Natural Home Design: Conversations With Your Home

All good conversations depend upon listening, really listening. That includes a sensitive dialogue with where you live.

| May/June 2003

Let’s say you find yourself living in a solid Prairie-style bungalow with lots of dark oak trim. It’s wonderful, but it’s assertive, and you’re not sure it expresses your taste. You were thinking light and bright, and this, well...

Your friends suggest Mission furniture and the autumn red and ochre color scheme so dear to Frank Lloyd Wright. (In Chicago, where I work as a designer, Wright is always right!) If you listen to them instead of paying attention to your home’s voice and your own instincts, you may just give in—and you’ll never feel that the house reflects your taste. Or you may unconsciously fight the house and impose a scheme that belongs to that lighter, more feminine house you didn’t find. Heavy, Craftsman architecture will brood over pale colors and delicate furniture and feel more oppressive than ever.

But what if you bring the red up to coral, add a range of orange-tinted golds and the greens that oak loves: cool sage, sun-washed apple, and leaf tones? Now you’re working with the nature of the house while still satisfying your own taste. You could choose furniture that is on the heavier side, but with a touch of whimsy—Italian provincial chairs, a hand-carved and painted Mexican chest—and you end up with a light, bright, natural look for a Chicago bungalow.

A dialogue of light and motion

Take a walk through your own home. Walk slowly and mindfully through the house during three or four different times of day, observing the flow of light through the rooms. Does your use of the space reflect your preferences in natural lighting? Are there better ways to use some of your rooms to catch light or breezes? Maybe your west-facing bedroom could hold a comfortable chair or loveseat, along with a tea table or bookshelf, so that you can use the room at sunset.

The kinetic energy of a house depends partly on the layout of the rooms, partly on the way the rooms are used. Again, walk through the rooms, reflecting on what you use them for. This time, think about the people you live with and how your activities blend (or clash) in the house. Where do people gather? Where do they find privacy? Which rooms may be overused, which underused? Some people love to have a room—usually a formal living room—that remains pristine for a few quiet moments of solitude during the day. That’s a legitimate use of space. This exercise isn’t about strict utility, but about achieving an aesthetic partnership, a dialogue, with your home.

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