Decorating for the Senses

flowersWhen starting a new decorating project, the big decisions are mostly about how the results will look. And the visuals of a room or house are important. But another big part of how a space feels to us is how we perceive it with our other senses. Think of how a luxuriously soft throw tossed across a worn leather chair makes a reading spot seem extra appealing or how the background scent of eucalyptus makes a spa seem clean and calming. Keeping all the senses in mind when making decorating choices will create spaces that feel more inviting and are a pleasure to inhabit. Here are some ideas:

Decorating for the sense of taste is all about implication—creating a space where food is enjoyed and celebrated. Make sure your house facilitates easy, communal eating by assessing your dining spaces. Is your table large enough for extra guests and durable enough to handle inevitable food and drink spills? Do sitting areas have handy spots for people to set drinks upon? Do you have room for an outdoor dining space? Other ideas: create a window sill garden with herbs, tiny hot peppers or tomatoes or a lettuce mix for cutting fresh mesclun. Plant a fruit tree that’s visible from the kitchen or living room window. Set a warm pot of fragrant herbal tea on a guest’s night table at bedtime. And don’t forget the time-tested standby—a bowl full of seasonal fresh fruit.

When appealing to the sense of smell, subtlety is key. Try incorporating the outdoors by using the fresh scents of nature. Hang a eucalyptus cutting on a shower head to release a fresh, clean scent with every steamy shower. Plant a fragrant bush like honeysuckle, rose, or gardenia under a bedroom window to wake up the scent of flowers wafting in. Put a lavender plant in a bedroom or bathroom. Plant a rosemary shrub by the front door—whenever someone brushes by it, it will release its piney scent. Go seasonal with outdoor scents, bringing pine boughs in during December or fresh flowers in spring. Cedar blocks or shelves in a closet smell pleasantly old-fashioned and keep moths away too. Toss scented pine cones into the fire on wintry nights. Or just open a window and let a fresh breeze drift in.

Whether your taste is classic, mid-century modern or eclectic, there are certain visual rules that apply for all styles: Create a focal point in each space. Use harmonious colors for calm and high contrast for excitement. Group like things together and display objects in odd numbers. Allow for plenty of clear spaces on table tops and other surfaces for the eye to rest. Use a variety of light sources, including natural lighting and task lighting, and incorporate candlelight and light from a fireplace. For a cost-free makeover, walk through the room looking at everything as though seeing it for the first time. Purge art and objects that no longer suit you and rearrange furniture to engage with the space in a fresh way.

Engage the sense of touch with contrasts. Contrast crisp sheets with a soft warm comforter and big puffy pillows. Set off the smooth tiles of a bathroom with oversized fluffy towel or drape a luxe silky throw over a modernist chair. Add things that can be touched and look fun to touch, like a worn handmade wooden table, a curvy piece of sculpture, or a nubby throw pillow. Think about what flooring would feel best under your feet—the cool minimalist feel of tile or polished cement or the cushy warmth of carpet with thick padding underneath? When putting in new fixtures like door knobs, faucet handles and light switches, consider their feel. Do they move smoothly? Do they have a nice weight to them and feel good in your hand? Consider investing in luxurious items like heated towel racks, a premium showerhead, heated floors, or a quiet ceiling fan to bring in a cool breeze.

Appealing to the sense of sound is not only about emphasizing pleasant sounds but de-emphasizing or eliminating unpleasant sounds. The most obvious way to bring sound into a space is with music, but other ways include adding water feature, bamboo wind chimes or even just opening a window to bring in the sounds of the outdoors. Run a fan or white noise machine at night to create a peaceful sleeping space and install double-paned windows to mask traffic noises. Soften the sound of large open rooms with textiles and cork flooring. And don’t forget ambient noise: oil squeaky doors, fix rattling appliances, knocking pipes, and creaky stairs.

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