The delights and idiocies of open-plan design

In tropical regions, where people spend most of their time outside, small windows are the norm in traditional homes. Less light equals less heat, and having a cool, dark bedroom is infinitely preferable to one that is hot and light. As one Balinese person I know put it, with typical earthy logic, you don’t need to see anything when you’re asleep.

In colder climates of the world, small windows have long been popular for the opposite reason – not to keep heat out, but to keep it in.

Then along came the miracle of heating and cooling systems, and a flotilla of eager architects who set about exploring the new possibilities this opened up. Air-conditioning and central heating meant windows could be made larger and internal walls could be removed to allow more circulation of light. The era of open-plan living had arrived.

The pros and cons of open-plan design

The immediate advantages, when you walk in to a well-designed open-plan home, are obvious. The living space is wonderfully lighter, brighter, and feels more spacious. Your etheric naturally expands, creating a feeling of freedom from constraints.

It seems very appealing, until you try to live in a home like this, and realize how important walls and doors can be. Noise is one of the biggest problems, echoing up and down staircases and along the corridors. If you live alone, that’s fine, but if you share the space with others, there’s often nowhere you can go to get some peace and quiet.

One multi-million-dollar home I once visited had a massive open-plan living area, dominated by an enormous TV screen that all the children stayed glued to, with the volume on high. The parents saw this as a clever babysitting ploy without realizing they had actually given up control of the space to their kids. A flick of the remote determined the noise that permeated every room of the home. Not surprisingly, the children became unruly and prone to frequent tantrums. The open-plan design meant that they ruled the roost, not the parents, and they took full advantage of this.

I’ve found noise pollution to be a factor in nearly all the open-plan homes I’ve ever seen, and this is greatly exacerbated if the floors are tiled or made of wood rather than carpeted, and if the windows have blinds rather than curtains.

Another issue is how little storage space there usually is. The absence of internal walls means there’s nowhere to put up cabinets to store the things you need in daily life. The space either becomes cluttered, or stuff has to be stashed in other parts of the home, far from where it’s needed.

Cooking smells can be a problem too, permeating a much larger area than the kitchen and lingering longer. Soft furnishings, such as sofas, readily absorb and hold odours, and cannot easily be cleaned. They are not designed to be placed in kitchen environments.

Open-plan living can also make it very difficult to create a heart to your home, especially if your kitchen-dining-living area feels like a through-corridor to other parts of the property. People and energies have no place where they can comfortably gather.

How the design of your home can affect you

‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,’ said Winston Churchill, in his famous speech where he advocated retaining the rectangular shape of the House of Commons Chamber instead of rebuilding it in a semi-circular or horseshoe shape, as some had proposed. He felt very strongly that the existing shape best served the purposes of England’s two-party democracy, and persuaded his fellow parliamentarians to agree. That design remains to this day.

The layout of modern homes has changed considerably, however, and open-plan living is one of the most prevalent of all. As the trend for this continues to spread around the world, its influence on the quality of modern life has been significant.

What architects have not taken into account is that the natural state of the human is involution (turning inwards), which is the pathway to accessing inner silence, vast states of consciousness, and a more purposeful life. But twenty-first century living is increasingly exvoluted (turned outwards), and because of this, more and more spiritually disconnected and lacking meaning.

Open-plan living is designed to be more sociable but can also have the effect of causing the occupants of a home to be perpetually exvoluted. The lack of quiet, privacy and boundaries can take a serious toll and needs to be counterbalanced by having other areas of the home where these essential aspects can be enjoyed.

Why broken plan is the new open plan

Countless studies have concluded that open-plan offices result in higher stress levels, impaired productivity and poorer relations between workers, and now studies of open-plan home design are revealing similar concerns.

In the UK, some architects are now helping clients to change from open plan to what is being called “broken plan”. This usually doesn’t go as far as constructing floor-to-ceiling internal walls but does the next best thing by creating half walls, folding partitions, or false walls using cleverly positioned items of furniture. Remedies can also include putting doors on entrances to corridors to reduce noise flow, adding soft furnishings and rugs to absorb sound, and attaching acoustic-absorbent panels to the walls or ceiling. As a last resort, some have turned to building an office shed or summer-house in the garden as a way to get some personal space, and sales of these structures are currently soaring.

