When I was a child, I was transfixed by the luxury furnishings of the homes profiled on television shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Luxury, it seemed, would always be somewhat out of my reach, solely accessible to an elite class. As an adult, I am still fascinated by luxury, but my focus has shifted from the luxury associated with homes filled with precious objects to the luxury and art of taking time for relaxation. A revealing afternoon with international interior designers and tastemakers Mercedes Desio and Alberto Villalobos of Villalobos & Desio connected my childhood passion for luxuriously designed homes with my craving to understand how to derive calm in everyday life from our everyday surroundings.
My inner agenda when I first sat down with Mercedes and Alberto was to leave with easy design tips to make a room feel stylistically cohesive. My first inquiry revolved around how the average person can “design” their home without a designer budget. Alberto started the conversation discussing luxury. I tuned out a bit, as my understanding of luxury was closely associated with big price tags, but then he caught my attention and simultaneously taught me my first lesson in design: luxury is free. He explained, “Luxury is not about spending a lot of money, or any money at all. Luxury is empty space; creating a space that allows you to rest your eyes.” And from there, I was hooked. This interview went from a “Top Ten Design Tips” article to a fact-finding mission about how to design a space that allows for rest and calm.
My obsession with resting the eyes started with my restorative yoga training and has progressively heightened with my personal study of the relationship between vision and the physical body. Vision emerges from an intricate collaboration between the eyes and the brain. That means everything we are exposed to each and every day—everything we “see”—is sent to, processed by, and translated by the brain to help us make decisions. We rely heavily on our vision and the relationship between our eyes and our brain to conduct our everyday lives. For example, it is this codependent relationship that aids in our decision to pause at the curb when a car is speeding down the road or move out of the way when a Frisbee is racing toward our face. The more we take in through our eyes, the more is required of our brain. As you can imagine, we take in a tremendous amount of information each and every day.
While some of the information and/or stimuli we take in is unavoidable and a part of living a productive life, the excess information and/or stimuli we take in can take a toll on our overall health. Alberto explained, “Every day we are bombarded by images, lights, and colors that must be processed at an incredible pace. This leaves the mind and therefore the body exhausted.” In my studies I learned that to cut out the unnecessary information and/or stimuli, a focus on the surroundings in our control is necessary. Our home is the number one space we spend our time and at the same time have control of the amount of stimuli we are exposed to. The home, Mercedes explained, “has the opportunity to be a place of tranquility. Too much in a space is like noise to the eye. It not only takes away from the inherent beauty of the space but also drains your energy. Your home should replenish your energy.”
Designing a space that allows for the opportunity to rest your eyes, therefore relaxing your mind and renewing your energy, is the hurdle. Alberto explained that your home does not have to look a certain way, but it should act and feel a certain way. Much to my dismay, my next lesson in design by Villalobos Desio is that there is not one design tip to achieve this feeling of tranquility. Instead, creating a home of luxury, one of open space that feels restful and rejuvenating, requires honest personal introspection of your strengths and weaknesses. By defining your strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to your everyday life, Mercedes explained, “You can make your experience in life that much better. Design is not just about creating a pretty space but recognizing the power of the space on your life and making decisions accordingly.”
My original notion that a designed and decorated home is closely linked to a privileged or an elite class is debunked. Thanks to the insight of Mercedes and Alberto, I now understand that design is not about precious objects and expensive art. Design is about enhancing our life and our overall wellness by nurturing and designing the spaces in our control.
- Take a personal inventory. Every room in your home has a purpose. To enhance that purpose and design a room to support that purpose, make a list of how you use and/or what you do in each room in your home. For example, make a list of what you do and how you enjoy your family room. You may read magazines, watch television, or play board games in this space. Be as specific as possible for each space. Make this same type of list for every room in your home.
- Evaluate the skeleton. Once you have evaluated your lifestyle within each room, choose one room to focus your design energy. Take everything out of the space except for the basic, utilitarian furniture like your couch and coffee table in your family room or your bed and bedside tables in your bedroom. Add furniture to support both how you use your room and how you can make it more supportive of what you need in your life. If you read on your couch, for example, you may wants lamps on one or both sides of the couch. Now, ask yourself what tools you need to make your life more organized and therefore easier. If you read magazines in your family room, for example, you will need a magazine rack.
- Allow for emptiness. Don’t be afraid to leave furniture, baskets, or containers out of a space that serve no purpose. To create a calm, tranquil energy in your home calls for creating moments within your space (like your couch, lamps, and coffee table “moment”) and allowing emptiness between these moments. This emptiness is the breathing space for the eyes.