What is slow home design?

Slow home design is the principle of slowing down to design homes and spaces that are sustainable, practical and functional. The slow home movement was founded in Calgary by John Brown, Carina van Olm and Matthew North as a response to the poor design practices that have pervaded the mass housing industry the past few decades. It encompasses many ideas on how to live more sustainably - from LEED certification to the simple positioning of windows - and for for those of us who aren't able to build new or renovate from the ground up, it's a concept we can embrace by simply looking for ways to make our homes more efficient, easier to maintain, and better for our overall wellbeing. 

slow home design and home sustainability

Back when I lived in Calgary from 2010-12 I leaped at the chance to take weekend in-studio workshops and courses from Slow Home Studio.  Brown, Olm and North lay out 12 Steps to a Slow Home and teach designers and builders to strive for a more “considered, calm and intuitive” approach to residential design. The concept is to use well-considered design principles to create smaller homes that will be environmentally sustainable, continue to meet the needs of homeowners over time, and are built to endure. 

Courtesy of Slow Home Studio

Courtesy of Slow Home Studio

Brown says in an interview with The Chicago Tribune that a slow home is:

"reasonably sized and carefully designed to support its occupants. It might have an entry where family members can easily take off their boots, stash their keys and store their backpacks, for example. It might have a living space that encourages people to talk or read, not just watch television or surf the Internet. It's energy efficient, filled with natural light and designed for easy flow among rooms and access to the outside."

North continues the explanation in an interview with The Calgary Herald:

"I think the boom of the big-house era is coming to an end. So those houses will be less desirable and valuable as time goes on," North says . . . Expect a shift to smaller, more energy-efficient homes, North says, and a move away from homes on the fringes of cities. A decade ago, a 5,000-sq.-ft. home sounded like a dream to some. These days, that much square footage "sounds like a noose around your neck. There's uncertainty about the energy cost to heat your house."

These principles and 12 steps make a lot of sense to me, and really, most of them are common sense. But in this age of building fast and big and cheap and decorating according to the latest blog trends, common sense often goes out the window. That's why I love the idea of building, renovating and designing slowly. Because when you slow down to really understand what you need from your home, how you will use it, and how to make it work better for you, you'll end up with a space that's easy, happy, restful, relaxing, welcoming, and cost-efficient. Yes, it is possible, even if you aren't able to start from scratch. 

Over the last years I've taken the concepts I've learned from the slow home movement and used them in my own houses and apartments and with clients. I always put function, wellbeing, and sustainability first, then layer in elements that make a space beautiful and meaningful. These are often just small things that any of us can do with small or large budgets (and sometimes without any budget at all).

Do I struggle with finishing a project slowly? Yes, definitely. I'm not one to live in unfinished chaos for long - it makes me come undone myself. However, I do think that a space evolves slowly over time, so while I decorate with what I have now and keep things organized and "finished", my spaces are never actually finished because I continue to infuse them with new finds from flea markets, new artwork or photographs of something that makes me smile, and more comfortable and eco-friendly furnishings as I'm able to save up for them. 

So if you like this idea of creating a slow home - even in your existing home without much money to spend - here are some easy and practical ideas. 

1. Think about how you use every room in your home.

Are there spare bedrooms that you haven't been in since the kids flew the coop? Use them for something that's meaningful to you and will help you flourish - perhaps a yoga room or a painting studio. Or close them up, turn off the heat and never waste another minute dusting them again. 

2. Let in the light. 

While you may not be able to locate your existing home so it best takes advantage of the sun, you can make sure you open up your windows to let in as much light as possible. If you have curtains that are blocking light, remove the rods and hang them higher and wider than the windows, so that the curtain panels hang outside of the casings when opened during the day. Place mirrors on walls opposite your windows to bounce more light around the room. Oh, and give your windows a good cleaning - it's amazing how much a little outdoor dirt can diffuse light entering your home. 

3. Strive for sustainability.

Consider upgrading taps, showerheads and your toilet to water-friendly options to conserve as much as possible for our planet and communities. The sources for this design board for an eco-friendly bathroom are here.  

