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DECOR ADVICE: PART 1: Joyful spaces

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Elevate your spirit, use colour and small nuances to bring delight to rooms

EXPERT: Ingrid Fetell Lee, designer and author of ‘Joyful: The Suprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness’ 


Q: What colours can you use in paint and bedding to make your bedroom more serene?

A: I draw a lot on what I call the transcendence aesthetic in a bedroom. Transcendence is all about the joy of elevation, and at elevation, colours are lighter and softer. So think of sky colours, especially during a gentle sunset: blues and peaches, soft pinks and yellows and violets.

Q: I am planning to sell my house. Besides decluttering and putting flowers in vases, what do you suggest I do to “spark joy”? What colours should I paint the walls? What colours should be in the guest bedrooms?

A: One thing I’ve heard is that new buyers typically gravitate toward white walls. There might be some exceptions – if you have a historic home, for instance – but if you’re painting, try to start with a clean white canvas and add colour through furnishings and art, so a buyer can feel the joy you’ve put in, but also imagine a place with their taste. Also consider some house plants and pay attention to lighting, because that’s something subtle that people may not notice, but it will make a big difference in how they feel about the place.

Q: Do you have some ideas for creating joy in a small space on a budget? I’m talking about a studio apartment.

A: Many people shy away from colour in small spaces because they’re afraid it will be overwhelming, but vibrant colours can give small spaces character and make them feel like a joyful oasis. Resist the temptation to make everything small to match the scale of the space – having one or two anchors within the space can keep it from feeling disconnected or bitty. And bring plants into the space to add colour and texture. I’m also a fan of a mirror in small spaces. 

Lastly, if you can choose rounder furnishings, it can help with the flow and movement in the space. Angular furniture can slow your movement and make the space feel more compressed than it actually is.

Q: My husband and I are in our early 30s, and we live in a large one-bedroom flat with a dining room that seats six. I can count on my hands the number of times we’ve formally sat down for dinner in it. We’re expecting a baby next year and intend to transform the home office into a nursery. My husband has been pushing to make the dining room into a more functional space because the room is virtually unused. Any ideas?

A: I’m a big believer in making your space work for you, rather than adhering to any specific rules. If you’re not using a space as intended, the space stagnates, and that’s definitely not joyful. I just have one question: Where do you plan to eat with the baby? Do you have an eat-in kitchen or a counter-style set-up? I know so many people whose lifestyles really changed when they had a baby, so making sure that you’ve anticipated these changes before you rearrange a space seems worth considering.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, consider how you want to live as a family. Do you need more workspace so you can have more flexibility in your career? 

Do you want to host other families and therefore have a really amazing playroom that other people’s kids can use, one that will grow with the baby? Do you want a more flexible family space?

One concern is that research has shown we have a tendency to create multiple sedentary spaces in a home: TV rooms, living rooms, etc. If there’s a way to make it more active, it might be more joyful – and create more interesting possibilities – for you and your family.

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