“You’re too sensitive.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that phrase, I could probably completely remodel my suburban home in Madison, Wisconsin. As the girl who always cries when she watches a sad movie (especially ones with animals—Dumbo requires a Costco-size box of tissues), feels every feeling and then some, and gets overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, and crowds, I always thought I was on my own little island of sensitivity, population: one. But as it turns out, there are literally millions of us out there.
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of the book The Highly Sensitive Person, 15 percent to 20 percent of people are highly sensitive, which means our nervous systems and biological wiring make us extremely sensitive to our environments. When we need to escape from the big, scary world, our homes provide a peaceful respite in the chaos.
Designer and stylist Christine Dovey identifies as a highly sensitive person (HSP) and believes that thoughtful home design is essential to an HSP’s survival. “Highly sensitive people have to identify those things that make them feel relaxed, comfortable, and at their best and make sure those things are incorporated into the design plan,” she says.
The right design approaches can help you be an optimal version of your sensitive self. These tips, drawn from Dovey’s expertise and my experience might just help if you, too, are a highly sensitive person.
Embrace Neutral Tones
When we moved into our home, I chose a sandy taupe hue for our walls since it’s a color that’s soothing to my eyes and doesn’t compete with my equally neutral decor. In this same spirit, whites, creams, light blues, and whispery greens work equally well in an HSP space. “A neutral color palette keeps a space feeling easy and not abrasive in any way,” Dovey says.
Dial Down the Lighting
Bright lights are kryptonite to an HSP (don’t get me started on grocery store lighting), so you need to have the option to tone it down when your eyes and brain need a rest. Dovey recommends putting all lighting on dimmers. Smart light bulbs are also an HSP game changer that can help you customize the lighting and vibe in every room.
Display Art That Speaks to You
We HSP’s tend to be moved easily by art, music, and beautiful things, so you should surround yourself with artwork that makes your heart soar. I’m partial to the understated yet stunning work of Bobby Clark and Audrey Bodisco because I’m drawn to soft shapes and subtle tones. You should seek out artwork that syncs with your sensitivity. “Art that you love always makes a space feel more in tune with your consciousness and happiness,” Dovey says.
Weave in Houseplants
I used to cry if I killed a houseplant, but recently, I’ve learned to channel my inner plant lady, choosing low-light plants that provide green jolts of good energy in my decor. HSPs dearly feel the need to connect with nature, which can be represented indoors through plants. “Plants honor the idea that we are removing anything in the air that feels unpleasant,” Dovey adds. “They breathe life and freshness into a space.”
Go Cozy and Textural
I own roughly 12 throw blankets. Every piece of furniture I have is rounded with smooth edges and comfortable seating. Curved silhouettes are not only on-trend, but they also appeal to HSP psyches that crave gentle aesthetics. Dovey agrees, saying, “Include soft, textural pieces that help you feel cozy in your space. That means soft blankets, lots of pillows, and soft-to-the-touch rugs.”
Spotlight Meaningful Objects
Meaningful objects are huge for HSPs: things that make us feel warm, fuzzy, and nostalgic. We put lots of thought into our decor choices, a fact that’s proven through my lengthy and frequent flea market voyages. Throughout my home, carefully chosen vintage treasures rest alongside family heirlooms, which feel better to me than anything mass-produced.
“I think the most important thing about designing your home is having a good understanding of what makes you feel your happiest and what makes you feel less so,” Dovey says. “When picking things to go in your home, make sure you’re asking yourself if that thing will add to your sense of peace. Will it make you feel happy when you look at it? Will it help you feel calm? If the answer is yes, then it’s a winner.”
See more tips on calming interiors: