By Hors Limites Architecture and interior designers Francesca Errico and Olivier Delannoy.
Daroco Restaurant, Paris.
My brother-in-law recently came clean at a family gathering that despite his otherwise frugal sensibilities, he is no longer willing to settle for random hotels when he travels (which is often). He finally acknowledged how important a role the room and vibe of a place play in his overall mood and ability to feel sane, happy, inspired — or in other words, himself.
It’s so true. I feel the same way when I travel, but what disturbs me more are the character-free experiences that I regularly encounter in my backyard. Arguably, in some molecular way, they’re part of the fabric of my life — not something I can swipe past on my HotelTonight app.
It got me thinking. How much does environment affect our mental health — even for short exposures? What about productivity? And, how do we overcome places and spaces that depress us…particularly if you’re in the habit (and business) of enhancing experience/making places and things better/more beautiful/thoughtful/engaging?
I was always taught that it’s not where you are but how you are. I still believe this. But sterile, cookie cutter or otherwise drab spaces make this downright challenging. The nondescript is also a reality. Not every coffee shop can be transformational. Not every conference room can inspire big thinking. Not every errand can be done at an architecturally significant indoor/outdoor retail utopia.
In my own life, I find that when I go to a particular mall, indoor sports facility or big box store – all located on an especially sad stretch of commerce about 10 miles from my house – it creates an acute (but thankfully temporary) mental hiccup. From the moment natural light disappears, I start to panic. I don’t know what it is about those fluorescent lights, industrial carpets and endless gray-beige palettes that seize me, but there’s almost a fear of getting trapped, lost, or worse, that it somehow defines me. It ignites an unfortunate interior dialogue that goes something like this:
Is this (really) my life? What have I done with myself? Am I a suburban shopper? Is this my punishment for leaving the city? Who are these people? What does anything mean? Is that mirror accurate? Should I trade my jeans for more forgiving softpants? Should I buy a beanbag chair? (Answer — no).
Why does being held (voluntarily) hostage inside certain walls scream intervention? I’m guessing it has something to do with the environment being an extension of personal values — and circumstances playing into our idea of ourselves and who we most want to be. This is one thought, but a place can impact people in less obvious ways, too.
My daughter shared that a certain friends’ house makes her anxious and sad (it’s dark, cluttered and often chaotic). Her comment was “I don’t feel like they want me there.”
Isn’t it interesting how the environment has the ability to create and perpetuate a narrative. Sometimes it’s hard to say why the “ick” feeling appears. I always want to think I’m stronger than any “place” — I mean look at Mandela! But if I’m honest, I’ve been happier in a remote village in India sleeping on a prison cot than at a Footlocker in a strip mall. It doesn’t always make sense.
Is there a place that gets to you? Where you don’t recognize yourself? Where your compass points anywhere but here? And is there a way you could turn it around — and take it back in some useful way?
I think design is the antidote to depression, fatigue, sadness and lots of other maladies. But life doesn’t happen inside a Zaha Hadid ecosystem operated by Soho House.
I’m learning to design those spaces inside myself, as a result of living in a bucolic seaside village that occasionally renders me mall-bound. Having a good sense of humor about what other people consider “designed” is also helpful.
I’ll count this operation as a success once I can swap Chipotle for my favorite spot in Paris, above. Thurs far, it’s still just #goals.