Designing Calm During Covid-19

Apartment with a beautiful, balanced design

While clipping my fingernails in the bathroom sink a couple of days ago, I heard my neighbour across the hallway blow-drying her hair. For over a decade, I have listened to this sound almost every day. Yet, it struck me as something profoundly different that morning. It ceased being the white noise of apartment living and became a symbol of connection. The sound lets me know she is there, which is so comforting in these times of solitude.

I began to think of other familiar sounds, like the steady street traffic and firetrucks that often zoom through my gentrifying neighbourhood. The melodic ding of the bells from the Gothic church across the street that ring on the hour, which infuse my life with regularity. There’s also the regular wailing of the street folks who stream into our yard in ragged twos and threes to fix dope and suss out things to steal.

Why do these things matter? How are we re-situating ourselves amid the uncertainty of iso?

The coronavirus has travelled from a market in Wuhan, China to Europe, parts of north Africa, the Americas, and several countries in the southern hemisphere. For some reason, maybe because it originated on the other side of the planet, I didn’t anticipate that it would reach Canada so fast or that it would be as tragic as it has been. As the winter of 2020 melts into an alien spring, I struggle to find myself inside the solitary bubble of daily life.

In some ways, the shift to working at home full time hasn’t been that difficult because I often work here, where some of my best writing happens. But, I no longer labour in my apartment on days and during hours of my own choosing. This is the only place I am permitted to live, work, and re-place the other pieces of my life that normally happen outside these walls. Writing and other tasks don’t always flow with ease under these new conditions.

Maybe it’s OK that my productivity is inconsistent because I’m supposed to be doing more than work anyways. This is a marathon not a sprint, right? Stories abound about the various pandemic hobbies people are picking up, including watching movies, knitting, gardening, and board games. I’ve got Netflix mastered but haven’t yet unravelled the secrets of the tarot cards I ordered, nor have I acquired the “Covid abs” I joked about several weeks ago.

Alongside creative writing, what has eased my troubled spirit during the pandemic is Pinterest. Yes, Pinterest, specifically images of mid-century modern and urban boho interiors. In June I’m moving from my apartment into a killer three bedroom Edwardian home, which I am over the moon about. Searching for décor and renovation ideas is the happy constant in my days, which tend to bleed into one another rather seamlessly.

Initially, I saved the images in my Pinterest account. But, then I began posting some of them on Facebook and Instagram. Check out this dramatic little bathroom with shiny teal tiles and a huge quartz tub. Look at this sunny, plant-filled living space with Danish couches and a Mexican throw. Isn’t this room sweet, with its earth tone circles painted above an artfully messy bed with a grey cat that matches the art deco wardrobe?

Friends and followers alike commented about how calm the images made them feel. The collective interest in these designs got me thinking about the relationship between space and wellness. None of the pictures feature people, just empty spaces. Actually, they’re not empty, they’re masterfully orchestrated and part of what draws people in is their composition. Good design is fundamentally about balance, whether it’s through symmetry, asymmetry, or radial distribution.

It makes sense that people are gravitating to images of balance, which is an aspect of life during these strange days that is really hard to navigate. These beauteous rooms may also resonate with us because they are soothing places to spend time in, even if it’s just for the few seconds of scrolling through an online feed or two. We need easy things every now and then. We also need, or want, nice things and these pictures are inspirational from a consumer standpoint. You’re welcome, Wayfair!

At a deeper psychic level, the attraction to these images might also be connected with the principles of sensory grounding. Many of us use smell, sight, touch, sound, and taste (not applicable in this instance though, unless devices become edible!) to anchor ourselves, whether it’s in counseling sessions, yoga, or other wellness activities. Becoming centered and aligning our minds with our bodies is a powerful way of reminding ourselves that we are here and we are safe.

Much of my “free” time during isolation hasn’t felt very free. In fact, it seems like a burden to redistribute the handful of things that now count as my life across an increasingly large expanse of time. Insert tumbleweeds.

Moving through these recalibrated routines can also be hard emotionally. The one exception is my design time, which feels boundless and exciting personally and in a collective sense given the restorative beauty generated by my Pinterest images.

These creative pursuits also feel curative in the original sense of the Latin term curare, which means “take care of.” Allowing myself time and space to cruise through the endless pictures is a form of self-care, and it’s a practice many of us engage in on a daily basis. These reflections on finding or designing calm during Covid are a small reminder of the things within our reach that might be overlooked as sources of solace in these unsettling times. There is solidarity in tranquility. Thank you, Pinterest.