The Soul of Designing a Home: Part Two

Part One of The Soul of Designing Home covers what it means to live in a soulful home. Part two gives you some tips on how to produce a soulful home for yourself.

These days, we are bombarded by social media and advertising messages. Instagram, Facebook, magazines, blogs, and television shows highlight the rich and famous and their enviable homes. The countless home makeover shows make the design process look easy and makes great design seem like a simple, fast process which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Meanwhile, the advertising and marketing that is targeted to consumers with an interest in interior design are formulated to get us to buy more things by shifting color trends and styles so that we are enticed to continually update and modernize our homes.

Conversely, you may walk into a friend’s newly designed home—or another inviting space—and feel inspired to update your own, feeling a sudden dissatisfaction by what you may have once loved.

The prospect of updating can be daunting when you consider the time and money that it requires to do it well. However, it can also be fun and incredibly rewarding if you have a strategy in place.

Intentional Design Primer

We’re starting with a simple premise: You want to update your home, and make it more soulful. To do that, start by making a list of what is important to you, aside from style.

Ask yourself questions such as these and write down the answers:

  • How do I want to feel at home? Is a sense of peace and calm crucial, or, do I want to feel enlivened and energized after a long work day?
  • How much activity do I want in my home? How much do I want to entertain friends and family? Do I want my home to be a place where I can host large dinner parties, have friends for the weekend, and holiday festivities? Or do I prefer my privacy and my guests to depart in a day or two? Do I prefer to have intimate dinners with a few people at a time? Do I want to host my children and their friends on a regular basis?
  • Do I want to work out at home, do yoga, how much do I want to center my home activities around physical exercise and physical play?
  • How much TV and technology is important to me? For example, do I want a TV in the kitchen? Do I like to have music playing while I do other activities?
  • Family needs: Where is the best play space for kids? Do my children have a space where they can study and be quiet?  Do I like to enjoy everyone’s company in the kitchen or dining room? What is our ideal gathering space?
  • What is crucial to my sense of myself? What is crucial to my spouse and family? How do organize both family and private spaces?
  • Do I want a space to get away? Or am I nourished by constant activity and projects and need a corner to make way for that?
  • How much nature do I require? Can I bring the outdoors in or the indoors out of doors?

As you go along this list, perhaps more questions will come up, so take a few days to think through what it is you need to feel truly at home.

Once you feel satisfied that you know what’s important to you, you can begin to consider aesthetic and design preferences for your aspirational lifestyle.  The combination of the things that are most important to your mental and emotional wellbeing and your aesthetic preferences is the recipe to creating a soulful living environment.

1. Start with Art

Why start with art? We encourage our clients to choose and display the art they are most interested in living with.  An art collection, however modest, tells the story of your deeper self. It is one of the first things people notice when they walk into a space and from it they can glean what moves the owner. An art collection includes everything from posters, to simple things like a collection of sea shells or any other prized item such as a family heirloom or a clay sculpture made by your child or a valuable piece of art. While we prefer the less is more approach, (unless your precious things can be displayed well and artfully), do you best to be a good curator.  We encourage you to have an abiding appreciation for every item in your home and to feel that it is representative of you and your life.  Sincerity is a must.

For example, we recently designed a modern home and the couple had an extensive collection of beautiful, modern art.  Their home had an impressive array of pieces, and we felt that some of them did not work well together. The overall sense was so crowded that no individual piece felt special.  In their new home, we selected very few pieces.  We designed the environment so that each piece—be it painting, sculpture and neon lighting works—can be changed out yearly or even seasonally.

Every wall does not have to have art, leave some breathing room as evidenced in this room designed by Tower Design. Click the photo to view the entire project.

2. Clear Clutter

Living a simplified, uncluttered life with less stuff offers benefits that many only discover once the process is complete.  As humans, we do not seem to recognize how much energy our stuff depletes.  When you stop to think about it, once you rid your home of the things that you do not use or care about, you will have less to clean, less stress, more energy and more time.  And, once you are dedicated to living with fewer things, you will be less inclined to clutter up your space, clearing the path to feel more connected to what matters to you and more peaceful in your home.  Do yourself a favor, and take the time to reduce clutter and to eliminate the things that do not feed your soul.