4. Make your entryway functional.

This is a must for easy, happy living. There's nothing more frustrating than piles of boots and bags in the entry to trip over, and never being able to find your keys. No matter what your entry size - create a space for essentials that include hooks, a small stool or bench, baskets or bins to catch mittens, boots, etc., a mirror, and a shelf or console table with a bowl to keep keys, sunglasses, etc. This post on 5 Essentials for Small Entryways gives you more details and inspiration. 

5. Organize your kitchen to make it easy to be healthy.

Have a windowsill or shelf in the window to grow your own organic herbs. Put your dry goods into large jars so you can see them easily, and take them to the bulk store to fill up sustainably. Have healthy snacks front and centre. Create a drink station on the counter so that everything for coffee, tea, and smoothies is at your fingertips. 

slow home for ordinary people

6. Take back your spaces for actually living the way you want to, not the way you give in to.

Hide your TV or at least place it so it's not the focal point of your living room, and arrange the furniture to accomodate more conversation and games with the whole family. Actually use the dining room for family meals by having a large table, comfy seating and good lighting in that room. Or if you really won't ever use it, ditch the table and use the space for something more meaningful. 

7. Make your bedroom an oasis. 

Declutter your bedroom and make it a calm place to unwind and get a good sleep. Remove the TV and other electronics. Clear your nightstand so you have room for just a good book, a good light and a little bowl to toss your watch into. More ideas for a simple, healthy bedroom and nightstand here

designing and decorating a slow home - how to create a beautiful home on a budget

8. Get control of your bathroom and simplify it.

First, make sure it promotes healthy living by swapping out the plastic vinyl shower curtain for a PEVA or organic cotton/linen one, and use natural air fresheners and cleaners. Next, clean off your counters and organize your toiletries, cosmetics and appliances into separate drawers or baskets so everything has it's own place and you never have to waste time searching for things when you need them. This post outlines seven simple steps on setting up the perfect master bathroom. 

9. Organize, simplify and declutter on a regular basis.

Don't hang onto things that just get in the way, take time to dust and clean, or just plain aren't useful or bring you joy. A slow home is filled only with practical, functional, meaningful and beautiful things that you truly enjoy and use.

10. Decorate slowly with meaningful things.

Take time to find, restore, and collect things that will make your home beautiful in a way that's unique and special to you. Frame photos that tell your story, or mementos from places you've been. Clean up your grandparent's antique treasures if they bring back good memories. Search for the right sofa that you'll want to sink into every evening and forget your worries. 

how to decorate a slow home

Slow design and slow decorating may mean that your home doesn't look like it was pulled straight from a store catalog, but I think that's a good thing. Because it will be personal, and it will help you live your best life. It will be sustainable, both for the environment and for you as you move through different stages and have different needs. A slow home will inspire slow and intentional living, and if you're anything like me, that feels like a really good way to live. 

The Benefits of Being Busy

I often write about simple living, slowing down and why we should stop glorifying being busy. In fact previous posts about the cost of being busy and how to stop being busy and start being productive lay out reasons why I think too many people are scheduling too many activities in their lives in an attempt to live up to social norms or avoid being alone with themselves. Many people seem to always be in 'motion' but their 'actions' are not always purposeful. Existentialists would say they are fleeing themselves by blindly following social conventions and throwing themselves into the busyness of contemporary society. Life then becomes a series of disjointed events and distractions without direction or meaningful action. 

the benefits of being busy, and why I went back to work

But after chatting about this with my brother, he suggested that I might be being reckless in putting a negative spin on being busy when some people might thrive in those conditions. Many ambitious people naturally operate at a high frequency and like to be busy all the time, and they achieve great results and are happiest when doing so. In fact, our parents have always found joy in being busy and continuously working hard, whether for money or just keeping an old home in good repair or tending a huge vegetable garden every year. They've always believed that the mind needs something productive to focus on every day, and so keeping busy with tasks is healthy for them and they enjoy it. 

"A person can't find themselves 'too busy' if everything they do has value in it for them," he said. "They can be busy with work, kids, preparing food, enjoying entertainment, sharing time with others, or providing opportunities for people who depend on them. If they value what they're doing (ie. it aligns with their true values) they'll always be engaged and energized. If they're engaged in life they'll always be busy, but they'll never wear down."  

