About nBaxter Design and the Emotional Home
While training to be an interior designer, home wasn't something I was interested in-- I wanted to do hotel and restaurant design, because I got a kick out of organizing structures and playing with the architecture. When I entered the industry after college, it was about understanding all the materials that go into design, which included fabrics and furniture. As a practicing designer, it was about practicing the art of afchitecture, design, and furnishings, and creating beautiful and inviting spaces. It's thrilling to practice design, to catch a glimmer of inspiration and watch it turn into a building, a living room, or a kitchen. As the years went by I found my interest changing--- perhaps that's the sign of a mature designer.
The shift happened in an instant. One of those weird moments of kismet. While at a housewarming party for a client, my coach, Susan, said, "I finally get what you do for a living! All this time I thought you helped people pick out paint and furniture, but that's not what you do at all-- you create emotional experiences." It's true that I had spent my career trying to explain to people what I did for a living, but I could never quite get there. Once she spoke those words, everything changed. It could have been just a marketing moment, like a helping busy professionals to create their dream home type of thin, but instead, it sparked my curiosity. Interior design is about creating emotional experiences, which is something we've all experienced. Walking into a high-end boutique hotel feels different than walking into a La Quinta or Motel 6, as does walking into a Restoration Hardware vs Rooms-to-Go. While I do the same thing that the corporate design directors at RH do with their stores, the big difference is that they are trying to attract everyone with their style, but I want to speak specifically to my clients.
To understand this, I asked two questions.
The first question was about beauty-- what are the mechanics of it and why does our brain desire it? Knowing this would answer why RH, West Elm, Pottery Barn, and popular trends have such wide appeal. This lead me down the rabbithole of neuroscience. The short answer is that they appeal to us because they are complex systems of patterns, and our brain is evolutionarily hardwired to look for patters. More specifically, it's hardwired to feel dis-ease when there are breaks in patterns, because abnormalities indicate dangers and challenges. It's our internal warning system.
The second question addresses personality, which is the biggest difference between corporate design and trends and custom interior design. One is anonymous, but the other is deeply personaly and based on the individual's preferences, style code, identity, and experiences. If I was designing an office or restaurant, I would be concerned with appealing to large groups of people, but our homes are our most sacred space and must reflect us to properly nurture, support, and heal us. A house that reflects your inner beauty is uplifting during life's difficult moments, like the loss of a job, difficult illness, or the loss of a loved one. Trends and corporate looks just can't support us the way surroundings that remind us of who we are, our life, and the people we love can, because they lack meaning and memory triggers. Figuring our someone's personality is tough. It lead to me earning my Myers-Briggs certification so I could better uderstand what my clients need in their homes to aid what they value and how they process and interact with the world.
Through my journey I realized home doesn't always come with happy memories and feelings of joy. The body and subconscious experiences the environment before the conscious brain has a chance to process it. For those who have suffered abuse and significant trauma in their lives, it's critical that their triggers are addressed through trauma informed design principles. Some triggers are obvious, but others are more subtle. The brain, for example, is programmed to look for danger, but it isn't always smart. Clutter, an unruly stack of paper, or shoes and coats left out can cause discomfort. The brain recognizes the anxiety, but it doesn't always recognize the cause, so it flips through its database to assign one. Instead of it saying "I feel anxious because I need to file these papers away," it will say, "I feel anxious because of what I went through." It picks on our most vulnerable memories and reopens those wounds rather than letting us heal. I cannot help but think of the amazing possibilities one can experience when the volume on those memories is turned down. It's about pursuing and embracing post-traumatic joy.
For me, design isn't simply about a new sofa, popular color palettes, tying dischordant elements together, or pusuing whatever trend is in vogue-- it's about understanding the people who live there so I can create spaces that feels natural to them. Emotional spaces. It's about designing consciously so we can live beautifully.
All the best,