Case Study: Helping My Client Achieve a "Cultural Oasis"

I'm excited to share with you a sneak peak of some of the design psychology work I've been doing with one of my consulting clients. If you're not sure what design psychology is, it's as much of a design process as it is a therapeutic process (not to be confused with therapy), and involves a series of exercises that look at your past, present, and future sense of place. Based upon these exercises, a design psychologist works with you to develop an overall vision that supports your emotional growth. The process is documented in what we call an ideal home statement which is a sentence that captures the overall vision for the space. It is the guiding principal for the ideal home "blueprint" that has recommendations for growth, look and feel, layout, and objects and furniture, along with mood boards and layouts. You can take the blueprint with you to an interior designer who can assist you with implementing the vision, or your design psychologist may be able to it. I love to do the both, the blueprint and the implementation. 

When I first started working with my client-- let's call her Rosa, she was dissatisfied with the state of her apartment, and did not feel like it was a true reflection of who she is or what she wanted to become. Rosa is a single mother with two lovely daughters and a rich Puerto Rican ancestry. She works in human resources by day, but also has a creative side she has not expressed as fully as she likes, and is in the process of switching to a career in interior design. So I set out to help her put together a creative home environment that can act as a backdrop to the life she wants to live.

While conducting the exercises with Rosa, a number of themes came up-- one major one was clutter. Rosa realized that clutter (i.e., having a bunch of paperwork and things piled up on the floor) was a longstanding issue for her that seemed related to her experience growing up with it. While she hated the clutter, it brought a sense of comfort to her, and this apparent contradiction made more sense once she learned her personality type, INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging). This means among other things, that Rosa tends to be introverted, is open to possibilities and exudes personal warmth, and likes everything in it's place. Consistent with her introverted-ness, Rosa likes her alone time, preferably by the beach or a soothing waterfall, and recalls going to those places in her head during times of stress. At the same time, she longed for the warmth and connectivity of family and social gatherings, something her clutter may have reminded her of; but also feels most at peace when things are in order and everything has a place. So the challenge was to help Rosa create a space that felt comfy and homey yet organized. She loved the look of bohemian spaces and described it's characteristic chotckies-n-things as "organized clutter." It appealed to her because it was presented it in a deliberate, organized way. 

Another major theme for Rosa was having self-expression and a voice. Growing up, Rosa felt female voices were not always valued or well-received, and wanted to ensure that both her and her daughters felt comfortable enough in the home to express aspects of their identity.  At the same time, she wanted the home to have a masculine presence particularly since a male does not live in the home. Thus I recommended that the space celebrate strong Latina women but also embrace masculinity. 

Making the most of what she had was also important to Rosa. It's something she learned in her family, and wanted to pass it down to her children. Growing up her family did not have loads of money so they made do; and Rosa recalled bright, colorful spaces with books and plants- something she wanted in her own space. But Rosa wanted to do more than draw from her family's sense of home. She also sees herself as aspiring to do and be more than her family, both professionally and personally. Thus, she wanted elements that reflect her aspirational sensibilities.

Based upon the exercises I did with Rosa we came up with the following ideal statement: "My ideal home is a peaceful, comfortable, and loving space that is bright, uncluttered and organized; offers a sanctuary for spiritual connection, a social space for family gatherings, encourages full creativity and cultural expression; and celebrates a strong feminine presence while welcoming a masculine one."  The ideal statement and blueprint recommendations are meant to apply to Rosa's entire apartment, and although each room may not capture every aspect of it, it certainly should capture some of it. After finalizing the ideal statement and showing Rosa the blueprint recommendations, I created mood boards based upon the rooms Rosa currently desires to work on. See the living room mood board below-- I'm calling it cultural oasis. 

The space is kept bright and colorful with elements of luxury such as the velvet and gold, that reflect Rosa's aspirational goals; a sense of organization as evidenced by the credenza; love of nature as symbolized by the plant and wood coffee table; and the presence of a strong Latina female presence along with a masculine one, as per the photos. I just love the Joel Meyerwitz photo of the Spanish ladies on the street. The sectional sofa, a place for Rosa and her family to relax, embodies that cozy, comfortable feel Rosa was looking for; and the chairs are additional seating for social gatherings. 