Sillier and sillier

It would be remiss of me to end this article without at least mentioning the hopefully short-lived new trend for open-plan bedrooms with no dividing wall or door between the sleeping space and bathroom. In some cases, the bathtub is right next to the bed, the toilet is in plain view, and there is a walk-in wardrobe without a door, causing clothes to become damp with bathroom moisture.

I remember being excited the first time Richard and I stayed in a hotel that had a splendid copper bathtub in the bedroom. But the novelty soon wore off when we discovered how the humidity lingered in the air for hours, how the wet carpet around the tub had a terrible dead dog smell, and how the toilet being so near to the bed felt unhealthy, unsanitary, and plain wrong. Open-plan of any kind creates challenges, but this is taking it a step too far. 

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2017


Posted in Healthy home, Lifestyle & awareness | Read 1 comment

Sniff before you buy

Modern furniture

I once stayed in an English hotel with my husband, Richard. We went to bed feeling fine and woke up feeling terrible.

At first we thought we’d both come down with flu. We had dry throats, stuffed up noses, stinging eyes, difficulty waking up, and generally flu-like symptoms. We’ve both experienced similar feelings before when sleeping in hotel rooms with air conditioning, whether it’s turned on or not. The chemicals remain in the air for many days after air conditioning has been operated. But in this room there was no air conditioning and there never had been.

Modern furniture outgassing

We were puzzled for a while until we took a good look around us in the clear light of day and realised the room was full of brand new fibreboard furniture. All the cabinets, an enormous headboard, and the bedside tables were all made of the same trendy-looking material, which usually outgasses for many years after manufacture. Even though we had slept with the window open, there was not enough air circulation to prevent us from breathing in a toxic cocktail of chemicals all night long.

A lot of modern furniture is made from fibreboard — also known as particle board, MDF (medium-density fibreboard), or hardboard. It is made from wood chips or sawmill shavings and is held together by a formaldehyde-based adhesive, notably urea-formaldehyde (UF) or phenol-formaldehyde (PF), which you may recognise as that “new furniture” smell. PF outgases less than UF, but is more expensive so is usually not the first choice of manufacturers. Wall panels made of plywood (thin sheets of wood) are also glued together using this type of adhesive.

Outgassing (also known as offgassing) is the slow release of the gas that is trapped, frozen, absorbed or adsorbed in a material. Formaldehyde’s health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation, which can be accompanied by coughing or breathing problems. Prolonged or high exposure can lead to asthma, severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, nose-bleeds, skin rashes and other allergic reactions. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, ‘there is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans.’ The way to test for formaldehyde allergy is with a patch test. It’s also possible to test concentrations in buildings using a monitor.

Experts vary on how long it actually takes modern furniture to outgas, with estimates ranging from a few months to a few years. The Healthy House Institute says it can take 6-10 years. The length of time is also influenced by the type of glue used, the age of the wood, the amount of ventilation, and the temperature and humidity of the room (it takes longer in cold climates).

But however long it takes, whenever we are house hunting, we don’t even bother viewing places that have just been renovated or redecorated unless the owner specifically stated that non-toxic building materials and paints have been used, which is very rare. And when booking to stay in a hotel, we do our best to avoid the ones that proclaim themselves as “newly refurbished”.

After checking with the management, we discovered that this particular hotel room had been completely refitted just a few months earlier. If we’d known that, we wouldn’t have booked to stay there.

So what can you do about outgassing in your home?

Well, the first thing you can do is to make a point of checking the formaldehyde content of any new furniture before you buy it. Some types have far less than others, such as those labelled U.L.E.F (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde) or better still, N.A.F (no added formaldehyde). Or buy solid wooden furniture made from real trees from a renewable source, which will not outgas at all.

Another option is to buy second-hand furniture that someone else has already nursed through the outgassing stage. Sometimes you can get lucky and find beautiful stuff, which you can then space clear to remove the previous owners’ frequencies.

If you’ve already bought furniture that is outgassing, then you could seal the fibreboard with a paint, varnish, or polyurethane-like material (one that doesn’t contain formaldehyde, obviously), and make sure you cover not just the flat surfaces but all the ends too. The main problem with this is that many of these sealants contain other toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that you would not want in your home. However they tend to outgas for a much shorter time so would be the lesser of two evils. I’ve never tried this remedy myself, but if you already have furniture that is causing you health problems, it could be a more affordable solution than replacing it.

