- - Thursday, October 27, 2011

Many Americans today are overworked, overstressed and overstimulated by the fast-paced, high-tech world surrounding them. While some people cope by escaping with a favorite television show, others turn to quiet pursuits such as yoga and meditation to clear their minds and soothe their souls.

Interior designers have another solution: Create a serene room in your home that can function as the place to unwind and calm down.

Robert Shields, owner of Robert Shields Interiors in Kensington, said, “I am attracted to rooms that offer an immediate feeling of calmness, where you can feel your blood pressure drop the moment you walk through the door.”

Jeff Akseizer, principal of Akseizer Design Group in McLean, also designs “serenity rooms” inside homes and in separate buildings on the grounds of some of his clients.

“My concept is that everyone needs a place within the comfort of their home or perhaps across the lawn in a small building where they can get away from the phone and the computer and just relax,” Mr. Akseizer said. “Everyone loves the idea of a second home, but not everyone has the time to maintain one or travel there. A serenity room can provide that second-home experience for people who want to escape for a little while.”

A serenity room can be an indoor or an outdoor space; it can be large or small, and it can be a light or dark room. What makes a space ideal for calm moments is the combination of soft fabrics, well-coordinated colors, a lack of clutter and, of course, the absence of electronics.

Kelley Proxmire, owner of Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda, designed a screened porch for her home with a blue-and-white palette.

“While I normally use a lot of fabric in rooms to make them serene, in this case I wanted to emphasize the view,” Mrs. Proxmire said. “I used valances over the indoor windows to soften them, but I think the most important feature is that the sofa is long enough to lie down on. You want to create comfort and practicality in any room.”

Mrs. Proxmire often uses layers of fabric for shades and curtains and drapes beds to make rooms acoustically softer as well as visually serene.

“In a design house I was given an indoor room to restore to an open-air space,” Mrs. Proxmire said. “It was an unusually long and narrow space with a stone wall, so I covered one wall with fabric and added indoor/outdoor drapes that could close off the space, like a cocoon, with Velcro.”

Mr. Akseizer said air circulation is an important element of a serene room.

“Some homes today are so sealed up, and people don’t open their homes that much anymore, so it’s nice to have a space with air movement as well as natural light,” Mr. Akseizer said. “In one serenity room I added circular pipes for solar lighting and skylights, along with a pitched roof and a cedar ceiling. I also like using reclaimed and recycled eco-friendly materials.”

Mr. Akseizer designed a “serenity library” with a hammock, a comfortable chair, an ottoman and a small writing desk on a screened porch, which lets air circulate and natural light filter in along with the sound of birds.

While a serenity room should naturally be a little quiet, Mr. Shields said you want a sense of life in the space, too.

“There are three possible elements to give life and rhythm to a room,” Mr. Shields said. “A fireplace with its flickering light and soft crackling can work, or you can use a water component. You can have an indoor or an outdoor water fountain that allows you to hear the trickle of water.

“If you can’t have a fireplace or a water feature, I like the sound of [a] ticking clock that reminds me of a heartbeat.”

Mr. Shields also said lighting, including the ability to control the light levels with a dimmer switch, can create a serene space. While Mr. Shields said the palette can be light or dark in a serene room, Mr. Akseizer and Mrs. Proxmire said organic colors that come from nature work best to create a calm atmosphere.

“Color can change your moods, so if you want to be quiet and disengage your mind, you want to have a palette that is muted,” Mr. Akseizer said.

Mrs. Proxmire said she often uses blue, green and brown tones, along with soft white.

“Dark, rich and neutral tones can work well and be restful,” Mr. Shields said. “In the reading room I designed, I used dark pearl gray with emerald accents and mahogany woodwork. The important thing is to create visual serenity and be well-balanced.”

While homeowners can spend thousands designing the perfect space for meditation, those on a budget can design their own serenity room.

“The important thing is to just find a space and remove all the technology; bring some of the outdoors in with light, air and soothing colors; and then make it a private space that’s off-limits to the rest of the world,” Mr. Akseizer said.

Mrs. Proxmire said a serene room must have soft fabric and colors and be tidy.

“If you have a small budget, you can still create a serene room by paring down your belongings, sticking to a few colors rather than a hodgepodge of colors and patterns,” Mrs. Proxmire said. “You need to create some uniformity in the room to create calm.”

Mr. Shields said homeowners can create a serene space by following a few basic rules, such as staying away from patterns, staying close to either a light or dark color scheme and then breaking the rule somewhere for balance.

“One of the most common mistakes people make is to create a light room with all pale colors and then forgetting to add one dark color for punctuation,” Mr. Shields said. “Without a dark pillow, a dark chair leg or perhaps a dark color to provide balance, the room will just be bland.”

Whether you have the space and budget for a private sitting room or must add serenity to a small corner of your home, the concept is to have a place you can call your own.

“A serenity room should function like a treehouse for adults,” Mr. Akseizer said, “a place where they can disconnect and have privacy.”

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