Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Calming Places

Formosa, former studio of 19th-century sculptor, Elizabet Ney

An important skill a human should learn in infancy is that of calming oneself. As a therapist, I have had to teach this skill to premature infants, children and even adults. An important aspect of providing calmness is to manipulate the environment: such as the reduction of noise, both auditory and visual. And this is where interior design comes in. I like most any design style, as long as the design is executed with a near minimalist touch. This is because I learned early on that my neurological system cannot take a lot of "stuff" around me. Many of us have the need to exist in calmer surroundings but never figure this out. We haven't learned that we can function more efficiently and happily if the room around us has soothing colors; that odd numbers of the same object, all in a row are more calming than a clutter of differing objects; that sparseness is soothing.

Formosa, in the old photo above, was my calming place when I was a young teenager, growing up in a chaotic household. Formosa had been the studio of Elizabet Ney (1833-1907), a sculptor. The small castle was just down the street from my house in Austin, Texas. Today it is the Elisabet Ney Museum but when I was a girl, I had the run of the place. A wonderful woman, always there alone, encouraged me to choose any spot I fancied for daydreaming or reading. She was also a source of fantastic stories about Elisabet and her simple life. Elisabet didn't cook, she ate raw eggs; she slept in a hammock for, after all, one would have to make a bed. She did not take her husband's name, a source of much gossip in her day; and she wore men's trousers to work in because they made more sense than a voluminous dress. When I discovered it, the little castle was as Elisabet had left it, almost monastic. It had few pieces of furniture and the colors were monochromatic. She was more interested in space and light. Back in my girlhood, as I lay daydreaming in Elisabet's old indoor hammock, or in a tiny room in the tower, I could almost feel her calmness envelope me, letting my dreams flow like the water in the quiet creek below, at the bottom of the hill.

Sometimes when I am in Austin, I visit her place, alone. In those large, sparse rooms, Elizabet's calmness envelopes me and I become the girl that I was.

1 comment:

  1. I really wish that I could teach my oldest daughter the importance of a calming home. I tried to instill this in my home as she grew up, but it never seem to take when she lived at home or on her own. She and her husband just moved out of a tiny studio and I can't even explain the sheer amount of stuff. She threw a lot away and started anew,but only time will tell if they learned from their move.
    Your posts are so wonderful,and this one is so well put. I can just imagine the place you described, and how wonderful it must have been to escape there.