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Creating serenity in the bedroom

We’ve all been through a lot over the past couple of years — grief, isolation, anxiety, overwork, underwork, home schooling, home working. And some of us have been sick or caring for someone who was ill. In short, we’re stressed to the hilt. We need rest. We need respite.

We need our own personal sanctuary.

The default space for sanctuary ideally is our bedroom, since many of us don’t have dedicated rooms for meditation or yoga or whatever gives us some peace. But the same mindfulness we reference for activities that calm us down is also necessary to design a space that enhances our serenity.

“The way I see bedrooms is that they’re the most intimate, sacred space that you can have in your home,” said designer Kim Nadel of Gaia Inspired Design & Consulting.

A little side table by the bed offers a space for simple pleasures: a small vase, or a cup of tea.

A little side table by the bed offers a space for simple pleasures: a small vase, or a cup of tea.

(Kim Nadel / Gaia Inspired Design & Consulting)

For Nadel, it’s about connecting the design to nature as well as what’s meaningful to the individual.

“I have a sacred space questionnaire with open-ended questions. I ask what makes them tick? What makes them happy? What soothes them? What makes them feel serene? Is it a vacation they took? Is it looking at palm trees, listening to water? Do they like a lot of color or feel more relaxed in a monochromatic setting? I take all that in and break it down,” Nadel said.

“What are the things, feelings and images — all the senses — that make that person feel safe and nourished and peaceful? From there, we can make design choices that come together to create a sacred space for that individual.”

A comfortable chair in the Cardiff bedroom provides a quiet corner for reading.

A comfortable chair in the Cardiff bedroom provides a quiet corner for reading.

(Kim Nadel / Gaia Inspired Design & Consulting)

Designer Erika Gervin of South Harlow Interiors describes a serene bedroom as “a calming space, a place of retreat that feels soothing and relaxing and separate from the chaos of everything else.”

Gervin is very specific about how that’s achieved.

“For us, it’s all about organic materials, colors and tones. I tend to use a lot of natural materials like linens. I love to use a monochromatic palette. Of course, we have some clients who prefer color, but even if we’re injecting color, I prefer for it to be a tonal play and a very neutral color.”

This goes for almost every type of item in the bedroom. Gervin will select organics like linen for lamp shades, marble or wood for side tables, and grass cloth for wallpaper.

A spacious bedroom with a vaulted, wood-beam ceiling has organic materials, fabrics and colors throughout.

For designer Erika Gervin of South Harlow Interiors, the use of organic materials and colors is key to a serene bedroom, as shown in this Windansea space.

(Amber Thrane)

“All of those textures can create and evoke a sense of elegance and a soothing environment,” she said.

To create your own serene bedroom, consider more than the bed itself. Give thought to the walls, to textiles, floors, lighting, window treatments, plants, art, space for reading or yoga or meditation. Do you want to have a television in your bedroom and, if so, does it have to be a focal point? Do you enjoy listening to music or white noise? Are there storage opportunities where you can alleviate clutter — or place personal electronics so they don’t distract you?

A bedroom has wood floors, with a natural-fiber, midpile area rug under the bed, extending out.

If you like a plush rug underfoot when you get out of bed, but your partner wants wood floors, Gervin has a compromise: wood floors, with a natural-fiber, midpile area rug under the bed, extending out.

(Amber Thrane)

“You can’t relax and be soothed in a space that’s cluttered, because it generates a lot of energy,” Nadel explained. “It can start your mind going. As they say, declutter your space to declutter your mind.”

Instead, consider what is meaningful and necessary for you to have in your bedroom, and what can go somewhere else in the house.
That includes work. But, of course, for many of us working from home, having a desk in the bedroom with work paraphernalia may be a necessity. In that case, Nadel suggested putting it in a corner of the room and getting a screen that you can place in front of it to shield it from view when you’re done working. Or buy a beautiful armoire or hutch that holds all your work materials and equipment but has doors that you can close to put it all out of sight.

Calming colors and textures are used in bedding and on the walls of a bedroom.

Gervin recommends avoiding patterns on walls. Instead, she likes to use a plaster material to evoke natural materials, or wallpaper or grass cloth.

(Amber Thrane)

Also look for storage opportunities in the furniture you buy. Gervin suggested buying nightstands that have a large drawer or multiple drawers that can house remote controls, chargers for your phone and tablet, and glasses that might otherwise sit on a side table. A bench at the bottom of your bed or an ottoman with storage can house wool throws in the summer or books you plan to read — or just stuff you might otherwise toss on a chair or, worse, the floor.

“We just try really hard to create a space that allows clients to have a place for everything so that they’re not just dropping things in miscellaneous locations,” Gervin said.

And if you share your bedroom with a partner, can you discuss and negotiate your preferences so that it’s a sanctuary for both of you?