My next steps with Rosa will be creating a timeline for re-designing her actual living room. I like to recommend a list of no-cost changes first and then I prioritize by budget. What do you think of the design psychology process? I'd love to hear your thoughts below. 

1. rug 2. credenza 3. chairs 4. couch 5. lamps 6. books 7. coffee table 8. milk glass vases 9. beach photo 10. woman in bathe suite photo 11. vintage Latino woman photo 12. photo of Spanish Women on the streets of NYC 13. Spanish men photo 14. NYC photo 15. pillow 16. planter 17. gold frame 18. white frame 19. wood floor

Highlights from Kips Bay Decorator Show House 2017

Hi There! A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the annual Kips Bay Decorator Show House for the first time. I made it to the show house last year but couldn't go in because I had my baby with me (no kids under 6 admitted). I'm sure you can imagine the frustration of getting all the way there only to be turned away. So I was even more determined to go this year, and went with my friend Maribel. This year the event was held in a 1905 Upper East Side mansion that just happens to be on sale for a modest $26,800,000! (no biggie) It was an absolutely beautiful home with a winding staircase, elevator, and 12 feet high ceilings. Here are some of the highlights captured by my premium iPhone 6 (unfortunately, I left my camera).

This room was designed by Nick Olsen of Nick Olsen Inc. and I loved his bold mix of patterns,  textures, and styles. It's as if someone just effortlessly threw a bunch of stuff from different decades together and it works. Oh, and that wood veneer wallcovering?! It made me want to go to a tile store and start putting up floor tile on my walls. It's such a creative alternative to wallpaper or paint. 

I adored this room by Billy Cotton with its luxurious fabrics and moody vibe. Word has it that (and I may be botching this up a bit) the room was inspired by a heartwarming story involving a fashion designer and a elderly woman.  The fashion designer became fond of an elderly homeless lady nearing the end of her life and decided to put together a room for her using all the old fabrics and trinkets she acquired throughout her lifetime. I loved the story and could really envision this bedroom belonging to an elderly woman who lived her life to the fullest, and had the remnants of beautiful fabrics to show for it. 

This black marble bathroom by Scarpidis Design is everything. Its so luxurious, and I love that they accessorized it with cactus plants. It gives the bathroom a slightly bohemian vibe and makes the full-on glamour space feel accessible. 

This is one of the hallways in the home. I've been looking for a settee like this with its feminine lines and luscious velvet texture, for some time. It feels like something that could be from the 80's or from the 30's, and I could see it in a bedroom with a stack of books next to it like so, to keep it from looking too precious. 

This room designed by Neal Beckstedt of Neal Beckstedt Studio, had a modern worldly vibe to it. It feels like the home of someone who has traveled, and each piece is a stand-out. 

Duo design team KristenKelli put together this room packed with pops of color and patterns. I imagined this being the home of a really tanned Miami couple who loves to party.

This room by Ken Fulk was just about my favorite, and it comes complete with a full back story. The theme of the room is M'adame's Magical Menagerie; and as the story goes, the lady of the house, Madam F., outlived three husbands and is known for putting on colorful dinner parties. She lives in a well-appointed home with a lovely garden and has a growing secret collection of wayward zoo animals in her garden. There are fully fletched out secondary characters like Mikhail, the butler who believes in doing things the right way; and even the animals have names and traits like Frances, the unforgiving elephant, and Genevieve, the languorous leopard. Don't you just love when a room is inspired by an elaborate story? It really helps to make the room come alive and in this case, feel magical. See more pics of this room below.

showhouse animal room lamp.jpg
showhouse animal room chairs.jpg
showhouse animal room flowers.jpg

This double width staircase makes the space feel so grand, and that decorative wall? It's hand   painted.

showhouse basement.jpg

The delux basement was kept dark, moody, and upscale with it's sumptuous fabrics, and gold and black marble finishes (see below). It's perfect for a Great Gatsby style party. 

