Create a Cozy Winter Retreat

Home decorating to stimulate the senses

Create a Cozy Winter Retreat

A few simple winter decorating tips will transform your home into a cozy winter retreat. Stimulate your senses with new colours, sounds, textures, and lighting.

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s time to retreat indoors. For many who suffer from the winter blues, closing the doors and windows can bring about depression and feelings of isolation. But a few simple winter decorating tips can change our physical environment, lift our mood, and stimulate our senses.

Sensory update

Redesigning our space for winter can improve our emotional and physical health, while updating the look of our home. To create your personal cozy winter retreat, focus on the senses:

  • visual (sight)
  • auditory (hearing)
  • kinesthetic (touch)
  • olfactory (smell)

Each sense has a direct pathway to stimulate our brains, and therefore, affect mood and physical health.

Visual

Lighting

As the daylight hours shorten, allowing light to flood our living space becomes more important for mental and physical health.

“The sun’s rays increase endorphins and serotonin, which elevate mood. Allow for natural sunlight to breathe life into a space, and use draperies that can be opened first thing in the morning [to maximize your sunlight exposure],” says Toronto interior designer Natalie Mirabelli.

Tip: Overhead lighting tends to be very harsh on the eyes and can cause headaches. At night, switch to beeswax candles or soft-light table lamps to add a warm glow to your living space.

Decor

Changing your decor along with the weather can make seasonal transitions easier on your mind and body. Mirabelli says planning summer and winter accent schemes allows mood to shift along with the seasons. Switching up decor doesn’t mean spending thousands of dollars.

Tip: Make a simple change such as switching pillow covers to a terracotta or bronze hue, or changing candles from light to dark hues. Add decor items such as acorns, pine cones, or woven balls to display urns and platters to help set the mood.

Colour

Mirabelli recommends a subdued palette to create a sense of calm in the home, especially during the winter months.

While there is a wealth of research that suggests colour feeds our mood, Mirabelli says colour is subjective and advises clients to choose colours that remind them of happy memories.

Tip: When choosing colour, the general rule of thumb is warm tones for cooler months and cool tones for warmer months.

Kinesthetic

No matter what the lighting, sound, or smell of the room, if the surfaces we sit on are cold and hard, the space won’t feel cozy. Soften the feel of your home by using natural fabrics, and add interest to the space with a variety of textures that invite touch and stimulate the mind.

“Woven cable knit wool throws are always beautiful, not only to the touch but also for the dimension they add to a sofa or bed,” says Mirabelli.

Pillows made from eco-friendly natural fibres add a splash of colour and contribute to the warm feeling of the room. An area rug is also essential in winter, as it not only adds texture and depth to the room, but warms up the space from the ground up.

Tip: Add texture by introducing elements of nature such as plants, decorative items such as pine cones or chestnuts, or picture frames made from recycled material or reclaimed wood. ?

Auditory

Adding music to our abode can help create a cozy ambience and improve our mood.

“Music is the only activity that we engage in that activates the whole brain,” says music therapist Rachel Finnerty. Creating a playlist that you associate with positive memories can be helpful in alleviating the symptoms of seasonal depression and anxiety.

“[Music] stimulates the limbic system [of the brain], bringing emotions and memories to the forefront,” says Finnerty. Music has the power to conjure an emotional memory of the positive experience, providing a distraction from negative thoughts.

“When listening to music that reminds us of positive experiences, the positive emotions are highlighted more than [by] discussing memories,” says Finnerty.

While many people find soft jazz or classical music soothing, Finnerty says that music, like colour, is an individual taste.

Tip: Listen to music that reminds you of positive experiences to improve mood and create a positive home atmosphere.

Olfactory

Our sense of smell is the strongest sense and, as such, has the ability to elicit the strongest emotions. Our olfactory bulbs are part of the limbic system and directly connect with limbic structures that process emotion (the amygdala) and associative learning (the hippocampus).

“No other sensory system has this type of intimate link with the neural areas of emotion,” says aromatherapy expert Jacqui MacNeill.

Aromatherapy oils contain therapeutic values that can help fight off colds as well as seasonal depression.

Tip: Use scents such as birch, eucalyptus, and ginger to reduce congestion. Cinnamon improves circulation, keeping fingers and toes toasty warm.

What do these essential oils do?

Pine oil opens the chest and helps with respiration. It increases our resistance to viruses and bacterial infections.

Vanilla is sweet and soothing and reminds us of holiday baking.

Orange oil, like many citrus scents, increases a positive outlook and creates a relaxed state of mind by easing nervous tension and stress.

Cedarwood oil relieves stress and anxiety, as well as winter bronchitis and coughs. A winter-fresh home

Essential oils are chemical-free ways to bring the scent of winter indoors while improving our mental and physical state. Their antibacterial properties may ward off winter colds and flus, and their endorphin-producing capabilities may help fight winter depression.

“By bringing nature in liquid form into our homes we get an enormous benefit,” says MacNeill. She has provided us with an aromatherapeutic recipe for creating a cozy winter feel that reminds us of the scent of the holidays:

10 drops of pine oil
4 drops of pure vanilla
5 drops of orange oil
2 drops of cedarwood oil

Mix essential oils with 2 to 4 oz (60 to 120 mL) distilled water. Place in a spray bottle to use as an air freshener, or use in a diffuser. 

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