Can your home help you get healthier?
Interior designers say clients don't just want help creating a more beautiful home anymore. They want to create living spaces where they will cook healthier foods, breathe healthier air and improve overall wellness.
Here, three interior design experts — Jon Call of Palm Springs, California-based Mr. Call Designs, and New Yorkers Young Huh and Carolyn DiCarlo — recommend four general approaches to creating a healthy home.
1. CONSCIOUS CLEANING
"The first thing I do when I go into a client's home is talk to them about how they take care of their home," says Call. He looks at how they're cleaning their home and what products they use.
"Cleaning is really the baseline," he says, "not only for insuring the interior is healthful but also to actively decorate your home."
A deep-cleaning session can inspire changes you hadn't considered: Wash your windows, DiCarlo says, and consider reorienting your furniture to take advantage of a room's natural light.
Call agrees: "When I clean my coffee table, in order to oil the wood I'm going to take everything off of it," he says. When it's time to put items back, he'll ask: "Do I really need this remote control here? Is it time to ditch the candles?"
All three designers suggest switching to natural cleaning products. Call recommends learning to make small batches of cleaning products from a handful of items like white vinegar, baking soda and lemon oil. Your air will be healthier, you'll save money, you'll need less space for storing cleaning products, and you won't be buying disposable plastic spray bottles.
2. CREATING SPACE FOR WELLNESS
Although her background is in architecture and design, DiCarlo's work with clients begins with the question of well-being. She suggests they walk through their home and "check how they feel when they enter a room. Whether it makes them feel kind of enlightened, whether it make them depressed. Is it too big and makes them feel small, or too small and makes them feel cluttered?"
Noting those responses can help you decide what changes are necessary and which rooms need attention.
"You could have the most beautiful home," DiCarlo says, "but you could feel empty, lost and forlorn in it, and what good does it do you?"
Many people are seeking a sanctuary area for relaxation and meditation, the three designers say. If you have a spare room available for that, Huh says, include a cabinet to store cushions, and create a space "that may sort of act like an altar piece or for burning incense."
DiCarlo often helps clients design just part of a room — perhaps a bedroom — as a personal space for meditation and reflection.
Installing sound-deadening sheetrock can make a bedroom more soothing and healthful, especially in an urban apartment, she says.
And clearing out clutter can make any room more relaxing. People realize "they've acquired too much stuff in the last decade and now it's making them feel unwell," says Huh.
Adds Call: "How many sheet sets do you really need?" With fewer items and clear places to store them, he says, you "start creating this rhythm, and that makes you feel peaceful."
3. CURATED KITCHENS
Huh sees more homeowners converting from gas-powered ranges to energy-efficient, cleaner induction cooking. "There are no gases and no heat produced from the cooking," she says. "It works by magnetically charging the surface of the cooktop, which creates heat. But it's not burning fuel."
New refrigerators with windows let you keep tabs on how fresh your foods are.
And energy-efficient dishwashers conserve water. Call recommends making your own natural dishwasher soap rather than using store-bought products, whose chemicals can leach into the air when the dishwasher is running and hot.
Another trend: growing organic produce in your kitchen. Besides counter-top and window-sill herb gardens, Huh says, consider adding cabinets with lights and soil for growing lettuces, berries and more.
"We're all much more concerned about where our food is coming from and being closer to good fresh food," she says.
Redecorating your kitchen can actually help you cook more. You need plenty of open counter space, DiCarlo says, and "a balance between decluttering and also stimulation of healthy food choices." Put a bowl of fresh fruit on the counters, she says, and consider a calming color scheme. "A red kitchen may be too intense energetically to be in there for long," which may mean you'll avoid cooking.
4. CLEARING THE AIR
Choose paints that don't "off-gas" toxic chemicals, Huh says, and sofas and mattresses that aren't treated with chemicals that release unhealthy gases.
"As much as you can try to bring in natural fibers and things that were painted or dyed or printed in a responsible way," do so, she says.
DiCarlo agrees: "Look to nature to inspire you," she says, whether that means adding plants or swapping out synthetics for natural fabrics.
You might save money at the same time. Says Huh: "It's cheaper to buy a horsehair mattress than some of the fancy foam mattresses."
If clients want to scent their homes in soothing and healthful ways, Call advises using natural oil diffusers rather than synthetic fragrances. "You've got to be really careful with all the parafins and waxes," he says.
Because essential oils are mixed with a "carrier oil," read the fine print. "In the U.S., they don't have to tell you what carrier oil they're using," Call says, "so I assume the worst, unless a company is really transparent. Look at labels. ... Those decisions out in the world are where you're engaging and empowering yourself."
EDITOR'S NOTE — Melissa Rayworth writes the monthly Ask a Designer column for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at @mrayworth.