And I leave you with this striped ceramic parrot. Its a cool way to update a traditional accent, don't you think? All in all, I really loved all the patterns and textures in this home and felt inspired to incorporate some of it in my own home like the leopard print wall-to-wall carpeting or black marble. What inspired you the most about the show house this year?

Four Good Reasons to Organize Your Space Now

What better time to spruce up your space than the spring? With all its new blooms and airy freshness, it’s hard not to catch the wave of inspiration, especially with all the cool organizing gadgets out there. Still, just because we want to organize our stuff or even need to, doesn’t mean we do it.

While the idea of spring cleaning sounds lovely, sifting through months or even years of clutter can be a challenge. Oftentimes the stress of a busy life causes us to live in a state of disorganization longer than we’d like to be. I know I've let things pile up during stressful periods with no effective organizing system in place.

Some of us bounce back relatively quickly, and can put together a nicely, organized space showing no trace of the disaster that was there only a day before. Others have a harder time, and disorganization may be reflective of deeper, emotional conflicts that create a feeling of being stuck both inside and out. Since organizing is as much an emotional activity as a physical one, the process of decluttering, throwing away, and organizing can be an important initial step in alleviating emotional distress. So whether it’s pretty easy to get organized once you put your mind to it, or you need more of a push to make it happen, here are 4 good reasons to get yourself in gear and start organizing now.

1. Clutter is Disrupting Your Life.

The Problem: Each morning you raid through every nook and cranny of your home trying to find the keys you last dumped…somewhere. They’re never in the same place twice and can usually be found amidst other stuff you’ll soon be searching for. Maybe you turn over every bin in your home office looking for the stapler or other supplies you were just using five minutes ago. How about your closet has, shall we say, “expanded” to other parts of the room, and now you choose your outfits from a pile on the floor where your shoes should be. Your disorganization is becoming less tolerable each day— it’s affecting your daily routine, makes you feel lousy about your space, and intensifies every other negative feeling you have.

The Why: When you’re disorganized in one area of life, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find that level of disorganization elsewhere. Be aware of patterns in your life. The clutter may mirror the chaos you’ve been experiencing in your career, relationships, or other significant area.

The Fix: Once you recognize those areas that are just as topsy-turvy as your things, begin to deal by creating an organized, functional space that is more reflective of the way you’d like to approach life. As much as clutter can negatively affect how we proceed through the day, an organized space can have a similar, opposite effect giving us a positive, renewed outlook and more clarity to tackle other challenges.

Organization pic1.jpg

2. You're Tired of Dreaming About It:

The Problem: You want the dream life, the dream job, and of course, the dream home. Maybe you’ve fantasized over well kempt homes you see on blogs or in mags, or you’ve visualized down to the last detail how you'd organize our home. You have a habit of buying organizing accessories that up until now have only collected dust, adding to the clutter.

The Why: While dreams can certainly propel us to action, the relationship between dreams and action is complicated. Studies show positive fantasies can actually hinder people from taking action. This is because dreaming relaxes us, making it more difficult to feel the need to do something. It’s kind of like we substitute the fantasy for the doing, and the good vibes we get from it makes us less attuned to cues that might otherwise help us interpret our situation in a more realistic way. So if you spend your time dreaming about a well laid out closet, you may be missing out on real-life opportunities that could help you get the closet you want.

The Fix:When dreams are combined with a realistic assessment of our situation, we are more likely to turn them into action. Think about the resources you don’t or do have to get organized. (Maybe you have limited storage and feel overwhelmed, but have a very organized friend who can help.) Then make a plan of action to deal with what is standing in the way of you and organizing. This way your fantasy can be grounded in reality; and when you resolve to make the sacrifice (whatever that may be for you) needed to take action, you are in a better position to see your organized space take shape.  

