home is where the wellness is

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by Patricia L. Garcia

designing a home for physical, mental and emotional wellness

If there’s anything to be learned from the coronavirus, aside from general cleanliness, it’s that home is incredibly important. We spend most of our time at home, and more so in the last year. Home is now doubling as the place where we go to complete work, where we go to get away from work and where we are partially homeschooling our kids — having the right space means you can effectively do the things that need to be done efficiently and effectively.

Having the right space is important because it can also have a positive effect on your physical and mental health. “Our living spaces have a tremendous impact on our physical and emotional well-being, from how they’re constructed to how they’re organized and decorated,” writes Jamie Gold in her new book, Wellness By Design: A Room-to-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness + Happiness. “This book explores the many ways they can support or sabotage us, room by room, and shares suggestions for making them healthier, safer, and more functional as we strive to live our best lives.”

Gold wrote the book after going through a health transformation. After facing some difficulties in her late 50s, she decided to lose weight. Losing 100 pounds prompted her to compete in obstacle course races that challenged her physically and mentally. As an interior designer and competitor, Gold found a way to translate her lifestyle changes to home design. She has always concentrated on wellness in the home, mostly focusing on designing for accessibility, so this was a natural fit for her.

So, what does wellness at home mean? It means a home that will be accessible for all stages of life, and for people with disabilities. It means a home that is made safe through security systems, as well as professionally installed water, electrical, plumbing or lighting systems. It also refers to a home’s functionality — after all, a home that is easier to maintain makes life easier. And let’s not forget décor. While it doesn’t seem especially important to wellness, décor is an instant mood booster, such as family photos that make you happy, or a plush and stylish rug that’s both pleasing to look at and to the feet. The book also mentions nature connections, such as indoor plants and natural light or using non-toxic building materials for better air quality, as part of the way that a home can affect your physical, mental and emotional wellness.

The book includes wellness tips that apply to both homeowners and renters, because don’t we all deserve to live happy? And while Gold has been designing for years, she also consults health experts for a thoughtful approach to wellness design that’s also steeped in science.

To Gold, a healthy home includes the systems that make the home function, so it’s important to consider technology that will make life more comfortable, and you and your family healthier. Take a whole-house water filtration system. Sure, your water will taste better, but your skin will also benefit from filtered water coming from showerheads and bathroom sinks. For those with allergies or asthma, a HEPA filter in your HVAC system can make a world of difference.

From task lighting in your kitchen to linear drains in a shower, there are lots of small strategies to use to make your home safer and healthier for you and your whole family. If you don’t have the funds for a whole home renovation or to build a new home, start small. Add indoor plants to each room of the home. Declutter your spaces. Use easy-to-install smart home products that can increase comfort and safety. Use non-toxic items in your home, from the beauty products you use to the materials in your décor or flooring. The beauty of Gold’s book is that she gives you ideas that are easy to implement in your home, no matter your budget.

Q +A

Author Jamie Gold

Author Jamie Gold has been a kitchen and bath designer since 2004, after having been in media and marketing for 30 years. Having helped her father with home projects in her youth, she found it to be a natural transition to the design world.

She married her two passions — writing and design — and has written about homes for newspapers, magazines and websites like Forbes.com. She wrote this issue’s featured book, Wellness By Design: A Room-to-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness + Happiness.

We chatted with her about the inspiration for the book and some design advice for your next home. Edited for space and clarity.

What was the inspiration for this book?
The inspiration for the book was twofold: first was my professional experience helping older clients live independently, happier, more functionally and safer at home. I had become a Certified Aging in Place Specialist because of observing my grandmother’s hardships at home and wanting to help others confronting the same issues with their kitchens and bathrooms. Designing for aging is definitely a wellness design component in my professional opinion.

The second inspiration was my own personal journey from a 233-pound couch potato to an “every-woman” training for a Kilimanjaro summit this year to celebrate my 60th birthday. Along the way, I learned how pivotal my own home was in the transformation and I wanted to share this “secret weapon” with others who also want to get and stay healthy. If you ask most people how they’re going to do that, they typically mention cutting calories, starting an exercise routine, quitting smoking or maybe getting more sleep. They don’t say, “I’m going to redo my house or reorganize my apartment,” but both can help (or hurt) your goals! The book shares the many ways — for both homeowners and renters — that you can reshape your living space to enhance your wellbeing.

You wrote this book after you went through a personal health transformation. What changed in your own home during and after that time?
When I bought my San Diego townhouse in 2010, it was only a few years old and in very good condition, so I wasn’t going to make big changes. What I did first was add organizers to my kitchen so that meal prep would be simpler, more efficient and less time consuming. I also brought my anti-fatigue mat from Florida so that my hips, back, legs and feet wouldn’t be stressed after long hours standing on hard floors — as they had been before! Both full bathrooms got handheld massaging showerheads — my favorite addition after long days on hard trails!

I’ve also added organizers to my garage to keep all of my gear handy on training or event days, created and hung a medal rack there to welcome me home when I drive in; I painted my rooms in colors I love (using non-VOC paints) and decorated with accessories that have personal meaning, like the vintage-style Mt. Whitney poster in my living room reminding me to get off the couch for training to climb yet another mountain. There are more changes I’ll make to my place over time, but I like doing projects in phases, so that it’s not overwhelming.

What changed in your design style from the start of the book to the completion of the book?
I don’t think my style changed so much as crystallized. I’ve always believed that everyone’s home should be a sanctuary/refuge from a chaotic world, and that means making it as safe and secure, comfortable and joyful, functional, healthy and accessible as possible. Those are the five facets of wellness design! When I look at a room in my own home, I evaluate it on the basis of those five facets. With everyone spending so many more hours at home with the pandemic, I think wellness design is even more important — and shouldn’t be just for the well-to-do.

What’s the one thing that homeowners or renters can do to instantly change their space?
Declutter! That should be the start for any room redo — especially kitchens! Once you know what isn’t needed in that space or contributing to its functionality, accessibility, safety or comfort and joy, you free up room for something better. Clutter creates stress and anxiety, reduces functionality and traps dirt, dust and germs. Those are all huge negatives right now for sheltering at home.