Create a Calming Space

by Laura Hand for Gaia

The 7 Design Elements of a Peaceful Space

Element 1: Light, Nature and Lightness of Being

Open your space to optimum daylight and views of nature. They enhance positivity. Studies have shown that these factors improve recovery time and accelerate healing in hospital patients. If your soul needs some healing, open those blinds and shutters, step outside, take a deep breath and smile. There can be an incredible sense of lightness and well-being in rooms that showcase natural light.

When adding artificial lighting consider “layering” your lights, that is, combine levels of lighting that create intimacy or vibrancy. You can do this by using a combination of pendant lights, table lamps and  floor lamps. The way you light a room will completely change the space, and having multiple lighting sources allows you to control ambience, mood and how you use the room.¹ (¹Houzz Article)

Element 2: Ambiance – Lofty or Intimate

Elevated ceilings (of 8-10ft) make people feel physically less constrained and encourage us to think more freely . . . Lower ceilings are more confining (perhaps, more intimate) inspiring more detailed thought and focus. Determining which works best for you depends entirely on the degree of “intimacy” you want to feel in your space. If you like an airy, lofty feel to your space you’ll want a room with high ceilings. If you prefer a focused practice, the lower ceiling may work best.

According to a 2007 study conducted by Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, how high a ceiling feels is more important than how high it is in actuality. “We think you can get these effects just by manipulating the perception of space,” she says, by using neutral or light paint or mirrors to make the room look more spacious.

Element 3: Vibrational Sound Triggers

Sound the alert. Put a gong, chimes, cybals or singing bowls in your space, preferably at the entrance, to trigger your mind to begin the process of turning off the distractions and settling into your space.  Shut down all that happened before the sound and be attentive only to where you are and what you are doing at that moment.

Vibrational sounds invoke a deep state of relaxation which naturally assists in entering into a peaceful state of being. meditation, the ultimate goal being enlightenment. A quintessential aid to meditation vibrational sound triggers the mind to prepare for meditation and contemplative practice.

Element 4: Calm with Colors

Use neutral colors that are proven to calm and not stimulate. Cool colors tend to be more calming – pastel blues, blue-greens tend to put people at ease. Soft off whites and beiges can also be used as calming colors.

Colors can calm, excite and stimulate. Here are some guidelines around color.

Warm Colors

Red is a dynamic color with that tends to trigger opposing emotions. It is often associated with passion and love as well as anger and danger. It can increase a person’s heart rate and make them excited. It has very high visibility so if you want to draw attention to a design element, use red. But use it as an accent color in moderation as it can be overwhelming.

Orange enhances a feeling of vitality and happiness. Like red, it draws attention and shows movement but is not as overpowering. It is aggressive, but balanced – it portrays energy yet can be inviting and friendly.

Yellow is associated with positive energies like laughter, hope, and sunshine. However, yellow tends to reflect more light and can irritate a person’s eyes. Too much yellow can be overwhelming and should be used sparingly. In design, it is often used to grab attention in an energetic and comforting way.

Cool Colors

Cool colors include green, blue, and purple. Cool colors are usually calming and soothing but they can also express sadness.  Green typically symbolizes health, new beginnings, and wealth. Green is the easiest on the eyes and should be used to relax and create balance in a design.

Blue evokes feelings of calmness and spirituality as well as security and trust. Seeing the color blue causes the body to create chemicals that are calming. It tends to be one of the most favored of the colors.

The Quiet Language of White

Pantone Color Institute

White is a conciliatory color. Unsullied, divine, pristine, traditionally the color of clothing for babies and brides, there is an innocence, delicacy and simplicity to white. . . white represents new beginnings and our ability to start anew on a blank slate. White light contains all colors so that we think of white as the complete presence of light. True whites are rarely found in nature.

There is also the association of silence to white. The color family we correlate with meditation and the expression “quiet calm”, white is a symbol of calming influence in a frenetic society that is rediscovering the value of measured consideration and quiet reflection.

A quiet that in our fast paced lives is something we crave and the reason whites are becoming more important.

It is important to note that colors can be subjective – what might make one person feel cheerful can make another person feel irritated depending on the viewers’ past experiences or cultural differences.

Element 5: Simplicity

Keep it simple with one or two pieces of furniture and minimal decor. My favorite acronym here is KSO (Keep Stuff Out). Avoid overworked designs and “heavy” furnishings. Remember the rule “less is more”.

Think spaciousness and some degree of minimalism when adding furniture and décor to your nurturary™ remembering that peace needs space to breathe. 

The size and heaviness of furniture can also detract from your calm. Rooms “weighty” in heavy furniture pieces can feel confining, restrictive and even oppressive. Consider adding a meditation chair or placing pillows at a table as in the image on the right. Be aware that a lower chair or pillows in the room will require placing complimentary furnishings at a lower level as well. You can balance the room by placing artwork, sconces or a wall fountain.

Shoji screens, louvre or french doors can serve to block or redirect energies from adjoining rooms. And mirrors can be used to deflect those same energies.

Element 6: “Q.O.B.™” or Quality of the Breath

As you meditate or settle into your mindfulness practice, your quality of breath is as important as the breathing itself. The quality of your indoor air is important in deep breathing and meditative states. In fact, it is another key element in creating a nurturing environment. Make sure your IAQ (indoor air quality) is supporting your QOB (Quality of the Breath).

Indoor air quality is affected by diluting airborne contaminants through:

  • routine cleaning, vacuuming and dusting
  • regular replacement of air filters – invest in quality filters that are effective for up to 90 days
  • regular ventilation (opening windows to allow fresh air in)
  • using non-toxic cleaning solutions, microfiber clothes and vaccums with Hepa filtration

Element 7: “Ahness”

When you walk into your nurturary™ you want to have the immediate response of taking a deep breath and “settling” into a state of calm. I call it the “ahh” moment. Creating an ambiance of “ahnness” through sound (or the lack of) and fragrance can be helpful triggers to signal you to take that deep breath, relax, release and let go.

I often include meditation music, candles,  and visual symbols such as statues, water fountains and art to evoke “ahness”. But it is important to ask yourself if you choose one of these elements, “Is this peaceful?”


In the 1950s prizewinning biologist and doctor Jonas Salk was working on a cure for polio in a dark basement laboratory in Pittsburgh. Progress was slow, so to clear his head, Salk traveled to Assisi, Italy, where he spent time in a 13th-century monastery, ambling amid its columns and cloistered courtyards. Suddenly, Salk found himself awash in new insights, including the one that would lead to his successful polio vaccine. Salk was convinced he had drawn his inspiration from the contemplative setting. He came to believe so strongly in architecture’s ability to influence the mind that he teamed up with renowned architect Louis Kahn to build the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, as a scientific facility that would stimulate breakthroughs and encourage creativity.

Emily Anthes