Credit: Liz Atwood - Baltimore Sun, January 29, 2016
In this day of constant and instant communication, home designers say they are seeing more clients wanting to hit the pause button.
Yoga and prayer rooms, soft lights and soothing paint colors are among the hottest design trends that foster peace and reflection.
The desire for calm seems especially pronounced after the holiday frenzy, said interior designer Trish Albano of Mount Airy.
"It's an overwhelming feeling this time of year," she said. "You feel like you want to buckle down and create some order."
Steven Appler and Lisa Rosenthal with Cairn Custom Homes in Laurel said nearly every home they have designed recently has included a prayer room. "It's something we're kind of focused on personally," Appler said.
Many of their clients are of Asian heritage, such as Dr. Mohit Narang, who was born in India. Narang, a Howard County oncologist, asked Appler and Rosenthal to build a small prayer room on the first floor of his new home in Clarksville. Narang said he does not consider himself religious, but he and his wife wanted the room so they could teach their children about their families' Hindu and Sikh beliefs.
As it turns out, Narang and his wife use the room several times a week for quiet meditation.
"I go in there and enclose myself," he said. "It's very cozy."
Interior designer Lisa Malveaux tapped into homeowners' desire for a peaceful space when she created a yoga room in last year's Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House in Guilford.
She painted the ceiling to resemble a sky with white, puffy clouds and furnished the room with plush pillows and a beanbag chair. Lavender incense, soft lighting and recorded sounds of the ocean added to the soothing atmosphere.
"I wanted to engage the whole person in a room and really engage the senses as well," Malveaux said.
One of the experts she consulted before designing the room was Hilary Brich, who runs Gogo Guru, a yoga studio in Ellicott City. For homeowners interested in creating a yoga room or meditation space, Brich recommends keeping the area as plain as possible and using a white-noise machine to drown out surrounding sounds. An altar or table with family photographs, fresh flowers or a small fountain can provide a focal point, she said.
"The whole point of getting peace in your life is having less thinking going on and finding that peaceful presence inside," she said.
Mei Xu, founder of the Maryland-based Blissliving Home design collection and Chesapeake Bay Candle in Glen Burnie, said she tries to retreat to her yoga room several times a week. Located in the attic of her home in Bethesda, the room is bare except for an exercise bar and a painting with the Chinese character meaning "peace" on the wall.
When using the room, she dims the lights, burns one or two candles and plays quiet music. And, importantly, she leaves her cellphone outside.
"I wanted the kind of room where you're not distracted," Xu said. "I just wanted to make it very simple."
While designing a prayer or yoga room is one concrete way to create a reflective space, there are subtler tricks homeowners can use to create a peaceful feeling in their existing rooms.
One of the most effective ways to change the mood, designers say, is to choose soothing paint colors. Options should be abundant — several companies' color forecasts for the year took notice of the growing desire for tranquillity in home decor.
At Sherwin Williams, for example, Director of Color Marketing Jackie Jordan selected alabaster as the 2016 color of the year.
She and her team chose the white shade after studying trends in fashion, art and literature, and considering national and world events. Ultimately, alabaster was the answer to a world that bombards the senses, Jordan said.
"It's something we need and are desiring right now," she said. "It's almost a spiritual environment with this beautiful, serene white. It is soothing and very comforting."
If white seems too stark, Jordan said, colors such as blue, gray, green and dusty rose are relaxing options.
Malveaux used a soothing green for the walls when she designed a foyer in an Ellicott City show house in 2014. In that project, like the yoga room, she used accents of orange in murals and flowers arrangements because the color is supposed to represent healing.
Lighting is another easy way to create a more peaceful atmosphere. Albano notes that many of the early generation energy-efficient light bulbs were harsh, but newer versions give a warmer glow.
Clean-burning candles offer a soft light that appeals to an almost primal instinct, Xu said.
"Whenever cultures around the world celebrate something important, they always burn a fire," she said. "When you are looking at that flame, you are a more centered person."
Candles can also offer soothing scents. In February, Xu's company will launch a line of candles in fragrances that respond to the appetite for calm and peace. The new line aims to evoke the tranquillity of a walk on the beach with fragrances of ocean, lily of the valley, jasmine and bergamot blossom, she said.
Xu said she came up with the line after reflecting on her busy life.
"With all the cellphones and apps, we seem to be more and more organized, but are we happier or are we becoming a slave to our organized life?" she said.
When designing a space for reflection, it's important to remember that interior design alone cannot bring peace, Brich cautioned. In fact, finding tranquillity can require a lot of effort, time and practice.
"You can have the prettiest altar or a highly decorated room, but if you don't put in the work, it might not do the trick," she said.
However, soothing decor can be a good place to begin.
"Peacefulness comes from within," Xu said, but "to get there, we can use a little help."
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