“What you do is find the commonalities,” said Nadel.

A bedroom provides storage in a bed frame with drawers below the mattress and a nightstand with multiple drawers.

To minimize clutter drop zones, look for furniture with storage possibilities. Here, Gervin selected a bed frame with drawers below the mattress and a substantial nightstand.

(Amber Thrane)

And you compromise in ways that work for both of you. If you like the feel of a plush rug under your feet when you get out of bed and your partner just wants to walk on wood floors, one possibility is to have wood floors throughout the space with a comfy natural-fiber, mid-pile area rug under the bed, in front of the nightstands, extending out at least a couple of feet around the bed.

“We don’t want to flat weave, necessarily,” said Gervin. “The flat weave tends to be a bit less comfy … and soft. But a mid-pile or something that has a little depth under foot, I think, is really nice and it also creates a definition for the space and for the furniture to sit on.”

Nadel said she tells people to make a list of their favorite things that relax them and feed their soul. She wants to know their favorite scents, sounds, places, textures. You might crave soft wools in the form of blankets and throws. Someone else may find respite in a leather chair.

A Coronado bedroom in tone-on-tone colors has a sitting nook by a bay window and a bench at the foot of the bed.

Gervin used tone-on-tone in this Coronado bedroom, which includes a sitting nook by a bay window and a bench at the foot of the bed. Grass cloth on the walls adds additional tonal texture.

(Amber Thrane)

Here are some ideas from the designers to help you conceptualize your serene bedroom:

• Gervin is a big believer in putting lighting on dimmers to create a mood and a serene space. And use warm lighting instead of white or blue lightbulbs. Gervin is a fan of Tala LED bulbs, which use sustainable technology.

• Avoid using patterns on walls, said Gervin. She likes to use a plaster material to evoke natural materials. She also uses a lot of wallpaper and grass cloth.

• Sometimes, practicality wins. If you or your partner are too warm at night and open windows don’t cut it, install a ceiling fan. The good news is that you can find very stylish fans that will work with your decor.

• Do you find the sound of moving water calming? Nadel said to place a small water fountain on a tabletop in your bedroom.

• If scents evoke peace and calm, Nadel suggested incorporating diffusers with essential oils into your bedroom.

• Add plants to the bedroom as part of a design to bring the outdoors in. Make sure, if you have pets, that the plants aren’t toxic if they tend to nibble on them.

• Look for storage in unusual places, like a bedframe that has drawers below the mattress or that uses hydraulics to lift the mattress for storage underneath. Ottomans, window seats and beautiful woven baskets are all potential storage opportunities. Gervin noted that even if a client has a closet so large the bedroom doesn’t need a dresser, she often puts one in to balance the scale of the room and store linens or towels or other items.

• If your room is large enough and you practice yoga or meditation or want a dedicated space to read or knit or just nap, create a dedicated space for that activity in the bedroom — a sanctuary within a sanctuary. Consider your needs for that activity, whether it’s a chaise lounge or a comfy chair, lighting, a little side table for a cup of tea or glass of wine, a little storage for a yoga mat and blocks — whatever you need to make it your special place.

• How do you feel about sunlight and outdoor lights and your sleep? Both Nadel and Gervin have used blackout drapes for clients who are sensitive to light. To make them easy to maneuver, look into a remote or a smooth mechanism like what you find in hotels.

• If you have a great view outside your bedroom window, position a comfy chair to take advantage of it. It can be inspiration for getting started in the morning or for journaling or listening to music.

• Some people dislike having a television in their bedroom. Others love to curl up in bed and watch a show before turning in. If you’re in the latter category but hate having a TV dominate the wall, you have some options. According to Gervin, you can buy a frame TV with artwork options and an Art Mode on the remote. Another suggestion is to mount it on a wall that’s less visible when you enter but still visible from your bed. Finally, you could find cabinetry that works with the room’s style in which you could mount the TV and close doors in front of it when you’re not watching.

• A fireplace is a terrific feature in a bedroom, said Gervin. It adds to the ambiance, the mood and the warmth of the space. She prefers gas because it’s easier than wood. If you plan to refinish the face of it, she suggested plaster or Portola paints, which can carry the color of the walls but gives depth and movement. As another option, she also recommended a slab material like natural stone or marble with subtle veining to inject some elegance.

• As for throw pillows, Gervin said they can be a way to add a splash of color and even a little pattern. But don’t go overboard. “I don’t find that it’s necessary to have too many throw pillows,” she said. “In fact, I have a pretty standard formula. Perhaps it’s the sleeping pillows, another couple of decorative pillows, and one or two throw pillows and call it a day — because really, what we’re trying to do is just create layers and the visual of comfort, but not overpower the bed by too many pillows.”

Golden is a San Diego freelance writer and blogger.