There's a classic relaxation technique that has you close your eyes and envision the place where you've felt most, well, relaxed. Maybe it's the lake vacation. The mountain vacation. The beach vacation. The Bette Davis marathon on TCM shared with a pint of Ben & Jerry's.
This doesn't work very well for me as a relaxation method, since I can never decide on one place. And even if I do, I'll think about how much better it would have been if . . . the weather had been different. The company had been different. I hadn't been wearing those plaid shorts.
Where I do find this exercise helpful, though, is in thinking about living spaces. Have you ever walked into a room, glanced around and instantly felt good? Whether it was the light, the colors, the smells, the big comfy chair, the perfectly organized tool bench, whatever, your shoulders dropped down from around your ears and you could feel yourself exhale.
I don't know about you, but the way things are in the world right now, I could use more exhaling. Wall Street is downright scary, the weather could go off on us at any minute, we're still at war, and somehow lipstick and pigs have entered the national political dialogue. Fall is just a couple of days away, and then we start the swift slide into Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and boom! There's another year.
So right now is about the best time I can think of to consider taking action on the domestic front to create at least a pocket of sanity. Do you have a place in your home or yard or at the neighbor's kitchen table where you can exhale? Great. If not, what can you do to get one?
Which brings me back to that relaxation exercise.
We bought our house in north Tampa almost entirely on the strength of its Florida room, with three walls of sliding glass doors overlooking a tropical garden. For far less than the cost of a swimming pool, a previous owner enclosed the lanai, winning my daily gratitude.
(It also helped sell the house for us in this gruesome market; the new owners confided that it's their favorite room, too.)
But now we're downsizing, so I look for inspiration to my friend and colleague Lennie Bennett, who has this designing-to-exhale thing down cold.
When she moved from a large home to a duplex, Lennie knew she wanted a retreat where she could spend hours with her beloved books. She sacrificed a small formal dining room to create her library, covering one wall entirely in custom-built bookcases. Two club chairs in a pretty botanical print, a table between them covered in a coordinating plaid, and a small desk fill up the narrow room.
Why does that room work so well? Here's my list:
• Purpose: If you, too, are a major reader, you know that being surrounded by books (well-ordered, please) is instantly soothing. Plus, this is a room for conversation and reading. So there's no TV to spoil the peace.
• Color: Light walls and white bookcases visually expand the small space.
• Comfort: Those club chairs are both cushy and supportive, and the print is busy enough to camouflage minor mishaps.
• Details: The tabletop lamp is ideal for reading, and the table is just right for holding a sustaining beverage.
• Natural light: The French door makes the room seem bigger and brighter, with its glimpse of the outdoors. Added bonus: Lennie's little dogs get to look outside. Everyone's happy.
What makes a room work for you? We want to share your favorite space — be it indoor, outdoor or both — in the Homes section. Please send me a photo (it doesn't have to be publication quality, just enough to give an idea), along with a description of the space and how you created or found it. Maybe you can inspire other readers to find that oasis, just when they need it most.
Charlotte Sutton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (727) 893-8425 or P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.