Modern life is crazy stressful. It often feels like you’re trapped inside a 24-hour barrage of bad news, political hijinks and social media-induced envy. There may be no way to fix the world outside your front door, but the world inside can be a haven of your own creation. Here’s how.
Home is the story you tell yourself
One person’s chic is another person’s shame. There’s no one-sofa-fits-all solution to building a personal retreat (if there were, it wouldn’t be personal). So the first step in feathering your nest is determining what kind of bird you are.
Interior designer Taylor Borsari helps her clients create spaces that resonate with them. The high-end residential designer does a lot of work in the Summit and Ridges communities, creating sleek vibes or casual styles, depending on the client.
“It’s really about figuring out what story you want to tell, what story creates an escape for you. There’s no right or wrong,” Borsari says. “It’s just personal preference.” The SoCal transplant’s own taste skews toward ’30s Spanish architecture, earth tones and airy spaces. “We wanted a big backyard, a quiet palette, a simple story,” she says. “It really is our getaway. We love being out here.”
But how can you create that sense of home if you have modest means? You don’t need a professional designer to tell your story. To DIY that sense of comfort, Borsari suggests first figuring out what story you want to tell. Browse magazines, books and Pinterest. Tag or cut out the images that speak to you and put them away for a while. When you return to the images later, ask, “Do they still feel as fresh or as appealing?” It’s a process of listening to your gut reaction and then editing the images to find what you like, Borsari advises. This is your space, so it’s about what makes you happy.
Turn down the outside world
What’s the point of creating a beautiful home retreat if you’re just going to befoul it with cable-news talking heads predicting the next calamity? If you take all the overstimulation—the noise that leaks in from the outside world—and simply turn down the volume, life will be better.
Make your home a no-phone zone. You take your shoes off at the door to keep from tracking dirt into your home, so do the same with your phone. Create an evening ritual where you come home from work, put it in a drawer and leave it there for the evening.
Limit TV news time. The 24-hour news cycle can be oddly addictive, but it’s unnecessary and a huge stressor. Most of us can get all the news we need by checking in once a day, for less than an hour.
Don’t browse mindlessly. Make technology your servant, not your master. It might never be possible to delete your social accounts or cut the cord from work email, but you can use those tools mindfully. If you’re not in a place where you can reply to an email, don’t bother checking it.
A peaceful home for an optimized life
Home is a place to escape to, not from. If your house looks like a visual to-do list of mail that needs to be sorted, dishes that need to be washed and junk that needs to be donated, you might need to do a little organizing before crafting your perfect escape.
“Outer order contributes to inner calm,” says Gretchen Rubin, the Vegas-based author of The Happiness Project. She calls tidiness a “secret to adulthood,” because it’s so painfully obvious yet so difficult to implement. But the effort’s worth it. And an entire industry of professional organizers has sprung up to help.
“Clients feel much more relaxed and happy,” says casino exec-turned-professional organizer Maureen Myers. “They love coming home when their house is all neat and organized.” Fittingly, her business is called Absolutely Organized.
For DIY organizers, Myers suggests breaking areas of the home into small chunks and starting with the section that will have the most impact: “Find a room where you spend a lot of time, look at that room and ask yourself, ‘What would make me happy here?’ ” For Myers, happiness is cooking in a ship-shape kitchen and then “kicking back on the recliner and watching some Netflix.”
But the dirty secret about any home transformation is that it must be maintained. It’s amazing how quickly an organized desk devolves into a pile of papers if you don’t keep up with it every day. On the bright side, Meyers says maintenance only requires a couple minutes per day. She suggests creating little routines, where you pick up stray items on the way to bed. She says the effort pays off on the weekend, when you don’t face a mountain of deferred chores. She loves avoiding the stress of, “Oh my God, I have to take care of all this on my days off.”
In 2014, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up launched a national fervor for minimalism. Any item that didn’t “spark joy” had to go. But there’s such a thing as being too clean. Sterile minimalism risks feeling more hospital than hospitable. But a little curated clutter can foster feelings of coziness and creativity.
“All the objects in your home have energy,” says Melanie Walker, a Las Vegas-based professional organizer with NEAT Method. “They either give or deplete your energy. Having the right amount of objects in your space creates a balanced level of energy.”
By “editing” out the objects that don’t matter, you free yourself for the things that do. Walker describes clients’ craft rooms as bulging with so many supplies that it makes crafting impossible. Ultimately, they led fuller lives with less stuff.
“It’s not about throwing everything out,” Walker says. “My mission is to organize the things you have, keep the things you love and to give you the life you want in relationship to your stuff. Being organized gives you a sense of peace and well-being.”
Enthusiastic “book nerd” Scott Seeley achieves that “lived-in” feeling through books. The co-owner of Downtown’s Writer’s Block Book Shop, Seeley says “books are like these little memory chips laying across the house.” They hold memories of when and where you read them, how you felt at the time and who you hope to be. Perhaps, for example, you hope to become the person who reads Ulysses by James Joyce.
Home designers have long used books for decoration. Some stores even sell them by the pound, for insta-libraries. Recent trends include organizing books by color or even shelving them so that the pages face out and the spine is hidden. These trends miss the point. “I get why people do that; they want something aesthetically pleasing,” Seeley says. “But if you want your library to mean anything, you must have some relationship with the book—past, present or future.”
