What makes a home feel good?
Some homes just feel good. You walk in and you want to hang up your coat and never leave.
These usually aren’t the fanciest spaces, or the most expensive. They don’t have perfect wainscoting or a designer-selected color palette. But there are things on the walls you want to ask about. Conversation flows easily. You feel energized but not anxious, calm but not listless.
I call these spaces “feelgood homes.” They seem to have an ineffable quality — something magnetic that makes us drawn to them. If you’ve ever lived in one, you probably felt a sense of rootedness and belonging and joy there. As Gaston Bachelard writes in The Poetics of Space, “For our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word. If we look at it intimately, the humblest dwelling has beauty.”
When I started teaching a home design course four years ago, it was this kind of home that I had in mind. There are lots of books and resources about how to create a tasteful home or an elegant home, but what I wanted to teach was how to create a home that feels good. The kind that makes your everyday life better and gives you rich, full memories of the time you lived there.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we just need the right furniture, or the right architect, or a bigger budget to make our home shine. But all of my research into the ways that our homes influence our well-being tells a different story. In fact, feelgood homes have nine common factors — and none of them have anything to do with money.
Curious how your home stacks up? We have a new free resource — the Feelgood Home Assessment — which you can use to find out which feelgood factors your home excels at, and which ones could use a little improvement. Then, look to your results to help you turn sore spots into bright spots.
Download it here, and keep reading to learn more about all nine features of a feelgood home.
A feelgood home…
Makes it easy to do the things you love
The purpose of a home is to support your life. When it’s not easy to do the things you love to do at home, your home can feel frustrating. A feelgood home, on the other hand, makes it easy to live well.
If you like cooking, then the kitchen feels organized and inviting. If you love crafting, then there’s a dedicated space for your supplies. If you’re an avid reader, then you’ve got great bookshelves and a comfy, well-lit chair.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to have a spare room for your hobbies or fancy appliances or built-ins. It just means that the space you do have is optimized to make it easier to do the things you enjoy.
For example, you probably know someone who loves to cook but lives in a tiny apartment. Yet every time you visit they make magic in that little kitchen, and it’s the only place anyone wants to be during a dinner party. That’s a feelgood home.
On the flip side, if you love to do yoga but you have to move piles of clutter every time you want to roll out your mat, that’s a sign that your home is getting in the way of doing things that make you feel healthy, calm, and happy — the opposite of what a feelgood home should do.
If your home feels out of sync with your lifestyle, ask: What would I like to do more of in my home?
Reflects who you really are
Some people really care about personal style. They want every detail of their wardrobe and home to embody their unique perspective on the world. Others, not so much. But everyone has some preferences, whether that’s favorite colors (or colors they don’t like), the kinds of art they like to look at, whether they like their towels soft or scratchy. Even people who say they don’t care much about “style” have some feelings about their surroundings. This is what I mean when I talk about personal style.
If you see yourself in your space, it reinforces your identity, your sense of self. It helps you go out into the world feeling grounded and confident. When you don’t see yourself reflected in your space, a disconnect can happen — you feel like you’re living in someone else’s house.
This was how I felt until we recently painted our main living areas. I knew that plenty of people would like the wood paneling and white walls in our space, but it felt heavy and bland to me. But as soon I as I walked into the painted living room, I immediately felt more at home.
If your home doesn’t feel like you, ask: What things in my home don’t reflect the real me? Which ones do?
Feels comfortable to be in
A feelgood home supports the body as well as the mind. You’ve probably been in someone’s beautiful home and then sat on a chair that felt about as welcoming as a block of concrete. Oof. In a world that is obsessed with images, it’s easy to end up focusing so much on how things look that you end up with a space that just doesn’t feel comfortable.
True comfort means really being aware of how your body (and other people’s bodies) interact with the space. Is there a table to rest a drink on in your living room, or do your guests end up awkwardly holding their beverages? Is there a lamp nearby the desk where you pay your bills? I notice this one a lot now that we have grandparents visiting regularly. Older adults have different needs when it comes to lighting and seating. For example, while I love the look of our low-slung Wegner-style chairs, they’re a little too deep and kicked back to be easy for the grandparents to get out of.
Beyond simple mechanics, this is also about the sensory experience of your home. The rugs that you set foot on. The way a plate sounds when you set it down on your table. Textures, sounds, and scents can go a long way toward making a home feel good.
If your home feels like it falls short here, ask: Where are we uncomfortable at home? Where are we most comfortable?
Makes life flow smoothly
Does life flow in your house? Do you feel like there’s a rhythm you can easily get into, or are there places where things break down and you often find yourself struggling or arguing? A feelgood home supports the daily routines of life, reducing friction and frustration.
You may find that some parts of your home flow well and others not so much. For example, the flow in my kitchen has been great lately. I’ve moved a few things around recently and did a pantry purge. I cook almost every day and it feels like a pleasure. My mudroom on the other hand? Total nightmare. The number of family meltdowns we have in this narrow, poorly organized space is just too high. So this space is at the top of my list for the next thing I need to work on.