3. You’re Ready for a More Fulfilling Life.

The Problem: Disorganization is negatively affecting other areas of your life, and you’re not living life as fully as you’d like to. You have a cluttered space that is confining and prevents you from expanding, and this may signal difficulties with expanding and growing in other areas.   

The Why: Many times we’re stuck in a clutter rut with a lack of clarity on what our clutter means about us. It can mean different things for different people. Maybe it symbolizes remnants of your past you’re committed to holding on to. Or maybe you buy a bunch of stuff that reflects the life you plan on living but haven’t gotten to yet. Sometimes clutter is adaptive such as when you’ve experienced a significant loss or trauma and can’t focus on organizing anything at the moment because you’re just trying to survive. But if your disorganization has long outlasted the event and you can’t seem to take action, avoidance can make it worse.

The Fix: Get clear on what your clutter means for you and address it. If your stuff is a reminder of people or things you don’t want to forget, think of other ways you can keep memories alive like limiting keepsakes to one box (it may be a very large box, but it’s one box), or transferring photographs to the computer. If  you’ve bought tons of stuff for the life you’ll have someday, say business exec, identify what changes you need to make in your life to achieve that lifestyle. Then use the stuff you have to support the change, like a display shelf with self-help books to help bring out your inner bossdom. Although you may still feel not quite like yourself, cleaning up after you’ve been dealing with a significant loss is a good sign you are adjusting to your new normal. The more stuff you clear out and organize, the more room you make for new and rewarding things both physically and emotionally.  

4. You Want to See That More Fulfilling Life by the End of the Year.

The Problem: If you promised yourself that you were going to organize your home this year, and you haven’t started yet, chances are it’s not happening any time soon. Most of us have gone through a major life transition that makes it difficult to focus on organizing. And before we realize it, we’re six months in with no sign that this cycle of “meaning to” is coming to an end.

The Why: The condition of your space is a pretty accurate indicator of how you think and feel,. When you keep pushing off organizing, you become more comfortable with the discomfort of the clutter, and the life you are looking for continues to feel out of reach. If you take the time to organize it even though you don’t feel like it, it sends a message that you are working through those things that are holding you back. Usually just deciding to do it is all it takes to get your wheels turning in the right direction. It’s much like working-out-- you may not want to but you always feel better afterward.

The Fix: If you think of your space as a catalyst to the life shift you envision, you can begin to see it differently and get the much needed boost to work on it now. Maybe you want to start a home business but haven’t started working towards it, still organize a workspace to help you run one efficiently. It doesn’t matter if nothing much in your life says business owner right now. It will. If you want to be more social this year but haven’t had time to reach out, create a sitting area to entertain friends even with no specific plans to entertain in the near future. You might have plans sooner than you think after exerting the effort of putting together a little gathering space. There’s something about behaving as if things are the way you want them (even if they aren’t yet) that puts things in motion. You don’t have to wait to make these first small steps. If you feel you need some help to start, considering hiring someone like a professional organizer, an interior stylist or designer, or even a design psychologist who can help you create a space that promotes the growth and change you are seeking.


What To Do If You Have A Difficult Personality

How to know if You’re the Difficult One

How do we know if we have a difficult personality, or we just think we do?  First, let’s be clear-- everyone has flaws and there is no perfect personality. But if you have a pattern of difficult personality traits, it will usually show up in your relationships. Here are a few ways to tell.

You are the Center of the Drama

Do you you always seem to be at the center of drama and spend a great deal of your time and energy brooding about it? Maybe you always find yourself in conflict with someone at the office, and nearly everyone including your most easy-going colleague has lashed out at you. Perhaps  even family or true friends have called you out on your  behaviors. Or, they always have to phrase statements a “certain” way for you to understand them, and walk on eggshells around you. If any of these sound familiar,  then you may be struggling with difficult personality traits.

Your Relationships Never Go As Planned

If you are struggling with difficult personality traits, it’s  probably costing you your relationships. Maybe you have conflicting ideals (e.g., you want people to like you but you also want to be in control), have a rigid way of perceiving situations, and/or have a  low tolerance for anyone who does not see things the way you do. While you may have family that will always love you or you’re lucky enough to have some true friends that have stuck around, you likely have a much more difficult time maintaining positive family relationships, friendships, and/or romantic relationships than you would otherwise.

It’s Never You

Perhaps you may feel that others, not you, are the problem. Some with problematic personality traits, including those with traits severe enough to qualify as personality disorder, rarely ever question their behaviors or consider that they may be at fault during a conflict. This can cause quite a few problems, if not for them, then everyone else-- and they probably don’t read articles like this with themselves in mind. On the other hand, you may have come a long darn way in trying to improve yourself and your relationships, which by the way is highly commendable. But you still genuinely struggle with seeing or understanding situations from another’s perspective.

What to Do if you have Difficult Personality Traits

A major difference between those with difficult personality traits and those who are well, less difficult is that at some point, they were distressed by their relationships enough to consider they needed to make some changes to the way they interact with others. And while this process may be difficult, you don’t have to be. Here are some tips to follow.

Thoughts Happen- Be Aware

Sometimes thoughts happen so quickly that they occur below our level of awareness. But just because you aren’t aware of them, doesn’t mean they don’t have a big impact on the way you feel and behave. I remember times when I’d immediately assume someone didn’t like something I said or did and for no particular reason other than fear- fear of being judged or not liked, or fear of having to re-live a negative experience. When we automatically assume the worst, it places us on the defense, and defensive people don’t exactly give off the warm and fuzzies.

Check Your Patterns

We humans are pretty predictable. We can come in contact will all different kinds of people from all over the world but we usually have a limited repertoire of behavioral styles we use to interact with them. And these behaviors are based upon a pattern of thoughts and feelings that drive how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we see ourselves in relation to others. What are some patterns of thoughts and feelings you notice you have when you meet a new person, are out and about with friends, talking with coworkers, or just spending time with family? It’s important to check the way you think, feel, and behave for any unhealthy patterns you need to break.

Be Adjustable

It’s one thing to understand our unhealthy patterns of interactions, but another thing to know what to do about it. Those with relatively healthy personality traits have learned to adjust their behaviors or empathize more easily than others. But our behavioral patterns are so ingrained in us that it is difficult to change behaviors we know are not good for us, or behaviors that once worked for us. Maybe being defensive worked when you were constantly being attacked, but now that you are no longer around those people, you still respond the same way, even though you don’t have to, and even though it may not be good for you. If you can relinquish some of your rigidity even before you think you’re ready to, you may be pleasantly surprised to find out that you are still okay afterwards.

Try Something New

Once you decide you’re going to start making some adjustments to the way you relate, then you have to decide which behaviors to adjust to. It’s time to consider some new, healthier ways to relate to both yourself and others. Let’ say you have a  problem with external validation and need attention, you’ll first want to gain some understanding of the source of these issues and consider healthier ways to satisfy those needs. This isn’t easy to do, and many people opt for professional help to do it, particularly if they’ve behaved the same way for years. But any new behavior starts with a simple decision to do it.

Setbacks are Part of the Process

Usually when we are trying to get rid of old, unhealthy patterns of relating, it takes a minute before we can see some lasting changes. You’ll probably stumble along the way because, let’s face it, you don’t go from being the difficult co-worker in the office to being Mary Poppins in a couple of days. And it’s not so much about how others’ perceive you as much as it is about how you perceive yourself and others, which is typically the root of the problem. If someone says something that triggers you, you may resort to old patterns of relating such as shutting down or attacking. But instead of looking at it like a setback, consider it an opportunity to behave differently next time so you’ll be less vulnerable to others’ slights against you.

Stay Compassionate- You are Not Your Personality Problems

Any changes towards a healthy personality style begins with self-compassion to know that you are not your personality problems. You may feel that way because your personality is so much a part of you. But problematic personality traits are really just unhealthy coping skills you have acquired to help you get through life. Once you can see yourself, with all your good qualities and quirks, as separate from your personality problems it will be easier to shed them. Visualize how you would feel about yourself and others if you did not have to deal with the insecurities and fears that are at the root of your personality problems. Your relationships with others would probably improve because people would see a difference in the way you relate to yourself and them.

