Go with White. Some experts say white is the most soothing hue on the spectrum. As with every color, however, the choice is purely personal.
If white or light-toned neutrals (such as cream, off-white, or taupe) appeal to your calming instincts, use plenty of texture: Flat white walls and smooth white furnishings can readily blend into boredom. And add shades of warmth: Use gold, pale tans, or faded yellows to keep white from looking too sterile.
Create a Cluster of Color. Pottery in a favorite color, brightly-hued artworks, or a jewel-toned vase -- items of intense color, especially favorite objects, attract the eye and focus the mind.
Maximize the comforting effect of favorite pieces by clustering them together to create a focal point. That way every time you pass by, you'll take in the collective joy of the items. Be sure to choose a place you notice every day, such as a fireplace mantel.
Maximize the Appeal of a Fireplace. Go one step further and make the most of the relaxing appeal of the entire hearth area. Extend the decorating scheme to the walls around and the floor below a fireplace to create a vignette.
Make sure to include a decorative screen, a cluster of birch branches, or a silk flower arrangement for the firebox when the fireplace is not in use. Otherwise, the dark, empty spot will detract from the relaxing effect of your arrangement.
Warm an Area with Candles. The soft glow of candles adds a sense of ease to any space; they're conducive to both quiet thoughts and lively conversation, so use them generously throughout your house.
Be it tapers, pillars, or votives, keep a substantial supply on hand. Also collect several favorite candleholders so you'll have fresh candles and clean holders on hand when you want them.
Work with Light. Most every day, the sun casts an evolving, flowing pattern of light through the rooms of your house. Take advantage of nature's gift by throwing back the blinds and enjoying the sunlight that rushes in.
And create a lighting scheme for the evening hours that's just as appealing as nature's warm rays. A room will have a more peaceful feeling with fixtures and bulbs that cast a gentle, friendly light. For these areas, avoid the harsh glare and buzzing sound of fluorescent bulbs.
Add the Sounds that Soothe. The hands-down winner of calming sounds is running water. Mind that the sound must be the kinetic sound of flowing water in its natural state -- not the relentless drumbeat of dripping or rushing faucets.
Fountains are the perfect mimic of this sound. Whether it's outdoors or in, add a fountain to your life, and when you need a few moments of peace, sit close, close your eyes, and let your mind float away for a few precious moments.
Scent the Air. One of the quickest routes to relaxation is introducing a pleasant fragrance. It's a biological fact: The receptors in your nose have a direct route to the portion of the brain affecting a sense of well-being.
Scent is also one of the easiest elements to integrate into a home. Thought not an item of décor per se, aroma sets the mood of the room, so accent its source. Scented candles and attractive perfume bottles cue the eye to expect an engaging sensory experience.
Bring Out the Family Photos. One way to create a relaxing space is to take your mind to the pleasant places you've been, such as trips to the beach or a beautiful family wedding.
That's what photos do, and that's why photo displays are so appealing. Consider two approaches when working with photos: smart arrangements and accessible storage. Good frames, placed well, keep images of loved ones in your daily line of sight. Another key move is storing photos in a way that draws you to them: Albums, organized boxes, or even just piled high in an attractive container.
Use Flowers and Other Natural Touches. A bunch of flowers, a sprig of branches, or a tiny indoor topiary garden -- all bring a breath of fresh air into a room.
Flowers and plants are, however, in need of regular attention, so choose wisely. Nothing is more sad than wilted flowers and neglected plants. If your hectic schedule doesn't allow for regular attention to such details, choose dried flowers or hearty plants and indulge in fresh flowers for special occasions.
Create a View to the Outdoors. Taking in the changing patterns of the days, weeks, and seasons helps keep one centered. The easiest way to do that is to frame nature's evolving portrait with smart window and treatment choices.
First, consider the view. If it's great all the time, play it up. If there are some less-than-pleasant features, downplay those but still let in light and the good features of the view. Layering treatments gives you the option of creating a look that suits the day. For example, shades block out the view when privacy is needed, but do a full retreat at other times. A valance over the shade ensures windows are never too stark, and draperies along the sides add softness.
Soften the Edges. Much of life is harsh and demanding, so cut the hard corners off your décor to give it a relaxing look and feel. Textiles are your main ally in this quest. Drapes that pool on the floor, loose-fitting slipcovers, and tons of pillows all bring a sense of ease to a space.
