Now I’ll admit I’m an old cynic and when I saw this book title: Happy By Design by Houzz editor Victoria Harrison I was a little sceptical. Surely decorating your house the way you want makes you happy? And there are people to help you with that. And I firmly believe, as do the Danes, that good interior design improves lives and leads to happiness.
But then I was sent a copy of the book by Vicky herself. And I began to read. And I was completely drawn in. It’s full of useful tips, interesting information and things I didn’t know. Yes, there’s a healthy dose of common sense as well, but that’s no bad thing. So I wanted to share some of the highlights of the book with you and perhaps you will buy it and discover things you didn’t know either and, more to the point, galvanise yourself into doing those things that you instinctively know will make your life flow better if you could just get round to doing them.
Vicky came up with the idea for the book two years ago when she realised that she was, in her words “tired but wired”. In other words, working too hard, being too stressed and constantly chasing after things that were supposed to help – more money, better jobs, more exercise, better diet and none of it was working.
So she started to research the impact of our homes’ design on our health and happiness and while the things she found might seem obvious – clean houses, more plants, natural light, decluttering – it’s not just about recognising the positive effects they can have on your well-being but taking the time to enforce them.
Each chapter has been properly researched and is backed up by experts, so if she tells you that plants make you happy it’s not just because it’s the current instagram fashion, but because NASA says so. It is actually rocket science. And if you think you know that already then the book also tells you which plants for bedrooms, which will soak up pollutants and which are best for sunny and shady corners respectively. Which were the bits I didn’t know.
When it comes to colour it might seem obvious that yellow will lift the mood while grey might depress it, but Vicky has found ways to bring it into the home without having to splash every wall with paint. These include warm, yellow bulbs, flowers, painting the inside of the window frame to mimic the sun coming through and accents on lampshades and rugs.
Did you know that it has been scientifically proved that you can tidy your way to happiness? Researchers at UCLA found that women who described their homes as cluttered were more likely to be depressed and, significantly, produced higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, than those who said their homes were restful. Sounds obvious but do you need any more excuses to put off the tidying now that you know it might actually be affecting your health?
Vicky draws comparisons between her naturally tidy sister who puts finished magazines in the rack, tidies as she cooks and always makes the bed. Simple things that you can make into your own habits.
She includes advice on decluttering on the hotspots – bedside tables, kitchen drawers and hall floors -and suggests ways to sort them out. She devotes a chapter on how to get a good night’s sleep and that does include putting the phone away an hour before bed.
There are suggestions for nightly rituals to help you sleep and advice on how to buy the right mattress.
But good habits start earlier than the bedroom. Vicky spoke to a sleep expert who found that office workers who were exposed to more light in the workplace slept longer and better than those who didn’t. This theory applies in the home too. So if you have, as many of us do, dedicated the second smallest room in the house to be the office then find you don’t want to be there because it’s dark and uncomfortable then don’t be surprised. That’s why you gravitate to the kitchen table or that sunny spot on the end of the sofa with a laptop.
Some of you may remember I visited the Vitra campus in Germany earlier this year. The factory, which is round, is painted in brilliant white and has windows all the way round so that everyone can see the sky from where they work and they are in a light-filled environment all day long. How different to so many of our own “dark satanic mills”. It’s simple but it makes a difference.
If you have no choice about where you work, Vicky includes nine ways to bring more sunlight indoors such as clearing window sills, hanging mirrors to reflect the sun back in, and replacing solid wooden doors with glass panels.
There’s advice on gardens, room layout – designed to promote conversation rather than watching TV it won’t surprise you to know and, of course, 10 lessons we can learn from those Danes, who don’t just fill their homes with pared back expensive design classics but also invented hygge after all.
It’s a clever little book filled with useful tips and if you’ll excuse me I need to go and unpack that suitcase which has been sitting in the corner of the bedroom since I came back from Leeds on Friday. And if I’m honest, I only half emptied it from the trip to LA the previous weekend so there is a pile of stuff in the corner of the bedroom that would definitely make me happier if it wasn’t there.
Happy by Design, How to create a home that boosts your health & happiness by Victoria Harrison