A Faux Fix
Some people buy new clothes or change the color of their hair when they want to discover a new side to their personality. Other people hike their happy quotient by painting their walls, tearing down walls and rearranging furniture. But is there a danger in using interior makeovers and remodels as a mood repair? And when does designing spaces in the home become a quick fix for a life in chaos?
Experts say obsessing on interior design projects may be one of the more positive ways for an individual to work though life transitions such as a divorce, loss of a child or relocation.
Diane Shoultz, of Wesley Chapel, Fla., hired an interior designer to make over her patio home after a divorce. She never expected to become addicted to home improvement. For her, the addiction has been exhilarating.
Liz LaFalce, owner of LaFalce Design, Inc., transformed Shoultz's home one room at a time, helping her to find her personality as well as her sanctuary. She gave the shutters in Shoultz's formal living room a distressed look and painted splashes of color in art niches.
Shoultz says her grown daughters, Alison and Lauren, used to call her "the white lady," because she always had white or off-white walls in her home with no color. "I have to admit I was terrified of color," Shoultz says. "It was the unknown to me." LaFalce painted clouds on the ceiling of a patio where Shoultz practices yoga with a personal trainer.
Shoultz's passion for interior design became more ardent until no room – not even the bedroom walk-in closet – was untouched by whimsical faux designs. "This is the first time the home is really me," Shoultz says. "I did not know what was me. When it was done, I said, 'This is it.' When I come home, I want to hug it, but my arms are way too short."
Design as Therapy
While Shoultz found herself, some women lose themselves by becoming addicted to home improvement instead of self-improvement. Experts say a woman who's lost a child or is living with a workaholic husband who is rarely home may use the interior of her home as the one place she can exert control. If a woman is in denial about problems, a faux fix will be just as the French word suggests, "false."
Jeanie Bein, a licensed psychologist in Denver, Colo., who is an expert in traditional and holistic psychotherapy, says parents can make positive interior design changes without avoiding reality. Bein believes interior design obsession is a safe form of "sublimation." "I think when it gets to be pathological is when they are going into debt," she says.
Bein says that the home is where a person should feel most safe and comfortable. "Decorating their house is a way of expressing what's going on," Bein says. "It does not get at the issue, but it might make the person feel a little better temporarily."
Some people, particularly those who have relocated numerous times, invest time and money into interior design makeovers because they want to settle down. Alyce Peek, of Lutz, Fla., had a nesting urge after she sold her New England Colonial home in Boston and moved to the sunshine state with her husband, Daniel, and their three young children, Spencer, Madeline and Hayden. They hired Diann Bogart, owner of Creative Wall Art in Tampa, Fla., to paint murals of castles in Spencer's bedroom or "sleeping chamber." She also painted spider webs, shackles and bars on the walls of the bathroom and a suit of armor in the hallway.
"We live here and I wanted to go all out," she says. "I decided to take it all the way. This is my way of saying, 'I'm staying in Florida.'"
Determining Your Personality
Linda K. Kusmer, president of Total Interior Designs, Inc. based in St. Louis, Mo., says most people make bold personal statements about who they are through interior design choices. Kusmer, who has a background in psychology and interior design, says that oftentimes people are not even conscious of how their space defines their personality and frame of mind. Kusmer plants subliminal messages for clients, but the messages are subtle and her strategy involves the placement of artwork, colors and textures. "You can not make it obvious," she says. "It does not work if someone knows what it is."
She uses a wallpaper book as a kind of "ink blot test," to determine an individual's personality and taste. Most people are really not in touch with who they are, she says. She won't tell them who they are, but she walks them through the design process much like a good psychotherapist or counselor.
Kusmer has worked with clients who are suffering with serious life-threatening illnesses. "We literally have created therapy through doing their home," she says. "I've created spaces for people to die in. Even though that sounds sad, it's been a very loving, positive thing. Interior design done right, using psychology, can be very therapeutic and positive."