Broken items, cluttered spaces, doors that stick or won’t open: these seem like small issues, but multiply these small issues by the number of times you interact with them in a week or month, and they can add up. Each negative interaction with your home creates irritation, which can then be misdirected toward the people in your lives. And you may not even be conscious of this effect.
For example, a study in a public housing development in Chicago found that irritation created by the physical environment can translate into increased aggression within families. In this case, researchers were studying the effect of nearby greenspace — people who lived in buildings with less greenspace had a higher incidence of aggressive and violent incidents in their homes. If our surroundings make us feel irritated and on edge, that becomes the emotional background to our lives, and can easily influence our interactions with others.
If you often feel frustrated at home, ask: Where do my organizational systems break down?
Works for all its inhabitants
I first became aware of this factor when I had a feng shui consultant visit our home while I was researching Joyful. She noticed that our bed was pushed up against one wall. We’d done this to save space and make the room feel bigger, but the consultant pointed out that it meant that one of us had a much harder time getting in and out of bed. The bedroom was unequal, and that inequality, though subtle, influenced our home. We moved the bed, and the space immediately felt better.
Since then, I’ve noticed that a home only feels good when it accommodates all of its inhabitants. This means that everyone should have at least some dedicated space in the home, but also that the home as a whole should feel like everyone lives there. If one partner runs roughshod over the other’s preferences while decorating, even if the result is tasteful, it never feels quite as good as if you can see both partners’ personalities coming through. This is also true with kids. Yes, kids’ stuff can tend to take over, but for kids, seeing themselves in their home (not just their rooms or playrooms) helps them feel a sense of belonging. Whether it’s seeing their art on the walls, having chairs or tables sized for them, or getting to be a part of the discussion around the home decor, having kids involved gives them a sense of ownership and rootedness in their space.
If you’re not sure on this one, ask: Who doesn’t this space work for? Who needs more access or input into our space?
Recharges your batteries
A simple test of a feelgood home? You feel restored when you spend time there, not depleted. A feelgood home makes it easy to relax, and leaves you feeling energized, not drained.
There are lots of things in a home that can sap your energy. It might be that you look around and see a giant list of things to do. Or you have more stuff than you can easily manage. Or it could be a lack of light or having colors that don’t reflect enough light — a too dim space can cause your Circadian rhythm to be dysregulated and leave you feeling tired and blah.
If your home leaves you feeling depleted, look around your space and ask: What could be draining my energy at home?
Feels lived in
A feelgood home isn’t just for show. It’s for living in.
That means that a feelgood home shows some wear and tear. There might be sand in the front hallway. There might be some marks on the countertops. It’s not pristine, but you also know you’re not going to get yelled at for putting your feet on the sofa.
One thing that can get in the way of this being too precious about the home. If your home is full of fragile objects or things you’re constantly afraid of damaging, then the space starts to feel more like a gallery than a home.
Another obstacle to living in your home is “dead spaces” — those rooms or closets that have accumulated so much clutter that you just kind of close the door and pretend you don’t see them. If you have one of these, often it’s because you haven’t thought clearly about what you want out of that space. Turning it into a usable space can often shift the vibe of the entire house.
If your home doesn’t feel lived in, ask: What’s preventing me from fully living in my home?
Makes you want to invite others in
A telltale sign that a home doesn’t feel good? You don’t want anyone else to see it.
If you’re embarrassed about your home, this is bigger than just a decor issue. It can influence your social life, which has a profound impact on your well-being. Sometimes the answer is that we need to loosen our standards and be a little less hard on ourselves when it comes to how we present our homes.
But I’ve noticed that as people are more and more focused on improving their homes, it’s easy to get stuck in a place where the home doesn’t feel finished enough to invite people in. We say, “Oh, I’d love to have people over, just as soon as I finish decorating the living room.” I’m all for decorating slowly over time, but when space is a barrier to connection, that’s a problem.
If you feel like you don’t want others to see your space, ask: What would make me feel excited to have people here?
Changes over time
In decor projects, a home is done when the photographer takes that beautifully styled, iconic picture. But in real life, a home is constantly evolving with its inhabitants. A rug wears out so you get a different one. Your collections grow. Your kid grows out of the crib and into a bed. (A few years later there’s a “keep out” sign on his door.)
A feelgood home is alive. New energy comes into the space regularly. When an area or a rhythm starts to feel stale, you know how to let it go and embrace something new. You refresh the space in small ways, maybe moving your art around, repotting plants, or changing things up with the seasons. So that even if you’ve lived there a long time, you never get tired of coming home.
If you feel tired of your space, ask: Where has my space stopped evolving with me? What could I rearrange or change up to make my space feel fresh again?
Ultimately, you are the best judge of what makes your home feel good. There are no hard and fast rules, but if something feels off in your space, these nine feelgood factors can help you zoom in on what might not be working, and give you a first step to creating a little more joy in your home.
If you’re sprucing up your space for spring, my free home workshop will get you started off right. This once-a-year offering is opening up soon. Sign up here to snag your spot.