How does our home environment contribute to our health and wellbeing?
Environment is as important to wellbeing as good food and exercise, but it's often missed out of the equation. That’s what drove me to write my book. I think our homes have the most incredible impact on us. They are where we start and finish every day. We will not find peace of mind in a space that's messy, dark or drab. Also, it’s a lot harder to create healthy food in a hectic kitchen. We need to address these issues hand in hand with the other things we know improve our health and happiness.
Do you think the pandemic has forced us to confront these issues?
I think that the speed of life meant that for a long time our homes were places that we ran out of first thing in the morning and then slumped back into at the end of the day. We didn’t appreciate the impact they had on us. Then suddenly we're thrust into a situation like the pandemic, where we're being asked to stay at home, and we realise that our homes don't really fit us, nor work in the right way for us. Even more so if you add another layer, like working from home. You realise that none of your chairs are comfortable for sitting in all day, you need a desk that’s 10 centimetres higher than your dining table, and overhead lighting is not the same as task lighting.
It was overwhelming to start with; we weren't ready for it. But I think we’ll come out of the pandemic with a finer appreciation of home. Life is already difficult, complex and challenging, but if you have your home on side to support you it makes everything a lot easier.
How can we make our homes work harder without just making them bigger?
Most people don't need more space, they need less stuff. I think when we're busy and something doesn’t work, there is that impulse to just buy another one and not get rid of the first one. That’s how stuff starts to accumulate.
You need to be consciously choosing the things that are around you. You need to really ask yourself, do I need this? Is this actively contributing to my life? It's a more sustainable way to be and it puts you on a more solid foundation. The number one thing is to surround yourself with things of meaning, and not just in terms of stuff. What are the colours, textures and finishes that speak to you? Once you've worked out what you like and what you need, you're on the fast-track to creating a home that will work harder for you.
As home and work lives become more blurred, what are the potential hazards to be aware of?
Laptops are one of the biggest hazards. Laptops were designed to help you work on the move, not for you to use every day. They are not good for your body; most people end up with their shoulders hunched up around their ears simply because their tabletop is at the wrong height. It's an ergonomic disaster.
I have a desktop computer that is connected via an ethernet cable into the wall and I deliberately have quite a small desk, because I don't want it to be a magnet for clutter. There's a level of discipline that's required. we also need to have rituals that allow us to say when our working day starts and finishes so that we maintain boundaries between work and homelife..
This could be a whole new era of the live-work balance; if it's now more acceptable for people to work from home, we could finally achieve that holy grail.
How do you see the role of the office changing in response to this?
I think the demise of the office is overstated. We will go back to offices, because people are innately social beings. We need to come together for interaction, collaboration, creativity and for the social aspect. But if we actually need to concentrate, that can be done much more efficiently at home, as long as we set up our homes to support us in that way. I think smart businesses will inevitably downsize and we'll see the office become more of a three-day-a-week hub.
Do you think our homes will increasingly incorporate shared living and working spaces, as a way of giving us more versatility?
Gosh, yes. There can be a model for living with more flexibility to it, a subscription model for housing perhaps. If you're a young couple and you have a child, you can upgrade. But if you're an older couple and your children have left home, you can downsize. Things like internet, recycling, electricity, green space, childcare, even power tools; they could all be shared
Looking back through history, the community model is incredibly sustaining. It’s the natural way that we as a species are designed to live, yet we move further and further away from it. Then when something like the pandemic hits, intuitively we are drawn to check up on our neighbours and help each other. Arguably we should always have been doing this, but the pace of life was just too fast. We didn't have or make time for it. Now we have this great reassessment, allowing us to stop and get a grip on things.
Can technology play a role in improving the quality of our living spaces?
I'm going to be controversial here. I think that the whole Smart Home thing will be proven in time to be pretty stupid and that there will be a re-evaluation of wifi. We are talking about a radiation that is already officially classed as a class 2B carcinogen, which means it has been identified as possibly carcinogenic to humans, and yet we freely allow it to invade our homes. I think if we could see it, we'd be a lot less happy about it. I personally do not use wifi in my home at all.
I think we're in danger of thinking that technology will sort everything out, when we’re the ones that power technology. We need to take a few steps back and think about what is best for us as people and as communities.
How can biophilia play more of a role in our homes?
I think it will as more and more people understand it. Plants clean your air. Looking at greenery relaxes your body. These are empirical statements. Even if you don’t have access to a garden, you can wallpaper a wall in a big green leafy pattern and it will have a similar impact. It will make you feel more relaxed, more peaceful and less stressed. That can be brilliant to do in a home office, for example.
Surrounding yourself with the forms and colours of nature is common sense in many ways. It doesn't mean we have to live in a cabin in the middle of a forest. It can be part of a pick and mix of what we do in our homes. We can add the greens. We can get rid of the paraffin wax candles. We can work out what colours we really love. And we can get rid of all the clutter. Let's understand that this stuff is not fickle, it's really fundamental. It will make us healthier and happier.
Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as a thought-leader on interiors, wellbeing, trends and style. Dubbed 'the interiors guru' by The Sunday Times, she defines herself as a writer/author/brand consultant who also does TV.
Her Amazon best-selling first book, Happy Inside: How to Harness the Power of Home for Health and Happiness is a one-stop manual for living well — a game-changing guide that explores why environment is as fundamental to wellbeing as good food and exercise. As she puts it, "A home that truly supports you can be a secret superpower!"
Her TV credits include currently reprising her role as Series Judge on BBC2's flagship show Interior Design Masters, now in its second season with presenter Alan Carr. Previously, she has co-hosted four series of Grand Designs: House of the Year alongside Kevin McCloud; joined The Great Interior Design Challenge as a guest judge and presented Channel 4's Inside Out Homes.