Robert Cipollone made a bouquet of autumn leaves for his desk. He gathered branches with a bit of moss on them. He added some pebbles to a clay bowl.
“It just looks really sophisticated and uniquely different — and I would never have done it any other time except COVID,” says Cipollone, principal at Cipollone Creative, an interior architecture firm in Seattle.
He finds these small mementos of nature on walks, and brings them home so that the day feels more special. After a week or so, the objects go back outside to be composted or reused.
“You’re gathering things you wouldn’t normally bring in,” says Cipollone, who is working from home. “It reminds you, this year’s different. ‘Oh, these are unique to today’s experience.’ I want this day to feel different from yesterday.
“There is so much happening in the world, having control over the change in your space is important psychology. If you have control over your environment, you can make it look nice. You don’t have to go too far. You can go outside your house and grab some moss or some flowers.”
Your home should feel like a respite from the world (and the news cycle), especially now that we’re staying home even more as fall descends. You can’t control a global pandemic, but you can be intentional about creating a calm and cozy space.
Indoors, aim for hygge (a mood of coziness) by lighting candles and adding warming, comforting elements to your living spaces. And apply the same concepts to your patio or deck as well, for the times when you really need to leave your space and get outside.
Cozying up indoors
The good news is, creating a sense of hygge in your home doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. The first thing you should do is reduce visual clutter, says Andrya Cooper, owner of Bainbridge Island-based Andrya Cooper Interiors. Give yourself space to breathe and relax.
We’re talking about taming Legos, busy patterns and cereal boxes on the counter. Group loose items in natural baskets and bins to clear your space. Cooper suggests creating a serene palette that doesn’t use color to create contrast, but brings in texture through natural materials such as jute, leather and weathered wood.
Think about your lighting, which grows in importance as we head into the long dark season.
“Nothing kills the mood of being cozy and warm like a bright, overhead fluorescent light. Or screens, for that matter,” Cooper says. Instead, use lamps and accent lighting around your rooms to create layers of light.
If you have a fireplace, make sure your chimney is clean and ready use. Get big votives and hurricanes and place them near your workstation or chill-out spot, so you can enjoy the scent and the light.
Cozy accessories can also be added affordably. Even if your living room has morphed into part-time home office, you can add a few items to bring back a feeling of relaxation: a fluffy rug, faux-fur pillows you can squeeze, or a chunky crocheted blanket to snuggle into.
The big trend word for fall? “Cozy,” Cipollone says. “Cozy in every shape, way, form.”
To keep your days from blurring together, bring in ephemeral pieces of nature, as Cipollone did. Or move things around in your house, just to change it up. Cipollone moved the blankets that used to be upstairs in the TV room downstairs.
Need a quick pick-me-up? Use items that are normally reserved for special occasions, like your nicest tablecloth. “I would say COVID is a special occasion. Bring it out, give yourself an extra perk,” says Bret Ashlee Watson, an interior designer and owner of Studio Lello in Seattle.
Complete a small, or even mini, house project. It might be something like reframing a piece of wall art with a new mat or painting a room in a soothing hue. It doesn’t matter how small the project is as long as it’s something you can see and enjoy daily, and that gives you a sense of accomplishment.
If all else fails: houseplants.
“Whenever I’m super stressed, I buy a plant,” Watson says. “They can add a sense of calm and peace to any space.”
Adding comfort outside
This year, we’re having to figure out ways to rain-proof and cold-proof our outside spaces so we can enjoy them longer.
“We’ve been loving outside all summer, and we’re not going to give up living outside very quickly,” Cipollone says. “Everyone’s looking for ways to make the outdoors still functional.”
Whether you have a rooftop deck, a yard or a balcony, make it a comfortable space to relax in for socially distanced happy hours. Think upholstered pillows in weather-resistant fabric like Sunbrella. For your planters, add winter-appropriate annuals and perennials such as pansies and kale.
Look for ways to incorporate sail-style shades. You can stretch the sail material across a patio and attach it to trees or posts. It’ll protect you from the damp, and the sides are open for air circulation. One of Cipollone’s clients has one made from yellow canvas. “It just has a glow,” he says. “It feels like sunshine when you walk outside. It just makes it feel warmer than it really is.”
Patios lit up with string lights are very popular. Cipollone suggests a more intimate look by adding candles or a pendant or … a chandelier. “Well, why not?” he says. “We all need to find a fabulous moment. Flowers, chandeliers outside. I’m all for that kind of moment.”
When the temperature drops, add throw blankets and a stand-up heater or fire pit. Bring warmth and comfort outside so you can still meet with friends while staying 6 feet apart. Watson’s family invested in a gas fire pit and ordered retractable 3-foot s’mores roasting sticks from Amazon. It’s been a huge hit with her teens. The kids get the social interaction they crave, and the sticks give them a visual reminder of what social distance looks like: two roasting sticks apart.
“Up until now, we’ve been able to make activities happen outdoors. As we’re moving into the winter months, it adds a whole level of complexities,” Watson says.
For her son’s birthday, they’re planning to invite three friends over for an outdoor celebration — in December. The fire pit provides an activity and warmth and a sail shields them from rain. The plan is to project a movie on the side of the house.
“I think it’s do-able, it just requires a little bit of creativity and planning.” Watson says. “We in the Pacific Northwest so value the outdoors and the indoor-outdoor connection we have with our homes. We’re pretty open to being outdoors even when the weather isn’t perfect.”