If you’ve been keeping up with the news in the last couple of months, you’ll know that your home could be causing antimicrobial resistance and lead poisoning, your heating is making it harder (or easier) to fight obesity and type 2 diabetes, houseplants could serve as a sort of futuristic health alarm, and common paints contain potentially dangerous carcinogens.
I wasn’t being flippant about “the last couple of months” – all those news stories published in the last eight weeks.
They’re part of our growing obsession with wellness. And if you need proof that wellness is no longer a trend but rather a full-on craze, here are two conclusive piece of evidence:
- The Global Wellness Institute estimates that global spending on wellness is currently at $4 trillion and growing.
- There’s such a thing as The Global Wellness Institute
Also this summer, scientists at Harvard University published the “Home for Health” report – a guide to designing a healthier home, with handy tips including “limit your use of air fresheners”, “kick off your shoes at the door” and “measure and control radon”. I can confirm I do two out of these three currently, and I think you can guess which one is news to me…
Our homes are just the latest aspect of life to be scooped up (Goop-ed up?) in the wellness frenzy. Just like food, hospitality, technology and fitness before it, we now expect our homes to actively maximise our health and wellbeing.
By correctly hacking the space we live in, we can be healthier, happier and…well, well-er. And while it’s unclear how a £313 tablecloth would make the home more conducive to wellness, there is credit amidst the craziness.
The World Health Organisation states: “Whether people are healthy or not, is determined by their circumstances and environment. To a large extend, factors such as where we live, the state of our environment, our income and education level, and our relationships with friends and family all have considerable impacts on health…”
The presence of “the state of our environment” in that list has birthed the growing field of neuroarchitecture, which is dedicated to exploring the way our brains react to the physical space around us. There are even cells in the brain’s hippocampus (the area associated with learning and emotions) that we know are particularly good at recognising – and processing – physical space and architecture.
Research into productivity at work reveals time and time again that environmental factors relating to design – including lighting, layout, noise and even ceiling height – can drastically impact stress levels.
So if the link between our home environment and wellbeing is a reliable one, how do we design our space to be healthier?
Millennials might be getting the credit for the house plant craze that’s growing like something out of Day of Triffids, but the idea of plants for wellbeing was popularised in the 1980s by biologist Edward O Wilson.
Biophilic Design ascribes to the idea that urbanisation and the resulting disconnection with nature is bad for us. But we can offset the effects by filling the spaces we inhabit with plants.
But not every story you hear about houseplants is created equal. For example, they don’t purify the air in your home – sorry! There was an official study by NASA that found plants can reduce atmospheric levels of unpleasant things like formaldehyde, but the findings are 30 years old and haven’t been replicated outside of laboratory conditions. Don’t worry though – the air in your home naturally ‘turns over’ anyway thanks to ventilation.
The best news? You don’t need to be green-fingered to reap the wellness benefits. Even artificial plants can make your home a healthier place to live, and the days of naff plastic palms are long gone – the industry has significantly stepped up its faux-liage game of late…
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Zone Your Home
Whether you call it zoning, habit-nudge or experience-driven design, there’s no doubt it’s been one of the biggest slow-burn trends in interiors over the last few years.
The idea is that designing your home for the way you want to live will help you design those activities or routines into your everyday life. If you make room at the end of your bed for a yoga mat, you’re more likely to hit a sun salutation in the morning.
Creating an inviting reading nook with perfect lighting and no nearby devices makes it easier to fit in that nightly reading time you’ve been promising yourself you’ll do. Having a writing space in a different room to your TV will help that novel get out of your head.
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KonMari was developed by bestselling author Marie Kondo to rationalise the belongings in your home, but here’s a list of other things your can now apparently KonMari: your phone, your friends, your social media, your finances, your mindset and your relationship.
So, now that you’ve held Twitter against your heart and decided if it sparks joy (of course not) – how does the KonMari trend and the re-emergence of minimalism tie into wellness at home?
While minimalism goes back to the 6th century BC, Western adoption of the Japanese approach to minimalist interiors has taken off in the last couple of years, helped in large part by aforementioned Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
In the same way early philosophers like Lao Tzu prescribed a life with few possessions and organised physical spaces, modern proponents of minimalism like Joshua Fields Millburn advocate minimalism as a way to find happiness, fulfilment and freedom.
For our homes, we can embrace the principles of minimalism (which is about more, not less, remember – more space, time and freedom), through sleek, simple lines and smart storage solutions that allow us to keep life’s clutter out of sight and out of mind.
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Light & Air
A home with adequate ventilation and light can make you feel more energetic, decrease your chance of developing asthma and can even help children learn more quickly.We know intuitively that natural light is just nicer than artificial, but there’s some real science to back up that instinct – a home with natural light has been proven to reduce depression, lower blood pressure and improve sleep.
And improving both the quantity and quality of light and fresh air in your home is easier than you think. From swapping out lightbulbs to using a humidifier, you don’t need to renovate in order to make the light and air around you healthier.
If you’re willing to jump head first and neck-deep into the trend, consider a Healthy Home Coach. The Alexa-like smart home assistant will continually monitor your room’s environment, taking precise measurements and feeding them to a linked smartphone app (of course), helping you keep tabs on noise, air quality, temperate and humidity while offering advice on how to make improvements.
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If you think the idea of colour theory in interior design sounds like rubbish, think again. A pared-back, neutral colour palette in a space is easier for our brains to process than bright, bold or contrasting colours. So dialling down the saturation in your home could free your mind from the kind of low-level distraction that leads to environmental stress.
This may explain why the explosion of wellness in the last few years has coincided with neutral interiors coming back into fashion in a big way, seizing the crown back from the dark and moody schemes that dominated in the middle of the decade.
Co-ordinating a natural palette needn’t be difficult – in fact, it’s one of the easiest palettes to work with. Stick to warm, sandy and stoney tones and don’t worry about matching.
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Huge swathes of the wellness industry – that’s the one worth £4 trillion, remember? – is designed to manipulate us into parting with our money for reasons that are, at best, dubious. Will an incense burner inset with rose quartz make your home healthier? No. Should a knife block cost more than my first car? Well, if it lasts longer than 6 months then at least it beats the Corsa on longevity.
But the idea that through design our homes can impact our health is not as spurious as it first seems. We’re highly impacted by our environment, so it makes complete sense to optimise that space – be it improving the quality of light, minimising unwanted distraction, contributing to healthier habits or simply covering every available surface with a mood-boosting monstera.