Use these designer tips to create a personal retreat you'll enjoy every day.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated March 18, 2020
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Your home is your refuge. It's where you can feel safe and relaxed when life gets overwhelming. Certain decorating choices help foster that sense of peace, and how you decorate a space can have a huge impact on how you feel while you're in it. A well-designed space filled with items you love can be calming and relieve stress, while cluttered rooms can have the opposite effect on your mood and mental health. We asked some of our favorite interior designers for their tips on how to transform your home into a personal sanctuary. These decorating ideas will help you create a soothing, stress-free environment you'll enjoy every day.

David A Land

Start with a Neutral Palette

Muted, neutral tones are easier on the eye than bright colors. "While I'm definitely one for decorating with color because it can be fun and exciting, I do believe that neutral spaces promote the calmest, sanctuary-like vibes," interior designer Karin Bohn says.

When decorating with white or light-toned neutrals (such as cream, off-white, or taupe), use plenty of texture to create interest. Flat white walls and smooth white furnishings can readily blend into boredom, so layer in a variety of fabrics and subtle patterns. Add shades of warmth, such as gold, pale tan, or faded yellow, to keep white from looking too sterile.

Annie Schlecther

Create a Cluster of Color

For a punch of happiness and positivity, add in a few brightly colored accessories such as pillows or throws, suggest Meghan Hackett-Cassidy and Erin Hackett of Hackett Interiors. Pottery in a favorite color, vibrant artwork, a jewel-toned vase, and other items of intense color can help attract the eye and focus the mind.

Maximize the comforting effect of favorite accessories by clustering them together to create a focal point. That way, every time you pass by, you can take in the collective joy of the items. Be sure to choose a place you notice every day, such as a fireplace mantel or entryway console table.

Stacy Zarin Goldberg Photography LLC

Maximize the Appeal of a Fireplace

A fireplace doesn't have to be lit to create a comforting atmosphere. Pay attention to the entire hearth to make the most of its relaxing appeal. Add decorative accents to the walls around and the floor in front of a fireplace to create a cozy vignette.

When not in use, brighten up the firebox with a decorative screen, cluster of birch branches, or arrangement of pillar candles. Otherwise, the dark, empty spot can detract from the room's soothing effect.

Warm an Area with Candles

The soft glow of candles adds a sense of ease to any space, so use them generously throughout your house. "In the morning, I like to light candles in the kitchen and living room and let them burn until evening," says interior designer Jade Joyner. "It creates a soothing ambience while adding a little luxe to my day."

Keep a substantial supply of candles (tapers, pillars, or votives) and several favorite candleholders, so you'll have plenty on hand when you want them. Just be sure to blow them out when you're not at home or go to bed.

David Tsay

Work with Light

Utilize a variety of lighting types (including natural, ambient, and task lighting) in every room. "Having a bright, lighted room is an easy way to make a space feel more inviting and put together," interior designer Sara Barney says. "Consider adding in some sconces, a floor lamp, desk lamp, or pendants to bring more light to those darker spaces in your home."

During the daytime, take advantage of natural light by throwing back the blinds and enjoying the sunlight that floods in. Then, create a lighting scheme for the evening hours that's just as appealing as nature's rays with bulbs that cast a gentle, warm light.

Brie Williams Photography, Inc.

Scent the Air

A pleasant aroma is one of the quickest routes to relaxation and a sense of well-being. Interior designer Darla Bankston May suggests burning your favorite scented candles and placing fresh, fragrant flowers in the rooms you use the most. Alternatively, try running an essential oil diffuser to fill the room with your own signature scent blend. "Eucalyptus, geranium, and chamomile are some of my favorites, and they bring a soothing, spa-like quality to any room," interior designer Caitlin Murray says.

Helen Norman

Display Family Photos

Use framed photos to take your mind to the pleasant places you've been, such as trips to the beach or a beautiful family wedding. "Surrounding yourself with happy memories and the faces you love can be a great way to add a little warmth to your space," says interior designer Abbe Fenimore. Keep images of loved ones in your daily line of sight, or store photos in easily accessible albums or boxes.