Pillows are the perfect place to start, and the easiest to change at a moment's whim. Be playful with them; use a variety of shapes and sizes and move them around regularly; like energetic children, pillows are most delightful when they pop up in a different place every time.
Redo a Room with Simple Changes. Sometimes it's just simple repetition that creates tension, and all a space needs is a quick freshening up to improve its comfort quotient.
The goal is to keep the approach simple but fresh, and the easiest way to do that is to change a room's looks with the seasons. Slipping on slipcovers, rearranging some furnishing, and adding elements of the season make a room more welcoming.
Move the Outdoors In. Rather than adding flourishes of nature to your decorating plans, consider immersing a room in all the elements of the outdoors: A textured floor in mottled earth tones, furniture straight from the garden, and outdoor items, such as birdbaths, repurposed for indoor use.
The goal of garden style is to blur the line between indoors and out, but without sacrificing all the comforts of modern domesticated spaces. So keep the cushy couch: Just cover it with a botanical print, or even toss a picnic blanket over it. After all, there's a reason humankind builds comforting, sheltering homes.
Soak Away Stress. The most private room in the home is the one most closely associated with relaxation. Those few sacred moments of the day when a person can literally wash away cares are to be cherished.
Make your bathroom function on both the practical and pampering levels. Install a tub deep enough to soak in, add thick towels that your skin sinks into, and add elements that embrace your other senses, too. Warm colors, soft lighting, and soothing music will make those precious moments an experience that bathes body and soul, refreshing both.
Dream Up a Relaxing Bedroom. Not only do we Americans not get enough hours of sleep, our sleep is often fitful and interrupted. Improve the quality of your sleep -- subsequently, the quality of your waking hours -- by making your bedroom a sanctuary.
Cocooning your bed in yards of wispy fabric can help you block out the world, literally and figuratively. Lots of textiles also absorb the noises that interrupt sleep, giving you the quiet you need for true rest.
Extend the calming influences beyond the bed: Keep only the essentials within reach and within view. Decorate the walls in the 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.
Organize Away Chaos. Chaos breeds anxiety, so think of the time spent getting organized as prep time for calm to come.
If your life is teeming with stuff, start the path to organization by focusing on a single space, such as the place where you enter the house. After all, no one would begin building a road in the middle. Then, recruit everyone in the household to participate in clearing clutter, starting at the door.
Create a Comfort Zone. Make a place in your home where relaxing is the key function. Make it convenient for your choice of relaxing activity -- reading, listening to music, or watching a movie. Put a barrier between you and the distractions of the world. Folding screens 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. Add roomy seating, good lighting, and a small table within reach. The only rule is that you can't use this space except to relax.
Make a Place to Plan. The whole concept of work has gotten a bit of a bad rap. Dreams don't become reality without planning and effort. A place in your home that invigorates you can be just as relaxing as a place that gives you peaceful rest.
What a home workspace needs is focus and convenience: Have everything you need close at hand so you can concentrate on the work you need or choose to do. Make it an inviting place by adding personal elements and comfort; look at a home office as an investment in yourself.
Dress an Inviting Table. Relaxing needn't be a solitary affair. The company of friends and family for a good meal is an unbeatable stress buster -- but not if there's no good place to gather.
Just like decorating with color, some experts tout the impeccable perfection of white, while others insist that lively patterns expressive of personal taste are a must. White china, no matter how elegant, fades into the background, so to make the table inviting you'll have to add things -- flowers, candles, linens, etc. China of a lively pattern or rich color becomes its own statement, requiring little accompaniment to set a style.
Whatever you choose, make sure it makes you happy, and that you have the right pieces (and plenty of them!) to serve the kinds of dishes you like to serve.
Make Mornings Sing. No doubt, once you step out of the front door, your day will begin to slip away from your control. If, however, most days can begin with a moment of calm, you'll be able to handle most anything.
A place to enjoy a few moments at the beginning of the day goes a long way toward keeping you relaxed. Even if you don't have a breakfast nook -- or the time to enjoy it -- set up a portion of the kitchen strictly for the functions of morning. Having the coffeemaker, toaster, and cereals all gathered in one area helps to create focus; it's a growing trend in kitchen design.
Even if you don't build a new spot, simply reorganize the kitchen to create such a space. It will help mornings run more smoothly; so even when you can't avoid stress, you can postpone its intrusion for just a few more minutes each day.