Let nature in
Whether you prefer town or country, your psyche will benefit from adding a little greenery to your home. According to an American Public Health Association policy statement, “Access to nature has been related to lower levels of mortality and illness, higher levels of outdoor physical activity, restoration from stress, a greater sense of well-being and greater social capital.” And you don’t have to become an expert outdoors explorer to see results. Any “natural elements” will help, from the office plant to a backyard garden.
“I think living spaces should live and breathe like we do,” says garden designer Laura Hughes, who runs her own business called the Mad Potter, making container gardens and moss walls. “There’s this tendency to look at the world from inside of ourselves to out, like we’re separate, but we’re not. We’re interconnected.”
When she’s not meeting with clients, Hughes spends the “vast majority” of her time in her sprawling backyard garden-workshop. “I find plants and nature really relaxing,” she says. “Nature has that effect on most people. You instantly feel this sense of calm from the sun and the beauty of everything around you.”
Create a gallery wall
Interior Designer Taylor Borsari’s custom Summerlin home is ready for a spread in an architecture magazine. But even though her house could double as a chic getaway, she still makes it personal with a gallery wall of family photos in her stairwell. Here’s how you can make one of your own.
Choose your frames first. “People feel like they have to have everything done and perfect [before hanging]—and that takes a lot of time,” says Borsari. Instead of picking the pictures first, match them with the frames.
Mix frame styles and sizes. Borsari’s gallery wall contains a mix of large and small frames, with and without mats. “The fun thing about matting, size and scale is that it draws your eyes differently and leads you through the experience of it.”
But pick a few consistent features. Borsari uses color to create a sense of continuity. All of the frames in her gallery wall are white, which ties the pictures together visually, so they look like one feature, not a bunch of random items.
Choose progress over perfection. Even an expert designer doesn’t have a perfect gallery wall. In fact, a few of Borsari’s frames are up but empty, waiting for the best photos to reveal themselves as her 10-year family photo collection grows. “It tells the story of us as new parents to now [as] the kids are getting older. For us, every time we go back to the car, we’re just remembering another little memory.”
Better home through science
Clinical psychologist and UNLV professor Bradley Donohue researches ways to optimize human performance. According to his studies, our performance—say, ability to meet a deadline or play basketball skillfully—is influenced by a trio of interlocking factors: our thoughts, behaviors and feelings. When the three function together in harmony, we can achieve our best performance, our happiest life. What does that have to do with homemaking? Well, our surroundings influence our thoughts and feelings. A messy and negative environment won’t lead to the most optimal thoughts and feelings. A pretty environment will give you a pick-me-up.
How to make your backyard look less like a prison yard
• Hide those cinder block walls. Laura Hughes suggests planting Banks’ roses, which are hardy, heat resistant and will cover the brick.
• Be patient. “I like to watch things grow,” Hughes says. “If you can be patient for a year here, things grow pretty quickly.”
• When in doubt, ask. The employees at nurseries are incredibly knowledgeable, Hughes says. Her favorite local nursery is Star.
• More light, less water. The two main ways people kill their succulents is by watering them too often (they only need water about once a month) and not giving them enough light (they need four hours a day of brightness).
Add a book nook
The Writer’s Block Book Shop is a mini architectural wonder. Outside, it’s the desert, but inside it feels like a lush treehouse full of books. Exposed rafters, a plant-lined hallway and artificial birds create a wholly new space. “We built a barn inside an ugly white box,” co-owner Scott Seeley says of the DIY project he designed. It’s easy to build a reading corner of your own, sans barn.
• Don’t over-organize. “There’s something for me that’s antithetical for books being hyper-organized, super medicinally shelved and treated like iPods in an Apple Store,” Seeley says. At home, his books sit in piles, in the kitchen, next to the bed. “There’s something nesty and comfortable about that.”
• Keep the lighting low. “Lighting is key,” Seeley says. His team installed pendant lamps to bring the lighting down to the floor, creating a warm, dim light and a comfortable feeling.
• Create close quarters. “You don’t want to read in some giant space,” Seeley says. “You want to feel cozy.” To create a “comfortable, nesting quality,” Seeley suggests bringing your space in by creating a protected corner with bookshelves or partitions.
• Put a bird on it. Yes, it’s a Portlandia joke, but an artificial bird makes every space a little cozier and more whimsical.
Beautify with Feng Shui
• The World of Feng Shui on 4011 Spring Mountain Boulevard offers a huge variety of statues, jewelry, fountains, figurines and books. The expert staff will help you with feng shui star charts, so you know exactly which items and locations will help you, depending on factors such as the current year (2018 is Year of the Dog), your birth year and the direction your house faces. But you don’t have to get that technical. Here are a few items that will bring joy and protection to your home.
• Fu dogs. You’ve seen them around (see Page 12), even if you didn’t know what they represent. Fu dogs are one of the most popular and ubiquitous symbols in feng shui. This pair of stylized dogs—one male and one female—will protect your home from the outside world.
• Water features. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, water features like the blue double-fish fountain can bring good fortune and other positive benefits.
• Laughing Buddha. Fosters harmony and happiness among family members.