Senses of Living® Décor

July 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall


I’m sure I’ve shared the compliments I’ve received from visitors to Casa Beall: “Your home feels so warm,” “Bret, your home is the only place other than my own home where I truly feel comfortable,” “Casa Beall is more welcoming and relaxing than the best 5-star B&B!” Oh, I’ve made myself blush!

The point is that my home is a sanctuary, not only for guests, but also for myself. ESPECIALLY for myself! That is the key: if you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of others. It just happens by default. So, creating a sanctuary for yourself in your own home is the first step toward healing yourself and the world around you!

“Sanctuary” comes from the Late Latin “sanctuarium,” which means “a sacred place” or “shrine.” My goal is to give you ideas to think about. I want you to realize that you are divine, and worthy of a sacred place. I want you to be mindful that your home NEEDS to be a sanctuary, and start making it happen. As a designer/decorator, I have to admit that I didn’t set out to create a sanctuary; it just happened (what can I say? I’m a natural!).

That may not be entirely fair. In my youth (let’s say, until I was 35 … or so), I was fairly tightly wound (or highly strung, in some people’s vernacular). I knew I NEEDED to come home and relax. I knew I HAD to escape. I also knew that roommates were to be avoided at all costs; a teeny-weeny solo habitat was far better than a more spacious, luxurious home that had to be shared with roommates (in my case, my frosh roommates were psychic vampires, but that’s another column … trust me, it really is another column!).

To reach my goals of relaxation and escape, I made sure I had comfortable furniture. I had great lounging chairs. I had areas (“zones”) dedicated to specific tasks, so as not to have to expend great effort to change directions and work on a different task (ie, sleeping versus cooking versus indoor gardening). I had a dedicated sleeping area. I had good lighting for reading. What makes you relax and be comfortable may differ from what makes me relax, but at least you can be mindful of what you need to relax.

I also wanted décor that made me feel comfortable. For me, that meant pictures that made me smile (or reminisce about past adventures). That meant artifacts and art from my travels around America and to other countries. That meant my books, because research and reading are my pleasure and my profession, and I average several hundred (if not more) pages of text each week. It also meant having my music handy, as music is an ongoing backdrop of my life. Even now, typing this, the CD player on my computer is playing music, and I could easily switch over and play mp3s on my computer. Additionally, I have radios in almost every room, and several CD players and tape decks (but that’s my personal luxury, and it may not be relevant to you, though you might consider it).

For specifics, let’s start with what makes my bedroom a sanctuary. I do not have a TV in the bedroom (in fact, I have only one TV, and sometimes that is one too many). As indicated above, I do have ways to play music, or soothing sounds, as I go to sleep (especially on freshly-laundered sheets; I LOVE freshly laundered sheets, though I’m not maniacal). I have subdued colors (mostly blues), calming décor (Far Eastern motifs) and simple furniture (a queen sized futon, nightstands, a dresser). A bedroom is for relaxation, for sleeping, and for sex. Are we in agreement?

A great place to establish a sanctuary beyond the bedroom is the bathroom. Take time for a long shower (but be mindful of wasting water) or a bath (again, more wasteful than a short shower, but you can treat yourself from time to time). Keep reading materials near the “throne” if you are having difficulty finding time to read; no one ever said that “throne time” had to be brief (though you must be considerate of others’ needs). Use books and literature to escape into a fantasy world (I am fully aware that in previous Sensational Living® columns I have encouraged each of you to avoid fantasy and live in the moment … the difference here is that I am imagining a harried, frenzied mom who needs to take the first step toward taking care of and pampering herself … fantasy is OK! Solutions are not black and white). My bathroom also has a selection of shells, ceramics and plants that make it seem like a tropical wonderland even when we are having subzero temperatures during Chicago’s winters.

I have another room in my home that served dual purpose as a guest room and library (make that triple purpose: I also use if for various kinds of storage). Anyway, it is not an “active” room; I have to make the decision to enter that room for a particular purpose. Because it is the library, many of my research volumes and files are in there, and since no one else is using the room, there is absolutely no problem with my going in, pulling files, and lounging on the queen-sized futon while browsing my literature. Guests also tell me that it is a very comfortable and comforting space, that it is almost womblike (the only windows are in the adjacent workroom), that it is a wonderful sanctuary after the trials and tribulations of their journey to Chicago.

