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Better Living

How to be Happy Inside

Words by Michelle Ogundehin, Former Editor in Chief of Elle Decoration UK
Edited by Tamy Emma Pepin
Photography by Marianna Wahlsten & Ben Anders

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Michelle at her seaside home in Brighton, England.

According to the 18th Century English poet and writer Samuel Johnson, "To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution." I couldn't agree more. And, it has never been more important than in these acutely anxious times.

However, I also believe that many people pursue this goal in entirely the wrong way. Being happy at home is not about creating a space furnished with all the latest designs or subscribing to every new 'hot' trend, nor does it have to be owned rather than rented, large or recently extended. And it is definitely never about being a show-space decorated purely for the adoration of others. To me, the primary purpose of 'home' is to support your wellbeing. Or to put it another way, if you want to be your best self, you must start with what surrounds you.

Home should be where you can achieve a sense of emotional balance that will assist you in finding your true purpose and fulfilling your potential. Such a space can be the ultimate foundation, and launch pad, for the life you dare to dream of having and the nurturing relationships that you need to believe you deserve.

But most importantly, this sort of home will be your place of retreat and recovery when the winds of change attempt to knock you, or your loved ones, off course.

Certainly, if I track back and recall all of the places that I have tried to make home, from the many quirky rentals to my first purchased apartment, I can trace the story of my evolution. Each of my abodes taught me something about the link between the state of my environment and its impact on my sense of self, my relationships, finances and health. Combine this with my 13-year tenure as Editor in Chief of British ELLE Decoration, my curiosity for the teachings of Buddhism, and study of colour psychology, meditation and mindfulness; and basically, this eminently twisty path leads directly to my current happy home. And more to the point, to who I am today. Herewith then six key things I learnt along the way...

1. The mantra: clear, curate and contain. It is absolutely essential that you rid your home of anything that you do not use regularly, cherish or value. Crucially, this is more than Marie Kondo's spark joy incentive to tidy, because while that's undoubtedly an essential beginning, it's nowhere near the end. Besides, I'm no minimalist. My things are the talismans of my life and I treasure them accordingly. What I loathe is 'stuff'. Essentially 'stuff' is anything that is broken, unnecessary or that annoys or embarrasses you. Anything you're indifferent to (if you dropped that vase, would you care?); anything you haven't used in a year, just-in-case items and unwanted gifts. All of these have to go. However, bear in mind that your trash could be someone else's treasure. Always consider donating to charity, recycling or re-use before refuse. Ultimately, if from now on you buy mindfully, you buy once.

2. Your palette is everything. In other words, the decorative wrapper within which you place your carefully edited belongings. Just as you choose and cherish every item inside your home, so too must you select with the same care every colour, finish, fabric and material with which to adorn it. As far as I'm concerned, the path to peace is in creating a palette that not only sings to you, but also soothes you. For me it's calm colours (muddy blues, greens and lavender), marble, black lacquer, antiqued glass, sisal, brass and wood.

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An inside look into Michelle's thoughtful home work space.

3. Energy goes where attention flows. Natural daylight is a must and air needs to be able to flow unimpeded through every room. I like to think of a home as a holistic organic entity that both reflects and responds to those living inside it. Because of this it's essential to avoid a state in which a home feels gloomy and thus we become sluggish. This means no forgotten corners, ignored rooms or toxic energy sappers — think petroleum-based wax candles to artificial scent of any sort, or anything plastic, for starters.

4. Cleaning as meditation. Ultimately, all of the clutter-clearing, palette composing and thinking about energy and flow is about getting ready to decorate and furnish your home in a way that promotes joy. But I'm also a big fan of hands-on home cleaning! I see it as a way to literally reach out and touch that which I love. Besides, if you can't be bothered to wax, polish, dust or otherwise care for your space and belongings, how can you ask them to shelter or support you?

Each of my abodes taught me something about the link between the state of my environment and its impact on my sense of self, my relationships, finances and health.

5. It's all about texture. Because my days are often spent tapping away at a computer, the need for a tactile, sensory home as respite from this resolutely digital existence is vital. I love to be able to snuggle into the depths of my sofa or bed, and feel cosseted. As such, I firmly believe that you can never have too many cushions; it's absolutely ok to mix and mis-match fabrics and patterns with abandon (within your pre-determined colour palette of course); and my personal obsession is for embossed and textured wallpaper, the sort that you paint yourself after hanging — I want to be surrounded by surfaces that practically compel me to reach out and stroke them.

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Cole & Son Antique Mirror Paper serves as a backdrop to art work from Michelle's son.

6. The importance of rituals. Finally, achieving equilibrium for me revolves around the elevation of daily habits to rituals. Human beings generally thrive on routine and I've learnt the hard way that the busier I am, the more benefit I gain from regular practices that ground, calm and centre me. So, these are my key must-dos. Every night before I go to bed, I write down the three most important things that must be accomplished the next day; this prioritises me. As soon as I wake up, I do 10 minutes of meditation (generally using the Calm app); this centres me. Then I post a single picture to Instagram (my feed, a personal passion, is all about colour); this connects me to my tribe. Finally, I fling open the windows, rain or shine, and say hello to the day! Cuddle time with my five-year-old son and letting my dogs out to wee also factor in there somewhere, plus a 20-second blitz of cold water at the end of my shower also really gets the neurons buzzing! But the point is, these small actions combine to prep me perfectly for the day ahead. As the saying goes, "Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart."

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Michelle's Goodee Pick - The Fionia Stool

"Because a great stool is the ultimate piece of multi-functional furniture — it can be a spare seat, step stool, pot stand or simply sculpture — no happy home should be without one, or many!"

Shop Fionia

HappyInside: How to harness the power of home for health and happiness by Michelle Ogundehin is published 30 April 2020. Ebury Press. Order a copy here .

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About Michelle Ogundehin

Michelle Ogundehin is a writer, creative consultant, TV presenter and the award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of British ELLE Decoration. A contributor to prestigious publications worldwide, including The Financial Times and the influential online architecture and design magazine, Dezeen, Michelle is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends, colour and style. She is also the lead judge on the BBC landmark series Interior Design Masters (now available globally on Netflix), as well as a co-presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs: House of the Year. Michelle was born in Manchester, grew up in London, and now lives in Brighton on the South coast of England with her young son and two very laid-back Basset Hounds.

Instagram @michelleogundehin