time in a remote workspace, a home office needs to provide a healthy, inspiring and functional area in which to create.
Thinking and trying to focus in a cluttered, dimly lit, noisy or uninspiring environment, particularly in today’s demanding 24/7 digital world, will prove particularly challenging. Fatigue, anxiety, poor performance and a lack of motivation are just a few of the physical symptoms that can result from spending hours, days on end, in an interior that is not conducive to supporting bodily systems and mental health.
Design strategies that can help alleviate this include adding a sit-to-stand desk and anti-fatigue mat to prevent sitting all day, investing in an ergonomically correct task chair to reduce neck and back strain, installing low-VOC floor coverings such as a wool area rug to absorb sound, adding window treatments and a piece of upholstered furniture to also reduce noise transmission, installing adequate lighting to aid in cognition and reduce eye strain, and lastly painting a pleasing wall color to elevate the mood.
Creating a healthy, beautiful home takes time and is an investment in yourself, and those you love, while sure to serve you well for years to come.
Gail E. Jamentz, is principal of Soul Interiors Design, a 20-year Pasadena-based residential interior design practice with a passion for enhancing wellness through the power of the built environment.