By Hors Limites Architecture and interior designers Francesca Errico and Olivier Delannoy.
Daroco Restaurant, Paris.
My brother-in-law recently came clean at a family gathering that despite his otherwise frugal sensibilities, he is no longer willing to settle for random hotels when he travels (which is often). He finally acknowledged how important a role the room and vibe of a place play in his overall mood and ability to feel sane, happy, inspired â€“ or in other words, himself.Â
Itâ€™s so true. I feel the same way when I travel, but what disturbs me more are the character-free experiences that I regularly encounter in my backyard. Arguably, in some molecular way, theyâ€™re part of the fabric of my life â€“ not something I can swipe past on my HotelTonight app.
It got me thinking. How much does environment affect our mental health â€“ even for short exposures? What about productivity? And, how do we overcome places and spaces that depress usâ€¦particularly if youâ€™re in the habit (and business) of enhancing experience/making places and things better/more beautiful/thoughtful/engaging?
I was always taught that itâ€™s notÂ whereÂ you are butÂ howÂ you are. I still believe this. But sterile, cookie cutter or otherwise drab spaces make this downright challenging. The nondescript is also a reality. Not every coffee shop can be transformational. Not every conference room can inspire big thinking. Not every errand can be done at an architecturally significant indoor/outdoor retail utopia.
In my own life, I find that when I go to a particular mall, indoor sports facility or big box store – all located on an especially sad stretch of commerce about 10 miles from my house – it creates an acute (but thankfully temporary) mental hiccup. From the moment natural light disappears, I start to panic. I donâ€™t know what it is about those fluorescent lights, industrial carpets and endless gray-beige palettes that seize me, but thereâ€™s almost a fear of getting trapped, lost, or worse, that it somehow defines me. It ignites an unfortunate interior dialogue that goes something like this:
Is this (really) my life? What have I done with myself? Am I a suburban shopper? Is this my punishment for leaving the city? Who are these people? What does anything mean? Is that mirror accurate? Should I trade my jeans for more forgivingÂ softpants? Should I buy a beanbag chair? (Answer â€“ no).
Why does being held (voluntarily) hostage inside certain walls scream intervention? Iâ€™m guessing it has something to do with the environment being an extension of personal values â€“ and circumstances playing into our idea of ourselves and who we most want to be. This is one thought, but a place can impact people in less obvious ways, too.
My daughter shared that a certain friendsâ€™ house makes her anxious and sad (itâ€™s dark, cluttered and often chaotic). Her comment was â€œI donâ€™t feel like they want me there.â€Â
Isnâ€™t it interesting how the environment has the ability to create and perpetuate a narrative. Sometimes itâ€™s hard to say why the â€œickâ€ feeling appears. I always want to think Iâ€™m stronger than any â€œplaceâ€ â€“ I mean look at Mandela! But if Iâ€™m honest, Iâ€™ve been happier in a remote village in India sleeping on a prison cot than at a Footlocker in a strip mall. It doesnâ€™t always make sense.
Is there a place that gets to you? Where you donâ€™t recognize yourself? Where your compass points anywhere but here? And is there a way you could turn it around â€“ and take it back in some useful way?
I think design is the antidote to depression, fatigue, sadness and lots of other maladies. But life doesnâ€™t happen inside a Zaha Hadid ecosystem operated by Soho House.
Iâ€™m learning to design those spaces inside myself, as a result of living in a bucolic seaside village that occasionally renders me mall-bound. Having a good sense of humor about what other people consider â€œdesignedâ€ is also helpful.
Iâ€™ll count this operation as a success once I can swap Chipotle for my favorite spot in Paris, above. Thurs far, itâ€™s still just #goals.