- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

The home should be a healing environment, say architects and interior designers, who believe a person’s surroundings directly affect physical health and well-being.

“In a healing environment, space is non-compartmentalized and non-institutional,” says architect and interior designer Jane Rhode of JSR Associates in Ellicott City, Md., a proponent of what she calls quality-of-life design.

“In a house, you have an open floor plan with parents wanting to observe kids doing homework, and you want to be able to see out of doors because people feel better,” she says.

Plants are to be used everywhere — especially in the bedroom — to help provide oxygen and eliminate impurities. Nature, as a reflection of life, is key throughout.

Rosalyn Cama of New Haven, Conn., a past president of the American Society of Interior Designers and now board chairwoman for the California-based Center for Health Design, routinely asks people to imagine any environment and elements, indoors or out, that calm and soothe them and finds fewer than 5 percent mention the indoors.

“The point is that we as human beings are predisposed to be in nature, where our senses are engaged, but we do not plan our buildings that way,” she says. “So if you plan one, you want to take your cue from nature.” Pay close attention to where the sun comes up and choose natural materials, like stone, art glass and wood — anything with texture, she advises.

Furthermore, how a home or health care facility is designed — and even decorated — can reduce stress-related medical costs, says Barbara Huelat, of Huelat Parimucha Ltd. Healthcare Design in Alexandria.

Ms. Huelat plans to lecture today on “Ten Principles of Healing Environments” at the NeoCon East convention, sponsored by Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. The event will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center.

In a recent interview, she explained how such principles apply equally to private residences and commercial facilities.

“Your home is your safe haven, your nest, and it has to be comfortable,” Ms. Huelat says. “Thinking of your home as a spa is not too far-fetched. It should provide a good, peaceful feeling that is a respite from the world. When you walk in, you want to feel relief.”

She also acknowledges that “at different times in life, you have different ideas about your home,” reflecting different aspects of a person at various phases in his or her life.

Good design is not an accident, Ms. Huelat says. “For years people thought design was subjective, like creating art on canvas. But design deals with functional, technical, behavioral and emotional issues — all of which impact your health,” she says.

In analyzing a typical family home, Ms. Huelat begins with the entry or foyer, which she says should reflect a personal expression of the family by displaying photos, family heirlooms or antiques.

“When a visitor comes in, he sees something eye-catching, like a rug,” she says — something that identifies a boundary, similar to reading the introduction in a book.

“It’s also good for the homeowner’s sake to have a mirror there,” Ms. Huelat suggests. “You see yourself and think, ‘This is who I am.’”

The kitchen is the area central to most homes that she says “really must work culturally, technically and aesthetically, because this is where you prepare something that becomes part of your body.”

Good organization of space and a minimum of clutter are essential so as not to impede function. Materials and lighting also are very important, Ms. Huelat says.

“If you look at requirements for public or commercial kitchens, you see a separation of tasks: The cleaning area is separate from the preparation area, for instance,” she says.

The point is to reduce stress, Ms. Huelat says: “… It should be like a dance, how you move from one appliance to the next.”

The family room, which in some residences incorporates the kitchen as well as the dining room, “should be devoted to supporting relationships,” she says. Depending on the family, it could include an area for storytelling and another area for games, cards or crafts — whatever family members enjoy doing together.

Incandescent lighting is essential to add warmth, Ms. Huelat says, and colors likewise should be warm tones that are stimulating, such as reds and terra-cotta shades. She identifies cold colors as blues, greens and silver.

Whites can be warm or cool, she adds. Most yellows, she warns, don’t compliment skin tones. In a room such as the library, where a person needs to concentrate and minimize distraction or outside stimulation, she recommends what she terms “grounded colors — neutrals such as browns, grays and taupes.”

By contrast, a living room, when it exists, Ms. Huelat regards as a public space — off-limits to children and “always presentable” for receiving guests. Again, there should be some familial touches, such as photos and expressions of the family’s special interests, in the decor.

A bedroom, by contrast, “is where an individual has personal control of the space and is the most personal room in the house. … It is not the place to impress guests or use a designer bedspread unless you like it.” Ms. Huelat advises cooler colors there because they are more restful.

The bathroom is for good hygiene, but it also is “an area of refreshment and luxury, even if it is small. Even people that don’t use a tub regularly need one for relaxation,” Ms. Huelat says. She recommends full-length mirrors “so you can look and feel good about yourself. If your lighting doesn’t make you look attractive, then the lighting is wrong.”

A bath pillow, bath tray, heated towel racks and a carpet or rug beside the tub provide added comfort. In the best of all worlds, medicine cabinets have been designed with temperature controls so medicines can be stored in their right environment.

“A dining room, if you have one, is designed as a sensual experience [because] eating is the one activity that combines all five senses,” Ms. Huelat says. The centerpiece is the table, which should hold dinnerware that has personal appeal, and candles and flowers “to remind us of nature, of life. Food and eating [have] been a cultural activity associated with health since the beginning of time.”

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CREATING A SUPPORTIVE HOME ENVIRONMENT

• Be sure air quality is of maximum freshness indoors: Open a window, clean air ducts, test for gas leaks, clean carpets and upholstery on a regular basis and use aromatherapy.

• Pay attention to lighting: Let in as much natural light as possible, buy at least one incandescent lamp, install a dimmer and eliminate glare on computer screens.

• Reduce extraneous noise by using such sound-masking devices as wind chimes, music and water. When desperate, wear earplugs.

• Own at least one supportive, ergonomic chair.

• Respect the effect nature has on a person’s well-being. This can be done by having an indoor water fountain, surrounding yourself with at least one plant, having access to outdoor views, occasionally playing a tape or CD of nature sounds, unplugging electromagnetic field sources near where you sleep, and shielding or distancing yourself from them most times of the day.

Source: Center for Health Design, a nonprofit, research-and-advocacy organization based in California.

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