Secrets to a Healthy (Happy!) Home
Happy home blueprint
Designer Jonathan Adler has said, “Your home should be like a good dose of Zoloft”—and we couldn’t agree more. Now, more than ever, home base needs to be a retreat that wraps you up and makes you feel great again. In fact, everything from your lighting to the color of the paint you choose can affect your sleep habits, energy levels, and overall health, says Erica Elliott, MD, environmental-medicine expert and co-author of Prescriptions for a Healthy House. To help you tap into this power, we asked top experts to share the keys to a happy, healthy space.
Harmony, peace, tranquility. Isn’t that what we all want when we step through our front door? Decorating with soothing colors (blues, grays, and greens) can help lower blood pressure and set the scene for a more relaxed life, says Jayne Pelosi, a healthy-home-makeover expert at Renaissance Interior Design in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
And now it’s easier than ever to paint safely, thanks to a growing crop of paints made with low- or no-VOCs (volatile organic compounds that are released into the air as the paint dries; they may cause such health issues as eye and respiratory problems).
Literally. Keeping your house at around 66 degrees is best for sleeping, studies show, and it’s a good range for staying energized during the day as well. “A too-hot house is depressing,” Pelosi says.
“All you want to do is hibernate and take a nap.” During the cool months, she suggests, warm up the house with organic throws and textural surfaces that keep feet warm. (
EarthWeave.com has great organic rugs.) Once warmer weather hits, turn on the ceiling fans to keep air circulating, which can help you feel cooler.
By some estimates, we track in 85 percent of the dirt in our homes—which usually contains lead and other contaminants—on our shoes. The easy fix: place doormats outside and inside your front door, then wipe your feet and take off your shoes as soon as you come inside. Research shows that this simple move can cut lead-dust contamination in your home by 60 percent. And as you clean, keep your indoor air healthy by choosing nontoxic cleansers, such as Method’s line ( MethodHome.com) and the new green Martha Stewart Clean products (shown; shop.MarthaStewart.com). Not adding to your indoor air pollution is important: our inside air is up to 90 percent more polluted than what’s outside, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
It’s full of plants
Houseplants help cleanse air, too (assuming you’re not allergic). The money plant—Epipremnum aureum—is one of the best for cleaning air in the bedroom; it filters formaldehyde and VOCs released by mattresses and other furnishings. For other clean-air plants, see Health.com/plants. And open windows (again, unless doing so will aggravate your allergies) for 15 to 30 minutes a day.
Clutter hikes stress, collects dirt and dust, puts a damper on exercise (if you can’t find your shoes, how can you take that walk?), and may even make you eat more. In fact, researchers at the University of Chicago found that living with clutter makes you tired, and that fatigue can up the appetite-stimulating hormone cortisol so much that you can eat an extra 200 to 1,000 calories a day.
Happily, a little streamlining around the house can lower your stress level and raise your chances of losing weight. To get started: be philanthropic. Pelosi encourages her clients to donate two items for every new thing they bring into their homes. “But remember, de-cluttering is like exercise,” she says. “You can’t just do it once; you have to make a habit of giving away or putting away something every week.”
First Lady Michelle Obama did us all a health favor when she planted the White House vegetable garden, says Matt Hickman, a Home blogger at Mother Nature Network (MNN.com), and health experts agree. Growing some of your own food—or even just looking at something green and growing—can reduce stress, blood pressure, and numerous disease risks. You don’t have to be a total gardening junkie to reap the benefits. No matter the scale—a backyard plot, a few containers of organic tomatoes, a pot of rosemary on your kitchen windowsill—having living, green elements in or near your home makes you feel more connected to the Earth. And growing that pepper right outside your door makes you more likely to eat it and other fresh stuff. Talk about eating local!
A home that reflects you automatically makes you feel comfortable in your own skin, says architect Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House series and the new More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home. “Comfort and happiness isn’t a size, it’s a feeling, and you can create that feeling with your home’s design and decoration,” she says. So, does your home reflect you and the way you live?
Natural light is healing to the mind, body, and soul. Exposure to it raises spirits and may prevent diseases, according to Richard Hobday, PhD, author of The Light Revolution: Health, Architecture, and the Sun. “It’s worth forgoing window treatments to get the mood-boosting health benefits of both the natural sunlight and the view,” designer Pelosi says, but today you don’t have to. “There are new sheer coverings that slide from side to side or top to bottom to let light in and offer privacy.” Two examples: Luminette PowerGlide sheers and Duette honeycomb Roman shades, both by Hunter Douglas. Don’t live in a sun-flooded nest? Light up your life with strategically placed mirrors and bright interior finishes (like high-gloss paint or the color yellow) to reflect what sunlight you have.
It fits your needs
Is there a room that’s being underused? It’s your space; feel free to rethink the floor plan and do what you want with it, Susanka says. Go ahead and turn that spare bedroom into your exercise and/or meditation retreat or that formal dining room you use once a year into your family movie theater.
Does your front door or foyer say “welcome home”? If that dingy brown door depresses you every time you see it, paint it red! If you never liked those stiff hedges the last owner planted, swap them out. Same goes for that entry table that wobbles when you put your handbag on it or isn’t big enough to hold the mail.
It’s free of baggage
Is there something you inherited from a relative or bought with an old boyfriend that you now hate? “Don’t let furnishings that have emotional baggage bring you down,” Pelosi says. “It’s bad feng shui to keep around things that you don’t like or that remind you of bad times.” Donate them!
Do you and your guy fight over the one comfy living room chair? Pick out a new plush sofa together. Or buy another comfy chair and ditch a couch altogether. There’s no rule that says your living room requires a sofa. Your room only needs what makes you happy to be there, Pelosi says
If there’s one room that needs to be an oasis, it’s the bedroom. So instead of viewing your bedroom as a spare-junk room, consider it your rest-and- rejuvenation space.
Aim for a no-work-zone bedroom that makes you feel like you’ve just escaped every last daily hassle. Try playing your favorite soft music, keeping lights low, using inviting organic linens on the bed and windows, and making sure you have a mattress and pillow that baby your spine and neck. (Hint: your mattress and box spring should be replaced every 10 years.) “In the bedroom of all places, you want to feel serene,” Susanka says.