Use this easy method:

Use three boxes or garbage bags.


Label 2: SELL / DONATE


Go through each room and start adding to each bag.  If you don’t know where to start, a designer is a great resource. When we help clients, we often suggest storing things you’re unsure of letting go so you can see they are missed.  The rule of thumb is that if you can go without an item for a reasonable period of time, then you probably don’t need it.

Before and after of a cluttered kitchen counter.

3. Find your Intentional Power Space

As humans, we require refuge—a castle, a den, a home office, a meditation room… but mostly we require a sanctuary. We at Tower Design consider design as much a spiritual practice as it is an aesthetic one because design influences a person’s emotional wellbeing and mental attitude as much as ignites their visual sense. No matter their circumstances, the majority of humans like to decorate their homes.  Taking it one step further, creating an intentional space is a way of orchestrating your desires.  Intentional design is a way of looking at design as a symbolic and formal design methodology that creates a language of possibility and potential.

If you have not established a place to write and mediate, or to simply have a corner to read, contemplate where that special place would best be located in your home.  Inspired by a conversation, a client created a beautiful outdoor space for very little money.  She purchased an outdoor heater from a thrift store and simple outdoor curtains from Bed Bath and Beyond.  We used a wire pully system to hang trellises and the curtains, chose outdoor rattan furniture from Ikea and used decorative pots for flowering plants.  The idea is that it may not be necessary to build a new space, but rather to repurpose what you do have.  Some of our clients have bought sheds, yurts and other temporary structures and placed them in their backyards.  We recently designed a Studio Shed for our client who is a meditation teacher.  The 10’ x 12’ space serves as his meditation studio and a place to see clients. It gets him out of the hustle and bustle of his busy household. He mostly travels for work, but when home, he needs solitude. In the grand scheme of things, the Studio Shed was an inexpensive solution for his particular design challenge.

A simple backyard StudioShed© becomes a private meditation and meeting space.

4. Go for Flow

The Flow State, or a state of operation of optimal performance, is much talked about these days in the work place.  In the home, we see flow as the rhythm of living well, intentionally and soulfully.  For example, any good home chef understands that a well-designed kitchen helps them to more easily get into the flow of creating great food.  Or a home office can be a conduit to increased productivity if it is well designed and ergonomically good for the body.  Creatives access flow states while practicing work that they love.  They lose themselves in the act of it and tap into a sense of timelessness.  Consciously designing your space to get into your own flow state continually gives you an opportunity to define refine your future through the choices you make—in and out of your space.

As a design premise, flow is also an opportunity to focus on a sense of what is important to us and what most matters to our life path.  If you like to arrange flowers, practice yoga, do a home workout, play music, write, or practice any kind of creative pursuit, flow is crucial to enhanced states of creativity and truly produces a sense of well-being.

5. The Feeling of Sanctuary

For most people, the concept of sanctuary is a place we often associate with a chapel, a temple, a quiet library or garden; essentially a sanctuary is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world.  Sanctuary is Our Place, where there is an inherent sense of the abiding quality of peace that all humans crave.  To most, our homes are a kind of sanctuary. We all need a place to unwind, to rest, to be with family or friends, to retreat when necessary and to play when we can.

Creating that sanctuary space at home can be challenging at times. There are dishes to do, meals to prepare, laundry, cleaning, children and health challenges.  Creating your personal sanctuary requires thoughtful planning.  Creating sanctuary at home and at the office is a great way to set intentions so we can more easily be aligned to being in the world in a more peaceful and productive way.  Maintaining a connection to what matters to our deeper sense of self allows us to remain connected to the totality of who we are and to not get lost in the day to day solving of problems.

Outdoor living room designed by Tower Design in Santa Monica, CA. Click the photo to view the entire project.

Ready to make your house a home of sanctuary and balance? Get in touch with Kathleen McMullen, Founder and Lead Designer of Tower Design Studio by emailing

Read The Soul of Designing a Home: Part One.

Click the button above to read The Soul of Designing a Home: Part One