Like shabby chic and industrial modern, Zen decor is one of those design trends that can easily feel cliché. The faux-ancient statues, indoor fountains, orchids, and minimalist decor have the unfortunate effect of making interiors look like the inside of a spa.
If you want to create a peaceful vibe in your home, there are a few ways to accomplish your goal while still being true to your own style, whether you own a home in Atlanta, GA, or rent in Seattle, WA. From calming color schemes to cutting chaos by eliminating clutter, the results are surprisingly easy — and affordable.
Color is the most powerful way to foster a sense of tranquillity in our homes, and the simplest way to infuse a room with color is to paint the walls. But many of us put off choosing a paint color because the options seem truly endless. It turns out that the colors you probably associate with calm — green and blue — endure for a reason. “Blues and greens in various shades are relaxing to the eye, and of course, neutral,” says Katie McCarthy, senior designer at Marika Meyer Interiors in Washington, DC. Softer versions of these hues are ideal for promoting a soothing feel and can be color-coordinated to browns, grays, and other neutrals.
Gorgeous flowers or lush greenery bring a welcome element of nature into our homes. Some houseplants, however, have more advantages than just looking good. “Not only are roses pleasing to the eye and are known to have many nourishing effects on the heart and circulatory system, [but] they are also very good at soothing nerves,” McCarthy says. “Another flowering plant that is known as NASA’s superstar plant is the Peace Lily, which helps filter out harmful toxins. Keep these plants in a shady spot and weekly watering is all that they need.”
Even the most unabashed “messy type” can appreciate the unusually satisfying feeling that perfectly matched accessories inspire. (Think a closet filled with matching hangers, coordinated vases arranged on a mantel, or a photo gallery of all-black frames.) “Joy does indeed come through in the details,” says Patty Morrissey, a professional organizer. The problem? The mood-boosting benefits of lovely accessories can be outweighed by the chaos of a cluttered environment. “More often than not, people already have an abundance of things that bring joy in their homes, but they can’t enjoy them because their spaces are filled with things that drain them. To enjoy the little things, it’s important to first discard everything that does not spark joy.” Time to start tidying!
Comfy floor pillows are a classic Zen accessory, inviting you to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to look as if they belong in a college dorm. “The trick is to have the floor pillows fabricated with a more tailored look,” McCarthy says. “The ones you’ve seen in the past have lacked structure.” If you can’t go the custom route, a quick web search for “tailored floor cushions” will lead you to plenty of ready-made options — something like this gem jute pouf has a clean-lined square silhouette and can also do double-duty as a side table or an ottoman.
Intense overhead lights may illuminate your space well, but they are the opposite of restful. “The key to sufficient lighting that works both functionally for tasks but is pleasing to the eye is to consider table lamps, floor lamps, and hanging fixtures!” McCarthy says. So instead of using one pendant with the brightest bulb possible, you can go a little softer without sacrificing visibility by having multiple light sources. She also advises putting your lights on a dimmer switch to customize the level of lighting to your mood.
“Symmetry summons feelings of order, which for many people invokes a calming feel. It just makes sense to the mind,” McCarthy says, observing that her clients prefer a symmetrical furniture arrangement over asymmetry. Even better, it costs nothing to rearrange your furniture. One timeless arrangement to balance a large sofa in a living room is to position two accent chairs on the other side of the coffee table. In smaller rooms, two of the aforementioned floor pillows can be used in place of accent chairs, since they can be moved easily to clear up space.
“Creating a sense of calm in any space is to honor its purpose, and the purpose of the entryway is to transition from being at home to being out in the world and vice versa,” Morrissey says. “In a world with fewer boundaries between home and work life, we need to be more deliberate about this transition.” One way to do so is to first declutter your entryway, then define it with accessories that inspire happiness — a welcome mat, hooks, and even a tray for your keys.
Books, your phone charger, water glass, and a few receipts add up to one big mess on your nightstand. Such clutter shouldn’t be the first thing you see in the morning (and the last thing you see before you close your eyes). “Books and papers are common end-of-day clutter,” Morrissey says. “The books we keep around send subliminal messages — for example, a book about passionate marriage may be a better pick than one about more depressing topics. You should keep papers in one place and designate a time to deal with papers that require action.” She also recommends following the lead of Arianna Huffington, who suggested keeping a photo of a loved one, a book, and something alive on your nightstand.
When it comes to calming spaces, nothing beats the simple beauty of wood floors. However, this isn’t the only material that makes a room feel tranquil. The key is to select flooring that won’t distract from your decor. “Carpet and tile can have a clean look if they are selected in a more neutral palette,” McCarthy says. If you’re stuck with busy flooring, you can easily cover it up with a room-sized rug in a low-key color.
It happens all the time: You set out to clean your bathroom, or relax with a good book, and instead you get sucked into an hours-long binge-watching session of The Real Housewives. Morrissey places part of the blame on the ubiquity of screens in our homes. “I get it, we love our shows, but the TV has become the centerpiece of our homes,” she says. “The purpose of our playrooms and living rooms [is] to live and play, not consume the latest Netflix content. Demote the TV by moving it to a less important room, like a den in the basement. If that’s not possible, then store the TV in a piece of furniture with doors to hide it when it’s not in use.”