Something else you can do is to make sure your home is well ventilated. You can also reduce other sources of formaldehyde emissions by not using carpet glue, paints, curtains or bedding materials that contain it. When you start to look into it, it’s in so many things. Even ironing boards are usually impregnated with formaldehyde, causing you to breathe warm toxic vapours as you iron.

It’s is also found in many cosmetics and beauty products, such as nail polishes, nail hardeners, shampoos, make-up, soaps, bubble-baths, deodorants, lotions and, of course, hair products. Hair straighteners have some of the highest concentrations of formaldehyde of all. You may also want to check the content of your household tissues. If you get a sore nose after using them, they probably contain added formaldehyde to make them more absorbent.

In B.C. Wolverton’s book, How to Grow Fresh Air, he lists various plants that can be used to reduce formaldehyde levels, and there is convincing evidence that they can when used in sealed chambers. In the real world, however, you would need so many plants to achieve this that it would almost certainly be impractical, although a company based in the US has now been licensed by B.C. Wolverton to create a fan-powered air purification system that allows one plant to do the work of 100 plants. Until this becomes widely available, as hopefully it will, the best remedy by far is to avoid formaldehyde outgassing in the first place.

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Copyright © Karen Kingston 2017


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How clutter keeps you stuck in the past

Antiques

One of the main effects of clutter is that it can keep you stuck in the past.

In my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, I explain that if a large percentage of the items in your home are associated with a time in your life you want to move on from, then a corresponding percentage of your energy is tied to the past rather than available in present time. Try as you might, any attempt to move forward will be slow.

Stuck in the past

A poignant example of this is an 82-year old man who my husband, Richard, worked with last year. He had been an antiques dealer until declining health persuaded him to close his business and retire. At that point, he had a huge storeroom filled with valuable antique furniture and ornaments.

His main motivation for seeking clutter clearing help was that he didn’t want his wife to be left with the problem if he died before her, which was looking increasingly likely. But he still found it difficult to let go of items for less money than he knew they were worth.

Similarly, a woman who contacted me recently had owned a music store until she retired, and instead of disposing of the remaining vinyl albums at that time, she moved them all to her home.

‘The inventory is worth a GREAT deal’, she told me. ‘I CANNOT bring myself to donate, as I can use the money. I have called stores and as an example of unfairness, I have been offered 50 cents on a vinyl album worth $35. These are NEVER PLAYED and yet I am stuck with housing them. I could supplement my meager income if I could just sell them.’

How to move forward

I have worked with many people who have closed their business and feel stuck in their life because they have not let the inventory go. It takes up space in their property and space in their psyche, because they have not moved on.

In this type of situation, the truth that needs to be faced is that the value of the items reduces dramatically the moment you close your business because the infrastructure to sell them is no longer in place. If you’re willing to go through the laborious process of selling online, you can use the setup provided by companies such as eBay or Gumtree to do this, but you’re still unlikely to get much for them, and it can be very time-consuming and possibly futile (selling online is very different to physical retailing). You may also incur a tax liability because you’ve started trading again.

In most cases, my best advice is not to take this slow and potentially painful route but to let your old life go and embrace the future unencumbered by bygone times.There was a reason why you closed the business. Accept this, and move on. Live in the now, not in the past.

This is not what most people want to hear. However, it is the only route that I have consistently found works. When you free up the stuck energy in your home, you dramatically change the feeling of stuckness in your life, and new opportunities can come your way.

The man who Richard worked with turned out to also have two houses that he and his wife had filled to the brim with personal clutter. He was so motivated after clearing out his storeroom that he booked more sessions to clear these out too. He particularly enjoyed the trips to the local charity shop, to see his things being donated to people who could use them. Best of all, he looked forward to enjoying his final years with the peace of knowing it would be so much easier for his wife to cope after his death.

The music store lady didn’t have the advantage of hands-on help, but has let me know she’s made some progress selling lesser value items but not her “prized ones”. Her words reveal there is some emotional attachment she’ll need to work through before she’s fully ready to let go. In the end, it will come down to a choice of whether she wants to stay stuck in the past or open to the future. I hope she’ll come to see how freeing it is to release the past, and how essential this is to creating a better tomorrow.

Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2017


Posted in Clutter clearing | Read 3 comments...»

Fourth edition of Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui published

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui has now sold over 2 million copies in 26 languages, and to celebrate this, a new fourth edition of the book has been published in the UK.

ISBN: 978-0-349-41746-2
Retail price: £8.99
Available also in ebook format

It contains all the updates of the 2016 edition published in the US and Canada, and has a new cover that also echoes the design of the US one.

How different is this edition to previous ones?

In the third edition (published in 2013):

  • All chapters were updated and revised
  • A whole new chapter about Time Clutter was added 
  • A whole new chapter about Changing Standpoint was added

If you have the first edition (1998) or the second edition (2008), then it would be a good investment of your time and money to purchase the new fourth edition. If you have the third edition (2013) or the US second edition (2016), then the differences are not as substantial.

Will there be an audio book version?

Sorry, but no. The 2012 audio book is the latest version available, based on the content of the UK third edition (2013). It’s available in digital and CD formats.

Where to buy the new book?

It’s available from all UK bookstores, and can be purchased through Amazon in many countries around the world.

Our new Aussie online store will open in June 2017 and we are planning to stock the new UK edition as soon as it arrives here. Author signed copies will be available on request.

Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2017


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Life in Australia

Moving to live in a place you hardly know is an exciting experience, and also a steep learning curve.

Why Perth?

About 10 years ago, Richard and I decided to stop off in Perth for a three-day look-see on our way from Sydney to Bali, and were really surprised how much we liked it. We’d expected a quiet, sleepy little place on the edge of nowhere, but instead we found a beautiful sunny city with tasteful modern architecture and very friendly people enjoying a great quality of life.

So when we decided to move from the UK to Australia, Perth was at the top of our shortlist for locations to check out, and now here we are.

Different to the UK

“Ooh look!” we say when we spot a cloud in the sky. The UK has three seasons, according to some — light grey, dark grey, and the one or two days of summer where the sun makes an appearance. But here the skies are vast and blue, and clouds are rare, fluffy white wonders, worthy of finger-pointing exclamations.

“Wow!” we say when we spot a green lawn. With 3,200 hours of sunshine a year, Perth is Australia’s sunniest city, but this takes a toll on the grass. Only lovingly watered turf survives, so it’s not an everyday sight.

“Aaah!” we say, whenever we park our car and can open the doors on both sides to get out. Australia is a big island, and the size of parking spaces reflects this. Not so in the UK, where all too often the front passenger has to get out before the car is parked, and sometimes the space is so tight that even the driver can’t open their door after parking. No wonder Clarkson Parking is catching on there (named after petrolhead and TV presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, who started a trend for taking up two parking spaces for one car).

“Yes!” we say, when we contact a company to help us set something up, and they are positive and helpful and get the job done with the minimum of fuss. In the UK, a cartoon sketch I once saw of a skeleton holding on the phone to get through to Customer Service sums up how difficult it can be there.

But “Oh dear!” we say, as we survey meagre organic produce sections of Perth’s supermarkets compared to the superb quality and plentiful array of Prince Charles’ Duchy Organics, available in all the many Waitrose stores back in Blighty. The hunt for good sources of organic food here is on.

And “Oh-oh!” we say, if we spot an indoor spider’s web. In the UK, we just get out the feather duster and clean it away but here a web reveals that a spider’s got in so we need to also find its access point and seal it.

“Hmm…” we say, as we peruse the complex Aussie taxation rules we need to understand to set up our new business. They are written in English but read like a foreign language.

And “Eek!” we say, when we discover the cost of calling an ambulance in Western Australia can be as much as $10,000. On the rare occasion we once needed one in the UK, it was free, but here “ambo” insurance has now been added to our ever-growing To Do list.

The long term

With each passing day, we discover a new aspect of Aussie life that needs to be researched and understood. We’re making good progress, but it does take time.

When we moved from Bali to the UK back in 2010, it took us two years to fully set up our lives, set up our business, and learn the know-how of getting things done. Seven years later, here we are, going through this process again. We’re happy to do it but have no plans to move continents again after this!

Related posts
We’re moving to Australia!
Perth it is, then

Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2017


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email: info@karenkingston.com

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