He feels it could be dangerous to make a blanket statement that being busy is a bad thing because it's when people feel like they shouldn't be busy or feel guilty for their ambition that things begin to break down. They begin to feel stressed and anxious. They lose the wind in their sails and their pride takes a hit. And ultimately so does their contribution to the world. 

Fair enough. So being busy isn't problematic. It's living a too-busy life that you don't value that brings trouble like mental and physical health problems. Also, being too busy is an internal problem, not an external one. When we assess our activities and figure out what is essential to the life we want to live, we can be busy with the right things. And so after this conversation, I realized I wouldn't want to make anyone who is busy and feeling energized from it feel like they shouldn't be doing what they're doing. Indeed, more power to you and may you continue being in flow! 

In fact, I've come to realize that my own desire for being less busy and my perception of simple living has changed. I intentionally stopped being so busy a couple of years ago when I decided to quit my traditional 9-5 job and do my own thing. I moved back to my hometown for a slower pace of life and to allow my creativity to flourish by offering design services and writing about design and simple living full-time. I gave myself the flexibility to declutter my calendar and have more time for myself and what I wanted to do. It's been great, and I've grown tremendously since making that decision. But here's the thing: I've also found myself missing being busy.

When I was busy with a full-time career and a part-time hustle I enjoyed working with colleagues who challenged me. The high energy helped me generate ideas and bring them to life. I thrived on having a purpose outside of myself. I capitalized on a momentum that led to good work not only in my 9-5 gig but also in my side hustle and relationships and helping others. I was in flow. I just perhaps didn't realize it because I was struggling against it, and didn't achieve the right balance in all areas of my life. 

And so recently I've gone back to work. I'm consulting part-time using the skills I learned in my past career and still working the rest of the time on my own creative business and pursuits. It's a good balance and I'm enjoying the benefits of being busy again, instead of worrying about the costs of percieved "unhealthy busyness". I have a feeling of self-accomplishment and purpose each day, which has lead to greater confidence. I've also been stretching my mind again, and it's brought new inspiration and clarity to all of my work. And of course, there's the benefit of financial gains, which takes enormous pressure off and allows me to enjoy my creative projects even more.

I'm in no way saying that we should all work 14-hour days and not take vacations. I'm still a big believer in taking the time to get to know yourself, your values and your inner purpose. I still feel we need to strike the right balance of work, home, health and play, and that we do better when we allow a little bit of stillness into our lives every day. But if we do these things and align our busyness with the essential activities that are valuable and purposeful, engagement in life - and happiness - will surely follow. 

The Allure of Imperfection

"To be perfect is to develop expanding imperfection". ~ Ethylios

Perfection is nearly impossible to reach. The ideal is wonderful to strive for and be inspired by, but feeling like we've never "achieved" that ideal can deflate us and make us feel unworthy. What's even more depressing is that we've missed the beauty in the imperfection along the way.  

I love Pinterest-perfect spaces and beautiful blog before-and-afters as much as the next homebody, but I'm drawn most to those that are imperfect and interesting. After all, people aren't perfect, so why would we try to make the homes we live in perfect? They should be a reflection of us, with all of our beautiful and alluring imperfections. 

Take, for example, this mirror that my brother made for me years ago. It's one of my most treasured things, because it's perfectly imperfect, and it was made with love. The barn boards are weathered, and there are flaws and cracks which make it even better. Don't you think it's much more interesting than a store-bought perfect mirror? 

embracing imperfect home design

Here's another example: I love cutting boards, tin cans and bowls. I displayed them in my kitchen so that they can be functional and make me smile every time I see them. The old tin holds tea, and the funny little salt and pepper shakers were a gift from my brother and sister-in-law after their family visited me and we went to MarineLand. These things sit on an old piece of driftwood. Maybe not a new and perfect kitchen, but one that brings so much joy and functions well at the same time.

imperfect home design and embracing meaningful, imperfect decor

Real life can be messy, hurried and stressful. And so I'm of the opinion that aiming for a home that's simple, relaxing, and calm is the primary goal - not expensively designed and decorated to perfection. 