These are just a few tips and are not meant to take the place of clinical treatment. If you are struggling with problematic personality traits and relationship problems too severe to handle on your own, try seeking the assistance of a professional. It may be more helpful than you realize.


Recap: Modern + Fun NYC Studio

Hi There! This week I wanted to share with you a house I toured over the holidays. It's the home of interior designer, Molly Torres. She lives in NYC with her fiance, Hary Portnof. Molly's home is modern, young and fun, and right next door to the Empire State Building (definitely a wow factor)! But one of the things I really enjoyed about Molly's home is the passion she put into decorating it. Creating a home you're passionate about is really a catalyst for a passionate life, wouldn't you say?  According to design psychology, a home that fulfills your aesthetic, social, and psychological needs, to name a few, encourages you to be more fully expressive in other areas of your life, both personally and professionally.

Molly's passion for her home is reflected in her attention to detail, and the creative ways she has made the physical challenges of the space work for her and Harry. When Molly first moved in, the space was more like a dorm room. But guided by her vision, she turned the 520 square foot studio into a chic home with clearly delineated spaces that both her and her Harry love. See some pics from the tour below:

I love the way Molly incorporated her fiancé's love of music (he is a music producer) with her more feminine aesthetic. Being able to decorate for everyone in the home goes a long way with fostering in them, a sense of pride and belonging. For me, it's been a challenge to incorporate my husband's interests, particularly since the aesthetics of home have not been a priority for him. But I've realized it's not so much about how attuned others who share your space, are with the aesthetics, as it is about allowing them to be reflected in the home in some way that is aesthetically and psychologically pleasing to everyone.

 How challenging has it been for you to incorporate the style or tastes of those you live with?

See the full article on Houzz.

These pictures originally appeared on March 13, 2017, on Houzz.

Decorating with Green: 1 Couch 2 Ways

Hey There! How have you been? I've been busy with my design psychology consulting service, working my full-time job, and being a mom of course. Working on my consulting service has really been a refreshing outlet, and I've been thinking a lot about how we can use our homes to encourage psychological, social, and spiritual well-being. So when the folks over at Douglas Elliman Florida Real Estate asked me to create a style board post in honor of Pantone's 2017 color of the year-- greenery, I thought it was a fun opportunity to think about how I would use green given its benefits. Used in moderation, green is life-affirming, and symbolizes new beginnings, growth, and vitality-- all the things that come to mind when we think of spring. And this definitely resonates with me because I'm constantly looking for ways to grow and reach my potential.

Green is such an accessible color because you can find it everywhere in nature. And there are a couple ways you can take green. If you know a little something about color, you may know that pairing complementary colors gives a feeling of excitement while pairing colors close on the color wheel tends to give a feeling of calm. So if you want to create excitement when using greenery or another shade of green, pair it with reds and oranges, or some variation like purple or fuchsia. On the other hand if you are looking for relative calm, trying pairing green with blue or yellow. I created two living rooms with a gorgeous green couch I've been wanting for a while, although at almost $10,000 I'll be happy with a less expensive option. It's a few shades deeper than greenery but you can get a feel for how green might work with colors to create a room that is more exciting or a room that's more calm. Check it out below.

Pair greens with fuchsias and/or oranges for a feeling of excitement.

Pair greens with fuchsias and/or oranges for a feeling of excitement.

Pair green with blues and yellows for a more calming effect.

Pair green with blues and yellows for a more calming effect.

Which room do you think is more you? As you can see I incorporated plants which is a great, easy, and inexpensive way to add greenery to your décor. What other colors do you like to pair with green?


Room 1

1. rug 2. couch 3. coffee table 4. picture 5. plant 6. books 7. chairs 8. side table 9. lamp 10. floors 11. window   12. pillows 13. curtains

Room 2

1. rug 2. picture 3. chairs 5. lamp 6. pillows 7. curtains