Give your interior design the green light
show that 50 percent of a human being's ability to maintain happiness stems
from genetics, which means the other half is left up to choice.
So why would homeowners choose to live
in dreary, depressing surroundings, asks Alexandra Stoddard, a New York interior
designer who wrote Choosing
Happiness: Keys to a Joyful Life.
Especially when your options to invite
the outdoors in are so varied and low budget.
"We know without a doubt that just
standing and looking at green grass lowers blood pressure," says interior
designer and spokeswopman for The Wallpaper Council, Sharon Hanby-Robie.
Count phototherapy among the fastest growing
areas of clinical research in health care, adds Julie Whitmore, the director
of interior design at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Scientists
now know that the near ultraviolet light frequencies serve as a nutrient for
our biological, hormone and electrical systems. Schools with larger windows
report 15 percent faster student progress in math, 23 percent faster reading
leaps. Those exposed to sunlight absorb calcium and Vitamin D more rapidly.
Yet average homeowners sitting under the
typical fluorescent bulbs are 90-percent light deprived, Stoddard reports.
Let there be light
Whitmore recommends homeowners begin the quest to brighten their interiors by
switching the bulbs in your lamps with full-spectrum lights. The common brands
-- Ott Lite, Verilux and GE's Reveal -- are readily available on the Internet
and via health food stores priced around $17 for the 40-watt to 120-watt equivalents.
Lighting tubes average $34 each, while
complete floor lamps hover around $250. If your budget is tight, she recommends
changing bulbs in the family room and kitchen first.
Full-spectrum lights offer a second benefit
besides their nutrition. Says Stoddard, "They give off a pure, true light.
The yellow lights we've been living with muddy down the clarity and actual colors
in our rooms."
A new paint job on the wall, designers
agree, also goes a long way toward brightening a home. Most prefer to look toward
nature's colors of lemon yellow, sky blue or juicy oranges to imitate an outdoors
sensation. When in doubt, think flower gardens, vegetable stands and beaches.
"Kick out the neutrals because they
have no wavelengths of energy," Stoddard urges. "I can't cope with
taupe. It's the most depressing, sick puppy poop color. I've turned lives around
just by using pastel colors."
Budget-minded folks also turn to architectural
mirrors to bounce light into the darker colors. For instance, Stoddard's Manhattan
apartment opens into a long entrance hallway sans windows. She mirrored the
entire north wall of her living room so that she could see the reflections of
her cheerfully painted walls and window views even in this cut-off area.
If you want to devote a tax refund check
to the cause, designer Soni Christensen, president of Design East Interiors
in Concord, New Hampshire, recommends purchasing a chaise lounge in a solid
linen or duck material to park in the sunniest spot in your house.
Surround it with a fern, a stand to hold
your book or drink, and paint the wall behind it a pale green or yellow. "Then
you hang a piece of bright art low next to the lounge, and you've just created
a whole new attitude," she notes.
With an official remodeling budget, you
can attack the windows themselves. Whitmore insists that top lighting, defined
as sunlight streaming from skylights or the upper third of your tallest windows,
packs a positive emotional effect.
"It's a broad distribution of light,"
she explains. "The area receives light more evenly, without shade, shadow
Some homeowners prefer to install larger
windows; others add transoms or eyebrow windows to the tops, particularly over
a sliding glass door. Hanby-Robie even has replaced regular windows with sliding
glass doors to increase the sunlight factor.
Costs for installed soft-coat, low-e glass
windows, which have argon gas between the panes, range between $600 and $1,000
each, with manufacturers claiming a 30 percent to 50 percent fuel savings, according
to Pam Faerber, co-owner of Faerber's Bee Windows in Indianapolis. Just be sure
any warranties you purchase with your new windows transfer with the home should
you sell your property.
Screened porches and sunrooms rank as
the No. 3 amenity homeowners seek in a home, Hanby-Robie claims, and
they yield anywhere from 70 to 110 percent return on investment at resale, the
National Association of the Remodeling Industry assures.
Budget usually dictates which version
you choose: the national average for a 16-foot by 20-foot screened porch is
$6,000. A sunroom's four-season purpose means you must add heating and air-conditioning
considerations, so the price jumps to between $10,000 and $15,000, she adds.
Hanby-Robie, who also holds a real estate agent's license, opted for the screened
porch off her kitchen.
"I live here in Pennsylvania where
we have miserable winters, so how that space looks visually when I look out
in January is important," she stresses.
That's why she brings potted evergreens
and topiaries decorated with red accents into this area to provide outdoor stimulation
during the hibernation season.
Sheila Bridges, host of Designer Living
on cable's Fine Living Network, places wooden trays of wheat grass on coffee
tables, the top of her television set, even the back of toilet tanks to punch
up indoor greenery inexpensively. A flat lasts about a week before it needs
replacing, just like cut flowers.
Christensen personally prefers vases of
cut tulips to provide impact throughout a home. "First of all, they're
classic -- beautiful when standing and equally as beautiful when drooping. And
they change on a daily basis," she says.
Better still, they fall on the less-expensive
end of the flower catalog.
Fiscus trees lead the popularity parade
for indoor tropical trees, and they'll grow tall stuck in corners and forgotten
for several days on end. Nurseries sell them for under $100 each. They make
a perfect compliment to garden window setups, a bay-like window replacement
that offers counter space for potting puttering from the comfort of your kitchen
or den. These boxes do require special ventilation and glass treatment to nourish
the plants, so plan to pay in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $1,800 each.
Homeowners lacking green thumb skills
might want to check with their local florist about ordering silk versions.
"I use them in my own home and nobody
knows the difference," says Christensen. "I have ferns on stands everywhere.
It looks wonderful and they never mess up the floor."
She shells out between $300 and $400 for
Hanby-Robie suggests photographic wallpaper
murals for those looking for alternatives. Homeowners can define outdoors as
anything from a forest scene to a field of flowers, a sandy beach or a snowcapped
Some dealers even carry pictures of windowsills
laden with flowers, and renditions of trees. The cost comes in under $100. Bridges
stocks up on aromatherapy candles that radiate nature's sweet and woodsy smells
to complete the fantasy.
Die-hards willing to commit greenbacks
to get their green consider conservatories the Holy Grail of remodeling. Today's
technology virtually erased problems with weeping and rotting, so the price
competes with a sunroom.
"If you're willing to spend between
$10,000 and $20,000, your choice boils down to a lifestyle issue rather than
cost," says Hanby-Robie.
Conservatories' complicated ventilated
ceilings, venting ridge systems, motorized roof windows and rain sensors scare
off many well-intentioned homeowners.
"It's literally built to grow plants, so you have to
manage it. A sunroom is where you plop and relax," she distinguishes.
-- Posted: April 7, 2003