Part II: What is holistic design?

Updated: Nov 20, 2018

In Part I of this series, I gave my definition of holistic design, curated from various articles and my own creative process at Barbara Vail Design. This week, I want to touch on how my view of holistic design applies to clients as they move through life's inevitable transitions: a new home, a new school year, a big move after divorce, a downsize, a recovery from illness, and all the other curve-balls of life. Throughout my work, I have found that my role is to not only be a designer, but a facilitator for a client's fresh start.


To me, holistic design is about wellness and putting in the time to understand what this means for a client. You can read more about my background and beliefs in this Boston Common piece from this summer. Building up this philosophy, I read countless articles about creating a "feel-good" home. The New York Times recently published a piece on "Feel-Good Homes," spotlighting Los Angeles designer Justina Blakeney's process. She suggests that people create emotional havens in their homes, with objects that hold positive sentiments or memories.


“'It’s not just sort of the physical action of cleaning,' she said. 'It’s an emotional letting go.'" - NYT


Everything she chose for her home was to intentionally create "an emotionally supportive environment." Personally, my interest lies in not only creating this feel-good, supportive environment, but also realizing the deep emotional impact that your space has on you, and what it reflects of you. Your home provides emotional support and also reveals your inner psyche. Holistic design isn't just about designing with a lifestyle in mind, but about learning to understand the emotional expressions of your space and its effects on your well-being. This great article in Lonny explores the psychology of the home in scientific terms. Author Megan O'Sullivan explains that “The concept of personal space and how we dress it is not this whimsical idea about where you live. It has a profound effect on you.” Design is intentional and expressive, but most importantly, incredibly rooted in ourselves.


A Cambridge Loft by BVD for mental peace.

I love the work I get to do with clients to understand their stories. Sometimes this means helping them traverse these important but tricky transitions, learning what can stay and what must be let go. For this reason, many of my clients want to work with a clean slate. Life transitions require the understanding that objects can hold extremely powerful memories, and letting them go is sometimes the best way to begin anew.

"The flip-side of the positive 'emotional triggers' we keep in our spaces is a more nuanced category: nostalgic items. Holding onto sentimental items stirs up nostalgia, which is a double edged sword." - Lonny


The Lonny article also talks about the idea that our spaces are an expression of our worldviews. O'Sullivan writes, "Openness — a willingness to try new things and explore new ideas — is actually expressed in the home more clearly than any personality trait. This character trait can be measured through a collection of books, art, keepsakes, and symbols of cultural exploration." When I worked on an eclectic home in the South End with client Victoria, I knew her collection of artifacts from her nomadic lifestyle was going to play a huge role. For Victoria, the treasures from her travel made up her story, and they needed to become the story of her home. She very much exemplifies this openness, and now her home reflects that spirit. You can read more about the exciting design project in this Homepolish profile.


"Victoria knew that she needed to fill up the space with her eclectic collections of art and photography. Working together with Barbara, each space became its own unique oasis, dotted with images from past travels or even family heirlooms." - Homepolish


A South End home with family heirlooms by BVD.

Starting over sometimes means making compromises - but these changes might even open doors to greater happiness. In this Apartment Therapy article, a New York artist and mom downsizes post-divorce. Despite giving up some previous luxe features, she created "an undeniably lovely space to look at" that "feels good for [her] and her family."


I think the spirit of holistic design as it relates to wellness is nicely summarized in the article: "Home – as many of us know – is more than just where we sleep at night or pay the rent. It's an intimate place where we make memories and express our personalities. Design isn't just about the superficial; it's about crafting environments that allow us to feel inspired, enlivened, and safe. Without a home you love and that feeds your soul, other aspects of your life can suffer. That's why when a huge life change happens, many of us look to our homes to support us. We look to decor not to decorate, but to invigorate."


Are you transitioning and looking for a new, invigorated space? Here are some of my tips for clarifying your intentions for your new space and designing with your wellness in mind:

- Think about the emotional connection each piece has and whether or not you want to bring that energy into the space.

- Hire a designer, even if just for a consultation, to help with the flow and planning of the space.

- Invest in pieces that are meaningful for you and invoke joy and calmness.

- Read some books on the topic! I recommend The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.



#holisticdesign #barbaravaildesign #wellness


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Boston, MA 
hello@barbaravail.com