An internationally renowned author, TV presenter and brand consultant on interiors, trends, wellbeing, and lifestyle, Michelle Ogundehin is also known to many as a head judge on Interior Design Masters, a landmark show for BBC2. Her book Happy Inside, a practical guide on how to build a happy home, was released at the end of April 2020, nearly at the same time many of us, confined within our four walls, came to the realisation: we want something different from our lives at home.
According to the IKEA Life at Home Report 2021, 14% of people around the world said that their homes don’t meet their mental health and wellbeing needs. Michelle’s own pursuit of ‘home’ has been a lengthy story too with its fair share of upheaval and disappointment. It’s a journey that’s taken her through nondescript student rooms where she endlessly moved the furniture around to try to make them feel better and years of “rubbish rentals”. But it finally culminated in her current home, a place described as her safe space to “retreat and leave the world with all its noise behind” – somewhere she could rebuild both the home and herself, from the inside out.
“Your home environment is the third pillar for a good life. It is as important to your wellbeing as good food and exercise. I believed this before the pandemic, but now the truth of this belief resonates with many who may not have really considered the importance of their homes in this way before. Life was previously moving faster than many could cope with. And home was just a place to leave in the morning and crash back into, exhausted, at night. I believe that home should be the ultimate foundation for the life you dream of having and the nurturing relationships you deserve. Because from such a space you can achieve a sense of balance that will assist you in finding your true purpose and fulfilling your potential.”
As she is working on her next book, Simple Inside: Master Your Space, Master Your Life, intended as the toolkit companion to Happy Inside, Michelle shares five steps for harnessing the power of home for health and happiness. “My home is my sanctuary and my secret superpower! These are guidelines that delve deeper than décor. Rather, the goal is to help you to become your best self through home.”
Clear: make space for what you need
Make no mistake: clutter is the arch enemy of a happy mind and a healthy home. To be clear, I don’t mean your stuff, your possessions. Personally, I love nothing more than to be surrounded by the things that I love – these are the talismans of my life. But clutter is something else. Clutter is broken things, unloved things, things saved just in case, gifted things that we feel obliged to keep, and things that do not work. These are the things that drain our energy, crowd our cupboards, and sabotage serenity. Get rid of these and you literally clear space to create more life in your home.
Plus, today we need our homes to work harder than ever before. They must be our retreats for relaxation while also being our productive workspaces; they must be inspirational spots for creativity, homework, and exercise as well as enable calm and quiet at the end of the day. Balancing all of this starts with living only with what you need. In this way, with room to breathe and space to think, we can live a more meaningful life. And we can start to understand that this kind of ‘space’ is not necessarily physical space but the absence of all that is extraneous. In other words, you begin to become spacious in yourself, fearless, and completely at ease.
Cleanse: create a healthy environment
The second step to a healthy home is to surround yourself with texture and be mindful of all materials that you bring into your abode. As physical sensory beings, we have a primal need to surround ourselves with surfaces that thrill our fingertips or tempt our toes. Tactile stimulation triggers oxytocin, the love hormone. It also lowers cortisol levels, reducing anxiety and stress. And in today’s digital era of super-smooth screens, maximal texture at home literally puts us back ‘in touch’ with ourselves.
Clean, ergo natural, materials are therefore essential too, for example: wood that’s free of solvents; wool, cotton, or linen-based fabrics for rugs to upholstery; and organic materials for any other surfaces. Think stone, brick, marble, or ceramic tile. Wobbly pots and things made from humble materials like cardboard, plywood, or hemp add authenticity and speak of sustainability. Baskets in rattan, sisal, or wickerwork are all wonderful to use and highly multi-functional – use them to store magazines and papers, as plant holders, or for bathroom storage.
Finally, introduce houseplants to every room. They are nature’s air-purifying ninjas, highly effective at ridding your home of many airborne pollutants. And start reading the labels on the back of every cleaning product before you consider buying it. If you see a toxic warning symbol, it has no place in your happy, healthy home-as-haven. Natural alternatives exist. You are what you breathe. Make the switch.
Colour: add joy
More than anything else, the colours that you choose for your home set its mood music.
Colour directly impacts your energy levels, and its associated psychology is a subject that has filled many a tome. In simple terms, however, colour is emotion. Certain shades can make you feel happy, on edge, calm, excited, or flat – and every nuance in between. So, colour is the big gun in your decorative arsenal. But only if you choose those hues which really sing to you. Only once you’ve done this are you ready to decorate.
How? Think moods. In any given room, ask yourself: how do I want to feel in here? Relaxed or energised, sociable or in retreat? Answering these sorts of questions will help you to identify which shade of your chosen hues you might lean towards, from cool to hot.
Then dive in deeper. Which is your preferred season of the year? Where do you feel happiest – seaside or mountains, city or country? What was your favourite holiday destination, and what did you love about it? This is the way to identify the finer threads of your taste. Translate that into colours and materials and you start to be able to decorate your home to sustain, soothe, and support you. This is the fast track to home as your secret superpower!
Curate: make it personal
No one wants a cookie-cutter home that looks identical to their neighbour’s. Sure, many of us aspire to ideals of cleanliness and tidiness, a sense of order, and as much natural light as possible, but beyond that we need our homes to be personalised. Full of the things that speak our story – who we are, what we love, what inspires us or makes us laugh. This is the path to authenticity and purpose. And as we noted in step one, these things are not clutter. They are the cornerstones of our lives, and they should be cherished and given the respect they deserve.
Display shelves then are practically gospel to my mind – dedicated space within which to arrange your treasures. It may be a mantelpiece, the top of a sideboard, or a set of floating shelves within an alcove. It doesn’t really matter where it is or what it’s made of, just that you have secured a special space to showcase meaningful pieces. To carefully arrange, dust, and love such items is to be able to draw strength from them. They also serve to remind us who we are, where we came from, and who we wish to become.
Craft: the all-important homespun touch
We are by our very nature creative beings. We have made things since the dawn of time. It’s hard-wired into our psyches, even for those of us who may believe that we do not have an artistic bone in our bodies. Therefore, to include hand-crafted items within our homes, whether made by ourselves or others, is to call to our deeper selves. It could be as simple as sticking our kid’s paintings on the wall, hanging a macramé plant holder, or buying a chunky hand-knitted throw. Such things bring us comfort on a different level to factory-made items or anything with hard surfaces and sharp edges.
They also celebrate the people within your home. The confidence boost for a child to see their paintings honoured this way is immeasurable as is the love shown when someone gracefully accepts their partner’s collection of china figurines. Or better yet, creates a dedicated storage system for them. Honestly representing the stories, likes, and lives of every individual within a home is the fast track to creating a happy home for all.
Photo by Ben Anders, illustrations by Indre Surdokaite