The Psychology of Design
Kusmer suggests homeowners use shapes, textures, lighting and art in a home to improve the mood.
– Round shapes motivate people to be more social and active. Round tables work well in the dining room. Squares have boundaries and should be used for desks and spaces such as home offices where people need to be focused. Architectural details such as crown molding can accentuate the shape of a room. Different shaped decorative objects such as plants, lamps and clocks inject a room with life.
– Individuals may consider texture when defining a space in the home just as they would vary fabric in a wardrobe. Some people love leather furniture, while other people prefer rougher textures. A person who prefers silk would gravitate toward things that have a smooth feel and a glow, Kusmer says. Light plays off of silk. An individual might choose velvet for an armchair. Needlepoint and fabric pillows accent a bed or window seat just as earrings compliment a woman's outfit.
- Lighting and Color
– "People spend a tremendous amount of time picking just the right color for a room and artwork for the walls, but they don't spend money on lighting so they don't see any of the colors or artwork," Kusmer says. Ambient, accent, task and decorative lighting are all important. Kinetic light, or moving light as from a candle or fireplace, assumes an ancient and powerful symbolism, reminding people of where they came from. Proper lighting brings out the vibrant color schemes throughout the home. Orange is known as the color of delight and enthusiasm, making it an ideal color for entertaining and the dining areas. Green is the color associated with balance and harmony. Red is the color of primal energy, of passion and stamina.
– Art should evoke feeling, says Kusmer. Place family portraits or pleasant scenes at eye level in the bedroom to start the day on the right foot. She remembers one client who was reluctant about hiring an interior designer, but his wife had insisted. "We did the final stages of it while he was out of town, and when he came back he said, 'I cannot believe it. I really like this,'" Kusmer says. She harnessed the power of psychology by placing his favorite artwork in a strategic position. "When he was looking at the television he was also looking at the art; he just did not know it," she says. "He knew that he liked the piece of art. What he did not know was the placement of it. He did not know when he was looking at the TV, subconsciously, through his peripheral vision, he was seeing that piece of art. It kept him at a very nice comfort level."
Conflicting Personalities Battle for Space
It's not difficult for a single person to chose artwork, carpet, fabrics and colors for his or her home. But what does a couple do when one partner wants to go contemporary and another partner favors traditional? Interior design choices help bring out a person's personality.
How can parents be sensitive to their children's evolving sense of self while sharing space? Linda K. Kusmer, president of Total Interior Designs, Inc. based in St. Louis, Mo., recommends each person pick "priority space." A husband might insist the home office be decorated with his favorite color schemes, and the wife could opt to control the design outcome for the great room.
Kusmer helps family members find common ground. "One can love it, the other can like it, but no one can really dislike it," Kusmer says. "That's the rule. That's where compromise and working through issues comes in."
When it comes to art tastes, she rarely finds couples who can't find some common denominator. Impressionist paintings are generally well liked. Also, nature scenes such as mountains, flowers and gardens are generally good across the board.
It may be trickier for parents to decorate a child's room or game room when the child is still finding his or her personality. She says it is important for parents to bring their children into the design process. "The child should have input," Kusmer says. "If it's a nursery, of course they can't. The rule of thumb with nurseries is whatever design you are going to use, have it at the level a baby in a crib can actually see." She suggests strong, bright colors for an infant's room. Also, infants tend to stare at the ceiling, so consider putting glow-in-the-dark decorations on the ceiling. "They will talk to things you put on the wall," she says.
Kusmer says parents can shape their child's personality with design choices, but they don't have to worry about setting the child's future in stone. She decorated her son's room in an old-fashioned railroad motif, and he did not grow up to be a train conductor.
What parents should be wary of is frightening objects and posters in the bedroom. "Some children are very afraid of clown masks," she says. "Turn off the lights at night, and the clown can become very scary looking on the wall. That's something they need to think about when they are painting murals. If you paint things that are going to change in the shadows of night, that's going to be scary to children."