Because so much of my work involves cooking and home entertainment, my kitchen is designed to be a great place to just hang out. My huge kitchen island offers a clear dividing space where guests can stand and chat on one side while I’m working my magic at the stove, doing prep work, or dealing with a variety of produce at the sink (accessing the refrigerator is the only time I have to “adjust” my guests). If I have a houseguest, he or she can lounge at the kitchenette table while kibitzing with me (oh, and anyone who doesn’t kibitz doesn’t receive an invitation back to Casa Beall; I don’t run a restaurant or hotel). Even without considering the social aspect, my kitchen is still a sanctuary: It is completely stocked with every piece of equipment, every ingredient, and every utensil I need to design, prepare and execute my original recipes. I don’t have to fret about jury-rigging techniques; I can focus on creativity, and THAT is relaxing. And “relaxing” makes a sanctuary.

Lastly, I’ll address the living room/office. Ordinarily, I recommend that people do not combine their office space with a living space, but in my case, my office is used for pleasure as well as work, so it is a natural to combine the area where I do web research with the area where I do literature research, to combine the area where I write with the area where I do proofreading. Since my company is designed to embody all aspects of life and living that I used to consider activities that I would escape TO, I no longer need to escape FROM my work. I followed my passion. I found my bliss. My life is a sanctuary!

I bet you’ve noticed something by now: “He lives alone! THAT is how his entire home can be a sanctuary! Not fair.” Nope, it’s not fair, but it is applicable to your existence, if you make up your mind to recognize that you MUST have a sanctuary. In fact, if kids are the issue, take advantage this month’s Sensational Living® column, “Respect Our Children, Invest in the Future,” to show your children that you respect them, and therefore, expect them to have enough respect for you to give you some time out (OK, that’s a little unrealistic, but it is a noble goal to work toward … stop laughing, please). As soon as the little ones are old enough to understand, make explicit rules regarding what is and what isn’t allowed with regard to your bedroom (and enforce the “closed door policy”; you do NOT need to be at your children’s beck and call), as well as all aspects of life; children DO need rules.

Part of the solution is explicit communication (didn’t I just write a column about that last month? Yes I did! Check out June’s Sensational Living® column). You don’t have to live alone to have a sanctuary, but you do have to have explicit communication with your significant other, partner, spouse, progeny and extended family. The goal is to design an environment where EVERYONE feels safe, loved, and respected. Start small, and build it until your entire world is your sanctuary … think about it. It’s really not such an impossible dream!

As you are starting the process, I want to issue a caveat that I hope you will avoid: sanctuaries are NOT about buying things. You do not need the latest yoga gear, or special “spiritual” artifacts, or any other accoutrements. Sanctuaries are not about materialism. Please note that I have pretty much avoided discussing specific requirements of a sanctuary. What you need is to be mindful of your own mindset. That can be a scary proposition, but it is an important step toward inner peace (the goal of a sanctuary). Spend time on your sanctuary, but don’t spend money on it.

Another factor to consider is that sanctuaries don’t have to remain static once created. For instance, for many years, my sunroom has been a great sanctuary, because it entirely filled with plants (my home has always been a working lab for the work I do within GOD-DESS). Not only are the plants visually (and even aromatically) pleasing, I could always feel stress empty from my body when I would routinely water them. However, today I don’t have that kind of stress, so I’m thinking about re-doing my sunroom to provide a place to sit, to lounge, and maybe to dine. I’ll be working on it in my spare time … that’s a joke.

One thing that I have redone this year is my porch, and I’ll report on that in August’s Senses of Living® column. Tune in for that, but before then, let me know what kinds of sanctuaries you have in your own abodes, and what you’ve done to bring calm, balance and harmony to your homes. You can reach me by calling 773.508.9208 or email me. Peace.