Jacob Fox

Bring the Outdoors In

A bunch of flowers, an arrangement of branches, or a few houseplants can all bring a breath of fresh air into a room. "It can be as simple as gathering a bunch of branches from a tree in your backyard and popping them in a vase," says designer Linda Eyles. For an easy, spa-inspired centerpiece, Eyles suggests filling a wide, shallow bowl about halfway with water and floating some of your favorite blooms on the surface.

If you're worried about wilted petals and neglected plants, choose dried flowers or hearty houseplants and indulge in fresh flowers for special occasions.

Nicholas Johnson

Emphasize a View to Nature

If you have a great view from your windows, highlight that portrait of nature with smart window treatment choices. Layering treatments gives you the option of creating a look that suits the day. For example, shades can block out the view when privacy is needed or go up to emphasize the view. A valance over the shade ensures windows are never too stark, and draperies along the sides add softness.

James Nathan Schroder

Soften with Textiles

Layer on cozy textiles, such as cable knits, velvet, and suede, to give your decor a relaxing look and feel. Drapes that pool on the floor, loose-fitting slipcovers, and tons of pillows all bring a sense of ease to a room.

Plus, these accents are easy (and relatively inexpensive) to swap out on a whim. "Rugs, throw pillows, and blankets get well-worn over time, so making a coordinated effort to switch them out all at once helps a space feel polished and cohesive, sending signals of satisfaction to the brain," Murray says. For pillows, choose a variety of shapes and sizes and move them around regularly.

Lisa Romerein Photography

Redo a Room with Simple Changes

Sometimes it's simple repetition that creates a sense of tension, and all a space needs is a quick refresh to maximize its comfort level. Keep the approach simple but fresh by changing a room's looks with the seasons. Dress up chairs with slipcovers, rearrange some furniture, or add seasonal decor to make a room more welcoming.

Michael Partenio Productions

Soak Away Stress

Make your bathroom function for both practical and pampering needs. Create a spa-like atmosphere with simple additions like a stack of fluffy towels or a few candles, then take advantage of the space to soak away stress with a bath. "Clear out the kids' toys, grab your favorite book and take back the bathroom as your own for a few quiet moments of solitude," suggests interior designer Kate Lester. Warm colors, soft lighting, and soothing music can add to the experience.

Edmund Barr

Create a Relaxing Bedroom

Improve your sleep quality (and the quality of your waking hours) by making your bedroom a sanctuary. "After a long day, there is nothing more soothing than slipping into crisp, clean, high thread count sheets," Lester says. "Invest in a set and every evening it will feel like you are relaxing at your favorite luxury hotel."

To extend the calming effect beyond your bed, keep only the essentials within reach and within view. Decorate walls in colors that comfort you, and add only artwork that makes you smile. Cover the floor with rugs or carpeting that feels best on bare feet.

Dave Greer

Organize Away Chaos

Chaos breeds anxiety, so think of getting organized as prepping for calm to come. "I'm a firm believer that a space with lots of knick-knacks, or just disorganization, creates visual tension and physical stress," interior designer Karin Bohn says. If your space is teeming with stuff, start the path to organization by focusing on a single space, such as the place where you enter the house. Recruit everyone in the household to participate in clearing clutter, starting at the door.

Once you've cleared one room of clutter, shift your focus to the next space. "Organize your living room by adding an oversized basket in the corner for throw blankets or toys," suggests interior designer Abbe Fenimore. "Not only will it feel satisfying to manage the mess, but it will add a little extra space to the room."

James Nathan Schroder

Create a Comfort Zone

Designate a place in your home where relaxing is the key function, suggests interior designer Darla Bankston May. Tailor it to your choice of relaxing activity, whether that's reading, listening to music, or meditating. "Move a comfortable chair to a spot in your home that gets natural light or has a view you love," she says. Put a barrier between you and distractions, such as a folding screen to block out unwanted views and redirect foot traffic away from the area.

You don't need to set aside an entire room; just select a spot that's out of the main flow of household activity. "All you need is a comfortable chair, a floor lamp, and a side table for your tea cup," designer Linda Eyles says. "Everyone needs a place to get away from it all."

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