The room I use for my office-studio didn't have doors on the closets. And closets are where I store real life clutter. They needed doors. But I didn't want the cheap closet doors from the big-box store, nor did I have the money for expensive beautiful doors. So I asked my dad and brother to make these ones from scrap lumber and painted them white. Their imperfection is stunning, functional and meaningful to me. 

how to decorate and embrace imperfection

My Mom's guest room is certainly not perfect, with wonky walls, an old tile ceiling and no budget for a refresh. So we made do with what we had: salvaged barn boards from my grandparents' old farmhouse and an old dresser and iron bed of my Mom's that were left out in the garage for years. We brought them in, cleaned them up and added soft touches like pillows, a natural jute rug and a throw. Aged beauty indeed. 

My bedroom was painted blue already, probably not a colour I would have chosen myself, but I embraced it and made it work with the furniture I already had. The vintage nightstand was a '60's laquered mess that I painted and wallpapered (as seen here). There was no overhead light in the room, and I didn't have funds to purchase an expensive 'perfect' lamp, so I used a hanging socket and cord and hung it on a piece of old barnboard. The result is a beautifully imperfect room. 

perfectly imperfect guest bedroom with barn board wall
simple spring office

My previous small condo had just a tiny space in the living room to set up a little home office. Not the perfect scenario, but I made it work and found it beautifully inspiring. An old barn board provides a sunny spot for plants and collections. I kept the space simple with a white monocrhomatic look and bits of colour through plants, flowers and home-made art. 

Life takes balance, and so does building a home that lets you thrive. Trying to create the picture-perfect home is not sustainable - to our wallets, the planet or our mental health. Let's give up this idea of having perfectly styled homes and embrace beautiful imperfection and the unique and interesting life that comes with them. A home that's unique and meaningful will be one you're happy in for the long haul.

10 tips for an organized kitchen

When it comes to living a  joyful, simple and convenient life, having an organized kitchen stacks high on the must-haves. Here are some ways you can design - or redesign - the room that we race into and out of every morning, spend family time in every night and enjoy lazy brunches and cooking adventures in every weekend.

Top 10 Tips for an Organized Kitchen

1. Use open shelving.

Not only is it easy to access frequently used items, open shelving also forces you to keep things neat when out in the open. It's also great for small kitchens because it opens up the space visually. Try taking doors off of existing cabinets or removing them altogether and replacing with thick shelves on brackets or floating shelves. 

Refreshed Designs

Refreshed Designs

Better Homes & Gardens

Better Homes & Gardens

2. Customize your cabinets.

You can do this when you order cabinetry or you can do it yourself with existing cabinets thanks to all kinds of great organizational gadgets now available. Pull-out drawers, dividers for cookie sheets, custom recycling and garbage units, spice jar inserts and towel bars all keep things in their place and easily accessible.

Better Homes & Gardens

Better Homes & Gardens

3. Employ drawer organizers.

Every single utensil and kitchen do-dad has its place, and it is in a drawer organizer. Get one. Get many. Or DIY them yourself with shoe boxes or cardboard dividers wrapped in beautiful wrapping paper or sticky liner paper. 

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

Curbly

Curbly

4. Use hooks.

Hooks for towels, utensils, pots and just about anything else are so useful and help you avoid throwing things on the counters.

5. Use counter space wisely.

Keep counters open except for frequently used items. Store cooking utensils in pretty jars near the stove, and snacks in glass containers so you can clearly see what's there. 

6. Look up.

Utilize the space between your cabinets and ceiling and on top of your refrigerator by throwing lesser-used items in baskets or pretty bins. Or if starting fresh, customize your cabinets and take them all the way to the ceiling.

Refreshed Designs, photo by Robin Stubbert

Refreshed Designs, photo by Robin Stubbert

Style at Home

Style at Home

7. Utilize awkward corners.

Open shelving that goes all the way to the wall in a corner is a more efficient use of space than a corner cabinet (and adds interest).

