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 do 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