Bring the Outside In
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Bring the Outside In

For many of us, the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors convey a subtle message of relaxation. But often our homes, whether large or small, have no connection to the world outside. Here's how to bring the relaxing elements of the outdoors in.

Relaxing Sights

Outdoor Pictures

Scenes from nature are poignant, particularly if you live in an urban center. Luckily, you have many options for art.

Enlarge Image

Outdoor scenes and fresh
flowers can provide a natural
lift to your surroundings.

  • Scour antiques or thrift stores for landscape paintings and prints, and keep your eye open for botanical prints, such as have been culled from antique books.
  • Display professional photography or your own snapshots, such as a favorite outdoor spot in different seasons.

  • Cut out and frame pictures from calendars or greeting cards; enlarge on a color copy machine if necessary.

  • Use stencils or hire a decorative painter to create a woodland or beachy wall mural.

  • Use sun-sensitive paper (available at art stores) to beautifully record the negative image of items such as leaves, twigs, and grass.

Plant for Window Views

Treat every window as a frame, and choose yard plantings that compose the best view.

  • Include framing vertical elements, such as a columnlike cypress tree or a diminutive dogwood tree.

  • Decide on a focal point, whether that be a bench, birdbath, or hydrangea bush.

  • Accent both the foreground and background with complementary plants, flowers, or shrubs.

  • Keep treatments simple to maximize an outdoor view.

  • In addition, consider installing a window box inside the house. Something growing on a windowsill can help you stay in touch with the outside world. Flowers, cut or growing, add color and sometimes even scent to a room. If you lack a green thumb, realistic silk plants can add a garden touch.

Animal Magnetism

Being attentive to animals keeps you in touch with the rhythms of nature.

  • Within a window's view, hang birdfeeders and scatter seed to attract squirrels and chipmunks.

  • Where conditions permit, plant a garden to lure butterflies and dragonflies.

Earthy Mementos

If you collect natural souvenirs -- driftwood, sand, rocks, seashells -- from sentimental locations or exciting vacations, put them on display.

  • Stack shells and rocks, or layers of different-color dirt, in clear glass cylindrical vases. For interest, use different-size vases and stack items at various heights. Group the vases together on a mantel, side table, or bookshelf.

  • Mount items inside a shadowbox frame, or create a mini-landscape beneath the glass top of a curio table.

  • Don't collect natural materials? Department and home stores carry a wide selection of fountains small and large that keep a trickle of water flowing. Choose from tabletop, wall-mounted, or freestanding styles.

Other Senses

Touchable Textures

Integrating reedy, grassy, and woody textures into your interiors will make artificial surroundings more organic.

  • On walls, use grass cloth -- this blast from the past is back and more sophisticated than ever.

  • Use woven mats as wall art on painted walls.

  • On the floor, cover hard surfaces with sisal, sea grass, or jute.

  • Accent with furniture pieces made from wicker, rattan, twigs, or bamboo.

  • Include rough-hewn beams, hand-woven rugs, and distressed antiques in your home. The small imperfections help remind you that life goes on despite irregularities.

  • As wall colors, choose earth, sky, or watery tones, or shades of your favorite flowers.

Beneficial Breezes

Feeling nature is just as important as seeing it.

  • From time to time, turn off the air conditioner and open your windows.

  • Hang items that are sensitive to the movements of the wind, such as wind chimes or singular Japanese bells.

  • Just inside your window, hang mobiles and plants that will catch the breeze when the window is open.

  • Use sheer, lightweight curtain panels that will billow out.

Unplugged Moments

Every once in awhile, turn off and tune in.

  • Eliminate background noise, such as the TV, stereo, and computer, and pay attention to the sounds of the wind, rain, and birds.

  • At least once a week, cut all the lights and eat dinner by candlelight. Follow up dinner with low-tech activities, such as reading or board games.

  • As a contrast, pick up a few CDs of natural sounds that relax you, whether ocean waves, a rainforest, or birdsongs.

Fresh Scents

Your home is filled with artificial smells: cleaners, perfumes, medicines, and plastics. Replace those smells with natural aromas instead.

Scented Herbs
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Scented herbs offer
both sights and smells
of nature.

  • Indulge in the new designer soaps and home-cleaning products scented with essential oils.
  • Plant a kitchen window garden with herbs such as mint and tarragon, which emit fragrance when brushed by your hand.
  • Place lavender-filled sachets behind sofa cushions so that fragrance bursts forth whenever someone sits down.

  • On a breezy, sunny day, hang some of the laundry -- especially bed sheets -- outside to dry instead of tossing everything in the dryer.

  • Candles, potpourri, and other room scents can also bring nature to mind.