8. Make better use of lower cabinet space.

Open shelving below the counter is convenient for everyday items. Try to use this at the end of islands to make better use of wasted end space. It's also really convienient for kids to reach. 

9. Gather appliances.

Carve out a spot for all your small appliances to keep them together, ideally one that is handy to an outlet and behind a closed door. An appliance garage (yes, they have been updated) is fantastic for this. If you don't have one, gather them all in one cupboard or group them on the counter around an electrical outlet. 

Style at Home

Style at Home

Style at Home

Style at Home

10. Give cookbooks their own space.

Keep recipes and cookbooks together and handy on a dedicated shelf.

Southern Living

Southern Living

Our House

Our House

Embrace Hygge and Create a Happy Home

Oh winter. I love you and hate you. The morning frost on the trees is just so majestic and the blue skies and sunlight that dances on the white blanket of snow are intoxicating. For a while. Then the cold and slush and shoveling and sniffling and dry skin and hat head hair just need to go.  

Are we on the same page? Please don't comment and make me cry if you live in a tropical climate unless you're extending me an invite to visit. 

In my annual quest to endure winter I've found that one way to avoid feeling dreary through the long cold months is to warm up my home with natural plants, soy candles, and cozy textural blankets and throw mats,  and to give myself permission to go to bed early and read lots of books. I also enjoy the hibernation high of curling up with a tea and enjoying a Netflix binge.

In fact, the Danish have a word for this: hygge (pronounced 'hoo-gah'). It's an old-world term for well-being that the Danish have adopted as embracing life, living cozily, hunkering down and snuggling up to enjoy your home and yourself and others. Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, says in The Little Book of Hygge that "Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things." In her book, The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country, Helen Russell says that the best explanation of hygge she heard was “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming."

Since the Danes are ranked as among the happiest in the world, they may be onto something. I think maybe all of us who live in Denmark and Canada and other cold winter climes practice hygge on some level instinctively. We almost have to just to survive the fewer hours of sunlight and outdoor time available to us. But if we could consciously and more intentionally recognize and embrace hygge, we could actually enjoy the full extent of the season instead of grumble our way through it.

If we set up our homes for hygge, we can better take advantage of this time of year to slow down a little, stop checking emails and social media, and perhaps watch a movie, make a bowl of stove-popped popcorn, enjoy an actual magazine, knit some wool socks and then wear them, talk to our plants, curl up with a hot tea, take a long bath, do a jigsaw puzzle and get in our PJ's as soon as we get home. Or something like that. 

So, are we all ready to dance in our cozy living rooms for another 2-3 months of winter? OK, maybe that's pushing it, but here are some ways we can set up our homes to embrace hygge. And perhaps smile a bit more over the coming weeks. 

how to embrace hygge and create a happy home
How to create a hygge happy home

1. Bring natural elements like plants, flowers, branches, wood, and even rocks inside to kindle that intrinsic connection with nature. A wooden coat rack adds natural warmth and a place to hang a cozy sweater. Lots of plants will also help clean the air of toxins that get trapped inside with windows closed up tight. 

2. Use cozy materials like wool, linen, jute, sisal, felt, cotton, and mohair to enhance the tactile enjoyment of rest. Add a sheepskin mat on the floor or laid over a chair. Sink your toes into the fluffiest of bath mats. Have a chunky wool blanket on every chair to curl up in. Add an extra soft throw at the foot of your bed. Change your pillowcases to ones that are ultra soft and warm. Put a basket of cozy socks and slippers at the door to change into when you arrive home. 

how to embrace hygge and create a happy home - use natural and warm textiles and materials
embrace hygge  by setting up your home to be happy - including creating a tea station

3. Up the ambiance with soy or beeswax candles and a jar of Epsom salts with lavender oil by the bathtub. Use soft lighting from table lamps to cast a warm and inviting glow. Run an essential oil diffuser to scent and clean the air. Create a drink station on the kitchen counter so that making naturally sweet-scented and soothing herbal teas is convenient and easy.

