By Hugh Stearns
A connection to nature inspires happiness. This seemingly subjective proclamation has a significant amount of science to back it up. Hospitals now focus on “restorative landscapes” because they know the power of these connections in the healing process.
One seminal study published in the early ‘80s showed that patients recovering from surgery who were in a room that looked out on trees faired far better than those in rooms who looked out on a brick wall. These patients did better in immediate recovery time; they had fewer complications, and they needed far less pain medication. Since that study, there have been many others that have expanded on the theme.
When I was a student, I read about a student-conducted study that indicated that people who knew what time the sun rose and set or what phase the moon was in consistently reported a greater degree of happiness.
Like a connection to nature, connection to a sense of place in the built world also impacts happiness. Recently “a sense of place” has become a popular topic, especially in the field of urban development. Though these ideas are usually connected to the design of cities and large institutions, they can also be well employed in home design. By creating transitions to nature and community we also create connection to happiness.
There is much in modern life that tends to be isolating. Nowhere is this truer than in the design of our homes. Automobiles, air conditioning and multimedia have dramatically shifted urban and home design.
Even more disruptive of these relationships was the introduction of air conditioning. How long has it been since you heard the slap of a screen door closing? Our once airy homes with open windows to catch the breeze and large front porches on which to drink iced tea and visit with neighbors have become tightly closed boxes with veneer porches not large enough for a chair. In the south we are extremely grateful for air conditioning, but perhaps we do not need to give up quite so much to have it.
With modern homes, when porches exist at all, they are usually in the back, behind tall privacy fences and, all too often, baked in sun making them an impossible retreat. We seek a renaissance of the front porch, landscapes of more than just turf and generally more deliberate design.
When we recognize the value of connection to nature and community to the creation of happiness, we can design accordingly.
The Transitions building concepts overcome isolation without giving up modern conveniences and comforts. But it does require reclaiming a certain amount of design determination, to take back some of what has been relinquished to technology without consideration of what else we may have lost along the way. When remodeling or building a new home, let happiness guide your design.
Hugh Sterns is owner of Sterns Design-Build in College Station. His background in philosophy and psychology has helped develop the Transitions design approach. Visit www.StearnsDesignBuild.com for more information.
The living room already had a beautiful view of the lake, but the interior walls and fireplace restricted the rest of the house. We reconfigured the space adding a dining room and adding sliding glass doors which opened up the spaces to a great view. Now when entering the house, your eyes are immediately drawn outside to the beautiful trees and water. This project also added a master suite and connected common areas including entry, living room, kitchen and dining room providing connection inside and a beautiful view outside.