5 Tips for Home Upgrades to Boost Mental Health

A chat with award-winning designer, Ali Budd

By Brooke Madden

It’s true what they say; your space affects your mood. As people are spending more time at home, why not do everything you can to make sure that mood is a positive one? I sat down with President and Principal Designer of Ali Budd Interiors to find out her 5 tips for home upgrades to boost mental health, and how this expert goes about implementing them.

For 11 years now, you’ve been a celebrated, full-service design studio, with emphasis on unique, timeless spaces, carefully tailored to each client’s individual needs…How have you noticed these needs changing? Is there higher demand for design based on mental health?

For so long, people have been so fixated on what they “should” have in their house. I always use the formal living room as an example. I think now, what we’re pushing our clients to do is be honest about how they live. Do you actually sit in this formal living room? Or should we make a giant family room to entertain your family that you’ll actually use – instead of having this museum in your house. We talk about guest rooms too – do you actually have guests? If you have a guest who comes once a year, do you really need to dedicate a whole room in your house for this person?

From a mental health perspective, so many more people are putting gyms in their home or yoga studios. It’s about being really honest about what you need in your home. And I do think COVID has pushed people to really evaluate that. Every inch of your house should be thoughtful, and your mood will reflect that.

1) Use colour strategically to alter each room’s experience to create calming, cheerful, and comforting effects.

What kinds of colours do you use to create a brighter, happier space for your clients?

Everyone’s different. I think there’s people who don’t want colour, but mostly people do, they’re just scared of it. If you love a colour, you’re going to love it in your home. We can use it in big doses or small doses. But it is happy to see something that has colour in it in your house. If you’re nervous, we recommend doing it in spaces you’re not in all the time – laundry rooms, mud rooms, powder rooms. It’s kind of a nice surprise, it gives the house personality and drama and feeling. It also differentiates your house from other people’s. There’s only so many things you can do monochromatically, whereas when you’re playing with different colours, you can create a space that’s yours.

2) Custom-designed furniture to fit the needs of a person and their spaces.

How do you utilize custom-designed furniture to create a stunning, serotonin-inducing space?

I mean, I’m not a scientist. But when you walk into a room, you immediately have a feeling. And if you feel like something is off, it’s not just about colour or no colour, it’s about scale and proportion. People have bought pieces that are too small for their houses, 9 times out of 10. When you walk into a store you have like 2 choices in couch sizes. When you go custom, you can make sure that your pieces are proportioned to your home. Instead of 3 fabric choices, there’s 3 million. Even things like depth – if you’re really tall, having a couch that’s a standard 38 isn’t going to be super comfy for you. You’re going to want to have something that’s 42, which is really hard to find.

Also, the new tariffs are crazy – so going custom is also a great way to avoid them. If you’re having something made in Canada you’re supporting the Canadian economy, which is also great.

I think sometimes people think that custom means more expensive, and that is not always true. It also means you’re getting something that’s really unique to your own home. People really want their homes to feel special, and having custom pieces is a great way to do that.

3) Maximizing lighting to illuminate each space.

Tell us about how you make the most of a space’s natural light, or use artificial light, to keep your home feeling bright?

Shutters are my nemesis. There is absolutely no reason you should install shutters. It looks like you’re in jail and it blocks light. Shutters are not good for your mental health.

Understood. Now, what is good for your mental health?

Doing a nice beautiful sheer drapery, everything that lets light in but has privacy. There’s nothing better than having your house flooded with natural light. It’s all about what you’re doing and what you want that light to be. So if you’re going to be cozy and watch TV, do you want all the lights on? No. Do you want to be in pitch dark? Probably not either. Things like dimmers are your best friend. Every switch in your house should have a dimmer. You can really create a relaxing vibe with lighting. The notion to me that lights have to be on or off is ridiculous.

4) Declutter your space by implementing chic and clean designs.

A decluttered space is so much more calming. How do you help your clients achieve this through design?

It depends – kids/no kids – for me, there’s nothing worse than when kids go to bed and I’m looking at all their stuff everywhere. You have to be real about how you live. My children are not going to line up their toys on a Pinterest-style open shelf. Open shelving is not storage. Putting open shelving in a playroom or kid’s room I just can’t imagine, because then you’re still looking at their stuff. It’s all about closed storage. And remember your children exist. You can’t design a house that doesn’t accommodate that. Nor would you want to.

5) Outdoor entertainment spaces for fresh social stimuli.

How do you go about creating a well-functioning, socially entertaining outdoor space?

It’s all about zones in the outdoors. I just did my own backyard, and we have loungers by the pool, we did a fireplace area with couches and chairs, and then we have a dining table out there. But if you don’t have room for zones – if I could only have one thing in my backyard, it wouldn’t be a dining table, it wouldn’t be loungers, it would be a wicked couch, coffee table, chill area. Nobody wants to sit at a dining table for like 5 hours at night. You want to sit on comfortable furniture and be cozy.

You have to live in your house. My whole thing is livable luxury. With the right choices, you can have all of this, you just need to make them.