how to embrace and attain hygge

4. Indulge in healthy comfort food. Winter is a great time to let out your inner chef and explore new recipe books for hearty dishes and yummy baked treats made with organic whole foods that will boost your happiness and your immunity. Organize your kitchen to have spices and baking ingredients and cooking utensils at the ready. Invite friends over to sample your wares. 

embracing hygge and creating a happy home

5. Be mindful and fully enjoy what you do, even if that's nothing. To embrace hygge is to appreciate downtime and also time with loved ones. So stop multi-tasking and start enjoying the moment. Talk to a friend on the phone instead of texting her and watching TV at the same time. Break out the board games and gather the whole family around the table. Set the dinner table with your fancy dishes or placemats along with a couple of taper candles. Practice yoga poses while playing soft music. Meditate. Journal. Watch the snow fall.

The fundamental concept of hygge is embracing life. So let's try to embrace this season - and every season - by creating a hygge happy home.  

 

If you need a few natural and handmade things to cozy up your home - check out my Etsy curated list of winter cozy items to embrace hygge

The Simplest-Ever Guide to Choosing the Right White Paint

Purity, balance, harmony; these states are associated with white in colour psychology. White spaces are known to help us experience restfulness, peace, and joy. In a light white space, it's almost impossible to feel anxious or depressed, and in turn, the sense of calm it evokes allows us to create 'white space' mentally and emotionally as well. It helps us slow down and be more mindful, which of course, boosts productivity and effectiveness in everything we do. 

White rooms are timeless. They make a home feel fresh and clean, relaxed and invigorating, all at the same time. They work in classic or contemporary spaces. They can be serenely cool or romantically warm. They play well with all other colours and with natural materials. They're easy to clean and touch up when needed, making them a sustainable choice. And they provide the perfect neutral backdrop for showcasing the things are meaningful in our homes- artwork, books, plants, antiques, mementos, collections, photographs and so much more. 

It's funny then, isn't it, that white is the colour that many people shy away from most? I hear them stressing over choosing just the right white and never pulling the trigger because it seems too complicated. Or they take a month trying a zillion different white swatches on the wall and can't decide. Look, I admit it can seem overwhelming when faced with the hundreds of choices in the paint store. And there are all kinds of conflicting designer recommendations on the best whites, when to use warm vs cool, glossy vs flat, and everything in between to complicate things even further. 

But let's get real.

Most normal folks are not going to be able to tell the difference between white and extra white on your walls.  Stop overthinking it. Keep it simple, stick to the classic tried and true shades of white, and be done with it. Or hire a designer who can give you the right colour recommendation. 

the simplest-ever guide to choosing the right white paint

If you decide to go it on your own and you're into design and love to debate the nuances of how different whites look in your home, all the power to you. But if you're like me and like to simplify decisions for the home but still have it look great, follow the only 3 guidelines you need and choose one of the safe whites shown below. 

Three simple guidelines to help you get it right:

1. If you have a dark space with low natural light, white walls can look dingy. Choose a warm white or instead choose a neutral or slightly warm grey or greige that will help brighten the space and make it feel crisper. I've got you covered here too with this post on the best greys

2. Paint your trim untinted white - yep that's right - you don't need to fuss over what white to paint your trim 90% of the time - untinted will be a nice crisp white that pops against the wall colour. Or, if you're choosing a neutral crisp white for the walls too, just paint them all out the same colour (but with semi-gloss on the trim for depth).

3. Use flat on the ceiling, eggshell or satin on the walls and semi-gloss on the trim to provide contrast and depth. 

If you'd like to print out this cheetsheet plus a short workbook on choosing white, sign up to my free Resource Den and get these plus lots of other cheat sheets and resources. Click here. 

Stop stressing and simplify design. Paint your walls white already and reap the benefits. You can thank me later. I accept chocolate. White chocolate. 

SW Extra White (click on all photos for source)

SW Extra White (click on all photos for source)

SW Pure White

SW Pure White

BM Simply White

BM Simply White

SW Alabaster

SW Alabaster

Hamptons Style Home
SW Paper White
CIL/Dulux Raindrop White

CIL/Dulux Raindrop White

Ready for a little more colour help? Want to go further than white? Download this guide to simplifying colour that works with the existing finishes in your home.